India has a fair chance, I would say…

Posted: February 18, 2007 in cricket, Dravid, india, ODI, world cup

In the world cup.

The aces in the sleeves as per me, are not the batting, but the seamers. In Zaheer, Agarkar and Munaf, we have a very decent ODI attack.

Zaheer’s stint in England has done him a lot of good. Learning to bowl well, day after day, in that county atmosphere obviously taught him a thing or two. Imagine learning all that, and then coming to bowl for your country makes him a genuine leader of our bowling attack.

Ajit Agarkar, to my mind, has always been a good ODI bowler. Someone who bowls extremely well, within his known limitations. Works up a good pace, varies the pace too, works out a batsman’s wicket by strategy, is reasonably accurate early in the innings, almost always generates early wicket taking opportunities. And at this time, he seems to be in excellent nick. Perhaps spurred by the ‘competition’ for pace bowling slots in the team.

Munaf, the fastest of the trio, has figured that he needs to be very accurate. Somewhere he has got it ingrained in his head, that he has to be like a McGrath, and not like a Shoaib Akhtar. He does an excellent job of keeping the score under control, and then forcing a mistake from the batsmen.

And to think that a Sreesanth with all his energy and enthusiasm, and never say die spirit, with an eagerness to keep learning, is the fourth bowler. And then there is the very promising, at one time our pace hope for the next decade, currently, slightly out of form, Irfan Pathan, waiting in the wings. And it makes me say with confidence that indeed, our aces are this pace attack.

If Greg Chappell, Dravid, Sachin and others can find a way to train the 5 boys to NOT panic against a serious counter attack (think Gilchrist or Jayasuriya or Afridi) and keep bowling intelligently, then we have one area completely covered.

Now coming to the batting. Yes, it has the biggest names and one would feel that its the batting that should be our strong point. While I believe that its good, is it good enough for the world cup? Lets examine details.

Up in the opening slot, what options do we have?
Ideally, Ganguly and Uthappa.
Ganguly is of course, in the best of form. And his resolve and determination to prove himself should see him continue doing well, right through the world cup.
Uthappa has a lot of promise. He does not seem to have many nerves. But its the technique that I would wonder about. Is it good enough to face up to really class bowling – a Shaun Pollock or a McGrath, or even a Chaminda Vaas? Lets hope so..
In case either of these guys are injured, what options do we have for the opening slot? Sehwag, Sachin or even Dravid. All of them have played the parts in the past.

Sachin can be a good bet, but I think the team will be better served if he comes in at 4. More about that later. Sehwag would be the one who would be first choice for opening slot, if there is any problem with Uthapa or Saurav. And of course, like everyone else in India, I can also only hope that he strikes some sort of form, soon. Yes, he can be destructive and take the game away. Just when will be start delivering now, I am not sure. He is under huge pressure, and will remain so, inspite of the best of confidence that his captain has in him.
Dravid would be the last option to go to the opening slot. If it comes to that, I would believe that we would be in serious trouble. Nothing else worked out, or 2-3 people on the injury list, is what may warrant such a step. But if it comes to it, he is fine. One with such good technique can certainly manage the opening slot too, if required.

Then on to the middle order. We have names like Dravid (number 3), Sachin (4), Yuvraj (5) and Sehwag or Karthick (6). Dhoni at 7 and then 4 specialist bowlers is the way I see it going, in most cases. Unless we have tremendous respect for our 5 batsmen, I think we will continue to play with 4 bowlers and 6 batsmen, plus Dhoni. In case we play 5+5+1, then of course, the 6th batsman (Sehwag / Karthick) will be out.

In batting then, there is no doubt about Dravid and Sachin. They are strong middle order batters. Yuvraj’s form looks good if the last game against Sri Lanka is any indication. And if that is true, then we have a good 3,4,5 combination there. It is the 6th batsman or the bench strength beyond these main working team that is worrying. Karthick has played some good knocks, but I just can’t see him as a reliable batsman against quality bowling. And Sehwag.. well, we all know. He is out of form. If the first 1-2 games don’t redeem him, I would believe that he will have to sit out through the competition. There will just be no point in carrying on someone in the world cup team, who has lost all confidence and where, we just continue to ‘hope’ that he fires! And then when you see the reserves, there is really no one else left, as far as batsmen go. Will we consider using Pathan in that case, as a batsman who may also bowl? I suppose. There is no choice left. We may yet miss a Raina..

So in batting, I would believe that there is a genuine weakness of one slot, and there is no adequate cover against a possible injury to our top batsmen.

The wicketkeeper-cum-batsman position is in good hands with Dhoni. He has great temperament as a batsman, and is quite good (though not flawless) as a wicketkeeper. He can certainly slam the bowling around, and is quite mature too. However again, I have a question on genuine technique and ability to face quality bowlers. Here we just need to hope for the best. Karthick is a good cover in case the wicketkeeper’s position needs to be filled, but then, if he is anyway a part of the team, as a 6th batsman, then who do we get as a replacement? This is in the event that Sehwag does not get into form at all…

So in short, that one batsman’s position may still hurt us. We may be forced to go with a 5+5+1 combination and hope that the bowlers compensate for the one lesser batsman, then.

Coming to spinners, I think we are just so-so. Harbhajan and Kumble may keep the scores down, against lesser teams or against batsmen who are not adept at playing spin. Better batsmen who have faced these guys for many years, may actually get a lot of runs against them. We will probably play only one of these two guys, and it may be a case of regular swapping between these two. Unless one of them makes the most of his opportunities and succeeds in the early games, and seals his seat in the team. Or if there is a known weakness against one of them, from the opposite side. Kumble can be successful against lesser teams, and also against lower order batsmen, and he can potentially run through the tail. But against that, he is a huge liability in the field and nowadays, also with the bat. Even if he can hang around on the crease as a batsman, he cannot run fast between the wickets, he will not be able to rotate strike (say he has a batsman at the opposite end) and he will not be able to seriously wallop the bowling for some big hits and big runs.

So I would again see the spinner’s slot as a kind of weakness. Depending on the pitches then, we may actually like to play 4 seamers and no specialist spinner. The spin part, if necessary, can then be handled by Sachin, Yuvraj, and Sehwag, if he is in the team. Its good to also have Saurav who can back up as a slow medium pacer and take care of few overs. In such a case, if Pathan is the fourth seamer, then our batting would look even better and deeper.

So indeed, the team composition gives some flexibility in that sense. To an extent, Chappell’s efforts towards this endeavour, from the time that he has taken over, may have delivered us these options.

But one thing that he worked for, and which has clearly not converted into results, perhaps on account of the final composition of the team, is the fielding. The young and fast guys, like Raina and Kaif, are not in the team at all. Off the current lot, only Yuvraj qualifies as a great fielder. Who is going to cover the inner circle and stop the singles? There is no one that I can think of. Maybe Uthapa. Perhaps a Karthick. But that is it.

Guys like Sachin, Sehwag, Pathan, Agarkar, Ganguly and Dravid are decent, but not very sharp. Unless they raise their levels, inspired by the occasion! All of these guys can cover the boundary ropes too, decently. Zaheer and Harbhajan are also okay, on the field. But out there in the deep field, there are some people whom we would have to hide on the ground. Guys like Munaf Patel and Kumble. There is an extra run written all over it, when the ball goes to either of them. Forget about a sharp, fast return, with possibilities of run-outs!

So sure, we are not the perfectly equipped team. I am not sure if any other team is, anyway. But there is a lot going for our team, there are many strengths there, which makes me feel that we stand a decent chance, this time around.

Lets see how it goes..

  1. Anonymous says:

    Very good analysis. As for Uthappa, it is not so much technique, but more shot selection. He has good footwork (unlike one Mr.Sehwag)although primarily a front-foot player. He has all the strokes, but can be surprised if he doesn’t get back in time on the backfoot or when the ball surprisingly bounces. A great find. Can keep wickets, and can bowl in the rare occasion.

  2. SPM says:

    @ Anonymous:
    Yeah, I missed the part about Uthapa’s additional utility as a wicketkeeper. I guess with Dhoni, Karthick, Dravid and Uthapa, we are overloaded on the wicketkeeper options 🙂

    Didn’t know Uthapa can bowl. I guess Dravid will not experiment to that extent, anyway.. !

  3. Anonymous says:

    Given that Dhoni is the primary keeper and that Dravid and Uthappa can be used as backups, it begs the question whether Karthick should have been included in the 15 for the WC. Is there no one better than Karthick left behind. I guess the jury is still out and we will know post WC.

  4. SPM says:

    I am not comfortable responding to anonymous comments, and would request you to put in your identity next time. For this once, I will continue to respond anyway.

    As regards Karthick, he was one of the many who were given their set of chances. Others being Dinesh Mongia, Raina, Kaif, Gambhir, etc. May not have been in the immediate past, but over the last few months, say. And no one else quite grabbed their chance. Karthick on the other hand, danced to his chance! (Refer the movie, Jhankar Beats – love that line there – “chance pe dance karna..”).
    Personally I do not have much hopes from Karthick, and remember at least one instance in South Africa, when he should and could have sacrificed his wicket in a run-out, in preference for a set Kaif to continue, but he did not. That has so stayed in my mind! But under the circumstances that no one else came out strongly, I guess, he was the best choice.

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