Wouldn’t it be a good idea for India to try out the five-bowler strategy?
The riveting contest between India and England in Bangalore has put an end, albeit for the time being, to the question over the survival of ODI cricket. But some questions about the combination of Team India remain unanswered.
The pace attack, save Zaheer Khan’s magical last spell of 3-0-11-3 against England, has looked toothless in the two games so far. Spinners, regular and part-timers alike, have failed to put brakes on the scoring rate in the middle overs. In the 55 overs of spin bowled by India so far in this World Cup, they have conceded 328 runs for four wickets, at an economy rate of just under six.
On both occasions, after the batsmen piled a mountain of runs, the bowlers failed to complement it with discipline. Bangladesh posed real threat during their spirited run chase before India eventually won by 91 runs. The tie against England after scoring 338 showed that India’s bowling attack is nowhere close to being the World Cup winning one.
But there’s not much that can be done, given the fact that this is the best bunch of bowlers that India has at the moment. Apart from Sreesanth, who has replaced the injured Praveen Kumar, all the others are first choice picks.
MS Dhoni has this affinity towards his part-time tweakers and they have seldom let him down, often producing some quiet overs and even picking up the crucial wickets. But, though it is too soon in the tournament to draw conclusions, the ploy seems to be backfiring on the batting beauties of the sub-continent.
And as the competition soars and the opponents come harder at them, the bits and pieces spinners like Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan will only become their soft targets.
So what should India do? Apart from bringing in the discipline in their bowling and life in their fielding, it won’t be a bad idea to go in with an extra bowler. If even one man from the top four, comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli bats for 40 overs, the seventh batsman is a waste. And if the top six men of this power-packed line-up can’t amass a match-winning score, one would wonder who can.
In the game against Bangladesh where Sehwag was in his elements, Yusuf Pathan, faced 10 balls coming in at number five while Yuvraj and MS Dhoni didn’t bat. Against England, the last five wickets had only 4.5 overs among them.
One wonders if India could have put more pressure on the England batsmen in the middle overs, had Dhoni had one more top class bowler at his disposal. In such crunch games, one wicket or a tidy over is enough to put the pressure back on the opposition and lift the team to produce something special. Zaheer’s last spell is a testament.
Another occasion when a fifth bowler would’ve come handy for India was when Dhoni looked around for the man who would bowl the penultimate over of the match. He had an over each of Munaf and Piyush Chawla left. Munaf would bowl the final over and though Yuvraj and Pathan had plenty of overs in their kitty, Dhoni knew better than lobbing the ball to a part-timer at that crucial juncture.
So, Chawla was the only option, even though the leg-spinner, with his nervous first spell, had given the signs he might not be able to handle the pressure. The signs were not misleading, as Chawla was creamed for two sixes in the over by England tailenders. R Ashwin has shown his worth bowling at the death in the IPL and CLT20 and wouldn’t have been a bad choice, if he was playing.
Ashwin, like Chawla, Harbhajan and Zaheer, can use the long handle to great effect, which should not concern the Indians as far as the lower-order hitting is concerned. It will do no harm if Dhoni and Gary Kirsten consider putting the five-bowler theory into practice in some of the league games just to see how it works.
This leads to another question. Who makes way for the fifth bowler? The answer to that can vary according to the form of the batsmen, the track, the desired combination and the oppositions. And the man who misses out must know it is for the greater good of the team.
Can Sreesanth make Praveen’s injury look like a blessing in disguise?
The injury woes ahead of the World Cup are swelling at rocket pace. While Australia have lost two crucial cogs of their squad in Michael Hussey and Nathan Hauritz, England have lost Eoin Morgan. All lethal blows.
India hasn’t been spared. Praveen Kumar has been ruled out of the tournament after failing to recover from an elbow injury which forced him to return mid-way from the ODI series in South Africa.
MS Dhoni has, time and again, expressed his fondness for the seamer, who can be unplayable in the first 15 overs when the ball is swinging under lights. Dhoni also talks fondly about Praveen’s canny variation of pace and the ability to hit the deck hard even at his far from express pace. The Indian captain feels Praveen’s is a huge loss to India, and rightly so, given that most of the matches will be day-nighters.
But as it often is, one man’s agony is another man’s joy. Santhakumaran Sreesanth was gutted after he was ignored for the marquee event. And he was entitled to feel that way because he hadn’t done much wrong to deserve the snub. However, his dream of playing the World Cup is on the verge of being realised now. He was a part of the 2007 event, which turned out to be a horror show for India.
There were questions raised on Sreesanth’s exclusion from the original squad, most notably, by former India captain Sourav Ganguly. The pacer from Kerala does bring in a hint of speed in the attack that is otherwise packed with line-and-length bowlers.
Though his pace may not be rewarded with desired results on the slow sub-continental tracks, his lethal outswinger delivered with perfect seam position will be more than helpful. And though, it will be a tough ask, if he can get the white ball to reverse a bit, along with Zaheer, he can add further value.
However, while one can safely say that had Praveen made it to the World Cup, he would’ve been a surety in the playing XI, it cannot be said about Sreesanth. Dhoni has at times been averse to including the temperamental speedster, the ODI series in the Rainbow nation being the latest instance.
From the attack’s balance point of view, it will not be a bad idea to give him a couple of games up-front simply because he adds spice to the attack. He will go for runs but will run in hard and look to make thing happen in unfavourable conditions.
How about a reserve keeper instead of the third spinner?
India’s 15-man squad for the 2011 World Cup has been announced. With 11 to 12 players selecting themselves, the selectors had to concentrate mostly on the remaining couple of spots.
Rohit Sharma’s long rope has finally been cut and Sreesanth too finds himself out of contention. While most of the selections and omissions seem straightforward, a couple of decisions can be debated upon. (1) the absence of a reserve wicketkeeper and (2) picking three specialist spinners.
Piyush Chawla making the cut in the spin-trio including Harbhajan and Ashwin may not come as a surprise, given the sub-continent’s slow and low tracks. But MS Dhoni has, time and again, successfully divided 10 overs of part-time spin among Yuvraj, Yusuf Pathan, Sehwag and also Raina and Virat. Along with keeping the runs in check, they have picked up crucial wickets as well. With such a strong back-up, wouldn’t it be surprising if Dhoni goes with two specialist spinners in a match?
So, why not a back-up for Dhoni behind the stumps instead of a third tweaker? It’s known to all that the Indian captain has awful lot on his plate – captaining the team in all three formats, shouldering the batting responsibility in the lower middle-order and swatting and stretching behind the wickets.
He also plays the same roles for the Chennai Super Kings, who have been doing rather well, hence increasing the number of matches and Dhoni’s workload. With all credit to his mental and physical fitness, Dhoni does have a recurring back problem and his fingers are almost always wrapped in bandages.
Keeping all this in mind, it only seems sensible to have someone like Parthiv Patel in the squad. He’s a technically correct batsman who is in form – as he showed in the home ODI series against New Zealand with two half-centuries in as many matches. He has been scoring heavily in domestic games as well. Parthiv’s agility and neatness with the keeping gloves is well documented as well. His form with the bat could’ve also earned him a place in the playing eleven as a specialist batsman, if needed.
Hence, while the team looks more or less balanced, just one swap could’ve made it almost perfect.
Pace bowling: India’s Achilles heel
The series in South Africa is the last chance for the Indian players to get a feel of the ODIs before the World Cup at home. Competing against a crack team in their own backyard is probably the toughest and the best dress rehearsal for Dhoni’s men. But unfortunately the final stage of India’s World Cup prep has been rendered incomplete due to the unavailability of some of their main actors.
India is facing injuries galore. Most of them are either long standing problems or recurring in nature. Virender Sehwag’s shoulder is dodgy since last two years, Gautam Gambhir’s dream run with the bat has been woefully replaced by a streak of injuries.
But perhaps the main reason behind the wrinkles on Dhoni’s forehead is his inconsistent and brittle fast bowling attack. Praveen Kumar is out of the series with an injured arm, Sreesanth is nursing his hurt elbow. Zaheer Khan is currently on a break from his long-term relationship with injuries and that break could end any time. That leaves us with Munaf Patel, whose fitness levels are not exactly world class.
Even if it is assumed all these men will be fit and available for the World Cup, the worry doesn’t end there. Except Zaheer, everyone on that list has the tendency to blow hot and cold in the same over.
While Sreesanth, with his perfect seam position and swinging abilities, can be lethal, his desire to make too many things happen in one delivery often results in a ridiculously wayward pitch-map. Praveen Kumar is the ‘king of nights’. He relishes bowling under the lights and makes the ball move around in overcast conditions but when it’s dry and sunny, his military medium pacers are anything but unplayable.
Nehra and Munaf have experience on their side. But again, accuracy and pace-variation are their only weapons. And none of the two men is Glenn McGrath. The unresponsive sub-continent tracks will only expose their weaknesses. However, the truth is, these four men comprise India’s best possible pace attack and MS Dhoni has accepted the fact, or rather, resigned to it.
“Honestly speaking, these are the four-five fast bowlers we have got. We do not have many options to play with. So we have to back them to do well. Whether they are in match practice or not, what is important is that we take care of these bowlers and they should go in the World Cup without any injuries.”
Agreed that It’s not that only the bowlers who are guilty of inconsistency. The young middle-order led by the senior but terribly out of form Yuvraj Singh has hardly anything to boast about when it comes to producing results day in and day out.
But the presence of fitter than ever Sachin Tendulkar and return of the Sehwag-Gambhir duo will lend them immense solidity. Reborn Virat Kohli and versatile Dhoni are capable of playing the adapting game. And as far as injury issue goes, batsmen are a lucky lot as compared to the fast bowlers.
Dhoni’s most desperate World Cup prayer would be that his four pacemen rise above their potential to put up a strong consistent performance and at the same time, maintain their brittle bodies. Much of India’s chances in the World Cup will depend on how that prayer in answered.
Is desperation leading to dilemma?
The Indian selectors have picked the 30 hopeful men for the 2011 World Cup and as it always happens, the selection has attracted some mixed reactions.
While some people are demanding the reason for omitting the likes of Rahul Dravid, Irfan Pathan and Robin Uthappa, there are inclusions that have left some bemused.
One such name is that of the once-seemed-forgotten leg-spinner from Uttar Pradesh, Piyush Chawla. After playing his last international match in 2008 – an Asia Cup game against Pakistan – the 22-year-old leggie remained in obscurity for over two years as the selectors tried and tested a string of new tweakers for both formats of the game.
And now, suddenly, out of nowhere, Chawla has been recalled and made a part of the five-member spin prospects for the flagship event; Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra and R Ashwin being the others.
Surely the squad will be trimmed to 15 and any criticism of the selection at present, holds little value. But the turn of events that followed does give us a sneak peak into the selectors’ minds.
The preference of Chawla ahead of his fellow leg-spinner Mishra and left-armer Ojha for the limited-overs leg to the South Africa tour clearly shows where the inclination of Messers Krish Srikkanth and co. lies. His superior batting abilities as compared to the other two could be the only thing that snapped the deal for him.
In fact, Chawla’s numbers in the ongoing Ranji Trophy tell a story of their own. He has 305 runs at 33.88 and 14 wickets at 44.07 apiece in six matches so far. Those don’t look like numbers of a leg-spinner who can bat a bit. And while Chawla insists taking wickets with a spinning ball remains his main task, he also admits having an eye on the vacant allrounder’s spot.
But the truth is there are too many eyes on that position already. Yusuf Pathan is the current favourite after his batting pyrotechnics against New Zealand and consistently miserly bowling. Ashwin is more than capable with the bat, besides being a very intelligent off-spinner with many variations in his kitty.
Ravindra Jadeja has managed to stay on the selectors’ radar despite continuous failures. Does Chawla stand any realistic chance of out-scoring them all, after being away from Team India for two years? Your guess is as good as mine.
The selectors want to test him out at the highest level and hence have decided to send him to South Africa. It, however, remains to be seen if he can find a place in the playing eleven ahead of Harbhajan Singh or Ashwin and get enough opportunities to prove himself in the pacer-friendly conditions of the Rainbow nation.
Moreover, with MS Dhoni’s well-known strategy of using the part-timers like Yuvraj, Raina, Rohit and Virat – all of who bowl spin – the only way for Chawla to make a cut is at the expense of Jadeja.
This desperation of returning in the international fold is visible in Chawla’s rising batting and bowling averages. Is he going the way of Irfan Pathan – a talented bowler who could contribute with the bat in the lower order turned a toothless bowler and an inconsistent batsman? Let’s hope not.