October 16, 2006

Not Upto Scratch

October 16, 2006 Posted by Vijay 2 comments
India were billed the overwhelming favourites for their opening encounter in the Champions Trophy against England on Sunday. And not without reason, for India had thrashed the poms 5-1 when they toured India earlier in the year. But everyone was aware that India was coming into the competition after not having fared well in the Carribean series and a disappointing show in the DLF cup in Malaysia. But, with the dismal run of the English team in one dayers team India still were touted the favourites.

England struggled to come to terms with the pitch which was inconsistent in its bounce. Pathan for once, in a long while seemed to have regained the swing which he has been known for, and bowled really well. The English batting was given a boost(or so thought Flintoff by opting to come in one down) with Flintoff coming at number threee, but it totally backfired with a resurgent Pathan trapping him in front of the wicket. The slump hit a low at 55 for 5, when Dalyrimple and Collingwood came in to restore some credibility to the England total. But with a dry pitch and India opting for two spinners, the English slide was complete and they got bowled out for a paltry 125 in under 40 overs.

The Indian batting though has a star studded line up, is only star studded, and nothing more. It was good to see India coming out with Sachin and Sehwag to open the innings, and just when everyone thought that experimentation and Greg Chappell had bid farewell, out came Pathan once again at number three, which has been a move severely criticized by many former cricketers. Sachin was in imperious form and Steve Harmison totally the opposite, as he was all over the place, the only saving grace being a wild shot to an even wide delivery by Harmison which got him Sehwag’s wicket.

At the dinner break India was comfortably placed at 55 for one in eight overs. But England bowling which has seen an upswing in the past couple of seasons, threw in James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood, who both bowled with pace and aggression. Sajid Mahmood was especially impressive and looked like taking a wicket everytime he bowled unlike his earlier experience on Indian soil when he was hammered around the park during England’s tour. The emergence of quality England pacers seems to be directly proportional to lack of quality of English batsman. For, while the bowling really stood up and troubled the “famed” Indian batting no end, the batsmen were really disappointing, more due to a lack of good technique required at the highest level.

All the Indian batsmen including Sachin were made uncomfortable by some quality pace bowling, unsettling all of them. Fortunately for India, the bowlers had ensured that the batsmen wouldn’t have to take too much of effort to reach the small target of 126. However, from 55 for 1 in 8 overs, and to end the innings, winning it at 126 for 6 in just under 30 overs, is not something which can be heart warming. Even if one were to consider that the power plays were not opted for by Flintoff after the first ten overs, a drop in the run rate from nearly 7 to just about 4 in the end, is something the Indian think tank will have to seriously think about. So, essentially, 71 for 5 was what India scored in 22 overs, which is a run rate of around 3.3 , which is below international standard and certainly doesn’t live upto the hype that Indian batsmen have. It was a “scratch and win” for the Indian team.

What must really worry all Indian cricket fans is Dravid’s lack of form. Dravid is one player who can provide the calming influence to the whole team while chasing targets, be it big or small ones. Dravid is well equipped to handle any situation, any pitch or weather condition. But he certainly needs to come in at number three to settle the innings and guide the team while the strokemakers play their big shots. Chasing down targets especially the smaller ones, is when Dravid can be really most valuable. In the DLF cup, India only had to chase 213 for a win against the Aussies, but could not manage even such a low total albeit against the best team in the business. Dravid’s role in that match could have been crucial in winning the game for India. Similarly in the England match yesterday, had Dravid been there to see through the chase, India would have romped home with atleast 8 wickets in hand. Dravid needs to fire, and real soon.

Dravid’s average is currently the lowest (33.5 in 23 matches) since his struggle in the one day format was exposed in 1998 (21.77), when he was criticized for getting bogged down. If one were to discount the century he made in the win against the Windies in the first one dayer in the Carribean earlier this year, the average comes down to 28.7. And, since that century, his average has been a meager 10.66 in 10 innings (he was unbeaten on one occasion). And, India has lost in 6 of those matches, and won 2 among them (the one against Windies in the DLF cup where India could make ony 160 odd, and the one against England yesterday). And those wins were hardly convincing. Not to mention how India was saved from humiliation, after being reduced to 35 for 5 by the Aussies in an abandoned match in the DLF cup. The Indian captain now really needs to fire, notwithstanding heroics by Sachin to help India perform better, and especially against the Aussies. But playing their next game after a gap of 11 days will not help the Indian team’s cause, for they will have to build the momentum all over again.

As for England, their batting woes are continuing, and seem to be an endless one. With their most prolific run getter, Trescothick opting out of the tournament citing personal reasons, the batting looks weak and inexperienced. It is surprising that the same team with a few additions can do so well in Test matches. Their strong point though remains their bowling despite a long list of injuries to main players like Simon Jones. England seem to be finding good bowlers who also bowl at good pace with the likes of Sajid Mahmood taking up the challenge. The problem with the English bowling in the one dayers is that they get stuck with the same length that they employ in test matches which is of the fuller kind. And on flat pitches in one dayers the same world class bowlers get mauled. England really need to buckle down and think about their strategies to play one dayers. It should also matter greatly to them that they are the only major team not to have won any major trophy. That should be a driving force and England should rectify it. For starters, there would be nothing wrong in bringing in a few of the test match players into the fray, say Alastair Cook for example. Cook is a technically very adept player and any good player can adapt to the one day scene as well. Monte Panesar is another player who can do a world of good. England may initially struggle with a change in team tactics, but the rewards will surely be there for them to see.


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