Posted by: nestaquin | November 13, 2008

Border Gavaskar Trophy: What Next for India?

victory

Resting on your laurels is a foolhardy business, a wisdom our Indian correspondent Rajesh Kannan obviously knows well. His effervescent mind rarely ceases to imagine ways to improve the quality and consistency of Indian cricket and below 99.94 is pleased to present his latest musings on what personnel changes are needed to keep India on path to continued Test match success.

Now that the dust has settled on the Border Gavaskar series, it may be time to take stock of where India stands with its Test team. I’m not going to go into a debate on who is no. 1, let the ICC Test table decide that.  For now, we are at the end of another India-Australia Test cycle, and there is no better time to ruminate, with both teams in transition.

Australia have had daylight as their main competitors in the last 12-13 years, but it’s worth noting that their overall record against India in this period has been  – won 10, lost 10, drawn 6. India have been the Pakistan to Australia’s 1980s Windies. More, as India have actually won 2 full series in this period.

But this series represents a significant turning point in Indian cricket as well, as it brings to an end 12 years of nearly uninterrupted service from the Fab Five, coinciding with Australia’s dominance and their own mighty roles in challenging it. But it’s time for a change, and here’s a rundown of the Indian Test XI for the next 1.5 years, with probable future roles and the pecking order for the wannabes:

Certainties with no change in roles if fit: Sehwag, Gambhir, Zaheer, Ishant, Harbhajan

Other Certainties:
SRT – He’ll stay at 4, and his play since the England tour has been marked by (comparatively) short but vital innings, instead of the epics in losing causes he’d managed to perfect. I think he should think about retiring from ODIs altogether, or at best, play 1 out of every 5 India contests. To be fair, that’s what seems to be happening, and I think this will prolong his Test career. But he has to watch out for fatigue in his Test innings, which seems to be enveloping him sooner these days.

VVS – The hitherto silken #6 has, through necessity, had to perform the Dravid role from #5 or #6 along with Ganguly for the last 2 years. His average over the last 1.5 yrs (when Dravid has been woeful) is 58, and Ganguly’s is similar, markedly above their career stats. To a large extent, this has helped pad Dravid’s decline. Going forward, he has to be the steel at #6 (moving to #3 makes the batting top heavy), but he has to improve his batting with the tailenders and look to up the tempo when India is 7-8 down.

Dhoni – He’ll push to mould his team in his own image, and don’t be surprised if the likes of Vijay and Rohit and Badri are regulars in the Test XI a year from now. As for his keeping, a couple of guys beyond Karthik and Parthiv need to be groomed before he can let go. I still don’t rate Karthik – he’s capable of the extraordinary, but muffs the simple chances, a bit like Calamity David James, and you don’t want that in a keeper. Parthiv is not even capable of the extraordinary, so let’s leave him.

Dravid – Back to the Ranji Trophy. I don’t think he’s played his last Test, but he sorely needs to find his touch and a few months of training and Raji competition could do wonders.

For the other 3 spots, 1 is a bowler, and 2 are middle order bats. First the bowling:

Mishra: First choice along with Harbhajan if playing at home. Even away, he should be in the squad, and when (not if) Harbhajan starts playing Tests like ODIs and spears them in, he should step in.

The pecking order for the pacers, in my opinion is:
1. Munaf – His nagging line and accuracy makes him the ideal complement to a swing bowler (Zaheer) and the bounce merchant (Ishant).

2. RP – was wonderful in England and started the Australian tour impressively, but has fallen behind due to injuries and indifferent form. On song, he is dangerous on green tops, and could be ideal in New Zealand.

3. Sreesanth – Can we have him back from Dancing with the Stars?

A note on Irfan Pathan – he started off bowling in the high 130s, but now his speed is in the mid-120s, and when you lose that much speed, the swinging ball is not a big threat. He’s lost his pace and his accuracy, and faces a long road back to the Test side.

The Batting

Dravid and Ganguly leave 2 spots in the middle order, and here’s who I think should fill them.

1. Badrinath at #3. Throw him in the deep end. He’s a proven domestic performer, and could be India’s own Mike Hussey, as he brings orthodox steel, technique, resilience and bags of first class runs. Plus, the fact that Kris Srikkanth (also from Chennai) is the chairman of selectors can’t hurt.

Alternate – Mohammad Kaif – played wonderfully well against England in 2006 to save a Test, and  deserves more than he’s got.  2nd alternate, for both this spot and opener – M. Vijay – impressive in his first outing, but even Deep Dasgupta and Debang Gandhi (even the memory of this man evokes a shudder of horror in me) looked impressive playing at home.

2. Rohit Sharma at #5. Impressed against Australia in the tour match, and deserves an opportunity as he finally seeks to convert glittering cameos into big hundreds.

Alternate – Yuvraj Singh.  I rate him among the world’s top 2 or 3 ODI batsmen, but 30 Tests for Yuvraj without coming anywhere near fulfilling his promise means he misses out.

And there are others, like Suresh Raina or Virat Kohli, who may not be far away from a squad call-up. But for me, this is the shape of the Indian Test team moving forward. Of course wishes aren’t horses, and no one would be more pleased if the next Tendulkar suddenly blazes into the reckoning. Here’s hoping.

Tomorrow: Just hours before play begins in Rajkot, The Tooting Trumpet reveals why England will make things uncomfortable for India during the epic seven match ODI series.

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Responses

  1. Good read RK, it’ll be an interesting to see how India cope with the loss of their stars. A huge positive was the impressive debut of Mishra who I’d rate above Singh, especially away from home. Sharma has also been a real find, I just worry about that painfully thin physique and the number of overs he’s been asked to bowl. *cough* Bruce Reid *cough*

    Lets hope their away form improves and they might yet force an end to the Baggy Green era!

  2. I missed out Murali Kartik in this discussion – he might not be a bad bet overseas as first choice, especially after his successful county stint. Wonder what he did to piss the selectors off.

    And b&s – I’m tempted to agree with you that Harbhajan is not good away from home – I said as much. He just doesn’t inspire confidence as a wicket-taking bowler away from home, but I take solace from the fact that Kumble was as woeful away till 2001 or so, after which he developed into a threat on most surfaces.

    Still, I woudn’t bet the farm on Bajji developing nuance and guile any time soon.

  3. Bhajji is pretty good at annoying opposition supporters, I’ll give him that

  4. One aspect of sub-continental cricket that has always been bold is the way the selectors tend to choose young players and throw them in at the deep end.

    Some sink but the ones that swim often turn out world class.

    It appears to be less frequent of late due, I presume, to the structured paths the BCCI and their associations have created for talented youth.

    Ishant Sharma is the latest success of choosing players young and with contemporaries as talented as Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Tanmay Shrivastava, Piyush Chawla, Cheteshwar Pujara, V Yomanesh and Suresh Raina all playing well, Indian cricket, if not mismanaged, looks secure for another decade and beyond.

  5. Nice overview, RK.

    If Akash Chopra continues to perform well in domestic and county cricket, we could even consider him as a No.3 alternative.He is no longer a dour opener and has increased his range of strokes.Also, a terrific close-in fielder.

    Badrinath has potentil but is currently not in form.I would rather go with Rohit and Vijay/Yuvraj for the England series. That is, if Yuvraj performs well in the ODIs.

    Irfan would do well to do a stint in English county cricket.

    I would also closely watch the growth of Piyush Chawla and Dinesh Salunkhe.The great Warne himself said Salunkhe is worth a spot in the future Indian side.

    The best thing is to have Sachin and VVS available for the next 1-2 years.And the presence of Sehwag is reassuring.

  6. Impressive stuff Rajesh.

    I’m constantly surprised by Irfan Pathan. Can’t someone work with him to get his pace back where it was? I don’t recall long periods of injury, so what’s lacking? A lefty swinger who can bat at 7 or 8 is a big prize, especially if Dhoni gives up the gloves to bat six and a keeper comes in at 7 or 8.

    I’ll be surprised if Rohit Sharma doesn’t make it too.

  7. I think Irfan’s batting is his curse as well – he doesn’t have time to hone his day job, which is bowling. That’s what it seems like at least.

  8. nesta, I am gald you mentioned Pujara and more surprisingly, Tanmay Srivastava – I was sort of disappointed with RK’s analysis sticking lazily to the Virat Kohlis – which means Kannan has not much clue about the domestic scene. Pujara was impressive last Ranji season and has been building a mountain of runs this season with 1 first class triple hundred and 2 of those in under-22.
    Tanmay was the best batsman on view in the ICC junior world cup earlier in the year. He was impressive in terms of technique and temparement even in the IPL where he didnt get much chances with the mohali team.

    Virat Kohli seems to be cashing in on poor bolwers and easy pitches and was exposed in the IPL. He seems to have guts but even that I would like to see against better bowlers than Jason Krezja in the BPXI match. Even the current Jason Krezja would do.

  9. Irfan Pathan was Greg Chappel’s biggest ill-legacy for India. The pied piper somehow managed to take Irfan down the all-rounder route and lost him as a bowler for India. A similar thing migh happen with England’s Cunning Chris’s son if England and Moores are not careful.

  10. Kumar, Yuvraj is a good idea and he might well succeed against England but as a long term prospect, he doesnt excite. He is the batting Zaheer Khan, who, when he is good, looks undroppable, but inexplicably smokes down at crucial moments – note Zaheer in the last innings of the series where he just went to pieces.
    To be fair to Zaheer, he has been far more consistent than Yuvraj has been. But given that it is 8 years since Yuvraj came into the scene, i dont expect him to change the habit of lifetime and keep his focus for longer periods – rather than doing just enough to break into the team and then resting on laurels.

  11. An excellent discussion on the lop-sided decision making ICC match referees from England, NZ and AUstralia:
    http://i3j3cricket.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/on-why-the-game-needs-more-asian-match-referees/

    Excellent points made about:
    1. Billy Bowden treating Laxman like an irritating fly when the latter politely asked for reasons while tolerating literally abuse from Ponting
    2. If Cameron White does it, it is cleaning the ball. if Sachin does it, it is tampering

    I hope even if they dont want to admit openly, it opens the eyes of rabid Aussie partisans and even people like nesta and TT, who very innocently ask “when did Chris broad show bias?”.

    Cunningness and guile help you pretend to be good but you are exposed over a period of time – just because someone openly fights against such lies doesnt make me a fanatic.

  12. Raj, I thought of Pujara and Srivastava all right, but if we were to look at the entire pool of players, there are 30-35. I just wanted to stick to the 17-18 who are in the immediate reckoning. In fact, if you’d told me they’d bring in an opener from the blue to replace Gambhir, I’d have guessed Pujara, but Vijay seems to be first choice now. And even he is hardly going to play unless at #3.

    Pujara is young and he should be given time to maybe replace Sehwag in 4-5 years, not thrust into the middle order.

    Just because I haven’t mentioned them doesn’t mean I dont know they exist. I’m just looking at the near-term future, and for the openers’ slot, there’s no looking beyond Sehwag and GG, with Vijay maybe as replacement. For the middle order, I think the mentioned bunch of 6-7 players will slog it out for the 2 spots.

  13. As someone observed there, the Aussies will never understand our angst until Ranatunga is made match referee for all their matches – and if he plays to form, he would do everything people like Aussie-sucke Bucknor, Hair, Denness et al have done to subcontinent teams

    More than on-field success, I hope to live to see a ranatunga like figure blatantly ignoring Asian transgressions but pouncing on the mildest transgressions of Aus and England players. I would like to see Aussie bloggres ranting like I do and then enjoy it from the sidelines fully secure in the knowledge that the ICC system is biased in the favour of countries I support – which is exactly what Eng and Aus supporters are doing now.
    On top of it, Asian cricketers and writers should cry bias against Eng and Aus – even while dominating the ICC blatantly like the latter do now.
    I would like to read blogs like these at that point. Hope that day comes.

  14. RK, my frustration is at seeing names like Kohli – he hasnt shown technique, temparament or ability. Just that he got lucky on a couple of occasions and unfortunately, Tanmay didnt get chances with Mohali – even there, Kohli played 12 mathces and still failed to show spark in IPL.

    This is what I call lazy – you should be able to see that kohli doesnt cut it. Ofcourse, he might get lucky with pitches and bowlers and make a couple of centuries – that wouldnt negate my point.

  15. I thought that he didn’t cut it too after watching him in the IPL. But he looked pretty solid in Sri Lanka and somehow manages to score. He seems to play cricket like Robin Uthappa does, but look carefully at what he did in Sri Lanka. I thought he played carefully and managed to get through really sticky periods initially before falling when on 35 or 40. With maturity, he’ll convert the 30s and 40s into 70s and 80s, and I’m willing to give him that much rope. Which I’m not willing to do for Uthappa, who doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near selection.

    And you can be sure Virat Kohli is in the selectors’ minds, as part of a group of 6-7 new middle order guys

  16. By the way, talking about aussie attitudes towards India, I just couldn’t believe this quote from Matt Hayden:

    “Often we find ourselves waiting with hands on hips for someone to face up or someone on the sight board to move away or some of those little frustrations happening with third world countries”

    India is a third world country, but his condescending attitude is pathetic. Matty, don’t shit on your plate. You’re more than welcome to fish with your buddy Roy than bilking money out of the Chennai franchise.

  17. RK,

    Matt Hayden is a bludgeoning opener who is a treat to watch.And if one of my journalist friends is to be believed, is a very soft spoken person when you meet him.

    But give him a mic, he becomes an oaf.

    We can’t explain this contradiction.

    Initially, I used to think that Aussie players leave their aggression on the field and have finely tuned sensitivities towards the less privileged of this world. People like Steve Waugh with all his charity work probably reinforced this notion a lot.

    However, in recent times, some of the Aussie players seem to be carrying the aggression off the field.

    The Indian players, not to be left behind, are copying the Andre Nels and Matt Haydens of this world. Just this morning, I read some obnoxious comments from Harbhajan again.

    In this era, we have witnessed many champion players.We are also witnessing the antics of people like Hayden, Bhajji, Roy, Sreesanth, Nel, Afridi.

    Lets just enjoy the cricket, I say.

  18. Btw, Cheteswar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja were involved in a world record 5th wicket partnership on Tuesday.

    They scored 502* for Saurashtra against Orissa in a Ranji trophy match. Pujara scored 302* and Jadeja (he plays for Warney’s Royals in the IPL)scored 232*.

    Incidentally, they beat the record of Waugh twins who put on 464* for NSW against WA in 1990.

  19. With regards to the spin option I think now that Anil has left , Mishra is the leading contender.

    However I think there are 3 more names that need to be put on the sheet.

    -Chawla
    -Karthik
    -Mohnish Pawar (very young but could be the replacement for Bajji)

    Im going to be doing a post on these options soon. Watch out for that at http://www.theflyslip.net.

    I think Dravid will retire after the England series. He started off against them It would be fitting to leave after playing them.

    Whatever way you look at it, you cannot deny that India are the pretenders to the throne at the moment.

    I will rubbish talks of Australias decline for the time being. A fair assessment can be made only after the summer down under.

  20. Monish Parmar will never get a chance at the top level, his action is way too controversial. It looks to me like he chucks, but I’m loath to pass judgment.

  21. RK and nestaquin; great take on the series. But dont you think the 4 snooze-fests also raised about the sustainability of test cricket? For once I wouldn’t blame the crowds for not turning up to see two teams play ordinary cricket but extra-ordinary gamesmanship. I’ve blogged about certain rule changes that test cricket needs to survive.
    http://outsideedge.wordpress.com

    Also, adding you to my blogroll

    Cheers!

  22. Great analysis RK. My thoughts…

    Virat, Yuvraj & Uthappa – I think all three of them should be kept only on the fringes at this point in time. They should only be used as one-off match replacements for an injured player, if at all.

    I do not think Uthappa has what it takes temperament/technique wise to make the test team. Virat still has a lot to prove in these two areas. Yuvi anyways seems to have a suspect technique that would get exposed brutally on good test wickets. Besides I do not think the explosiveness with his fielding is going to return. I see him becoming a liability on the field within the next 2-3 years unless his knee completely heals. In fact if his batting form dips slightly there will be questions asked about his presence in the ODI team as well.

    Finally, I really do hope Sreesanth completes his shoulder rehab and returns quickly. He is a guy who will run in hard all day, irrespective of the situation. Despite his other distractions off the field when he gets on the field he gives it all and I am sure Dhoni would love to have him. He is the best insurance you can have for a Ishant breakdown or injury. Munaf/RP are more appropriate backups for Zaheer.

  23. Actually, RK, I guess the current generation of Indian players is in the same class as the Aussie players of the past 10-12 years, particularly the Ponting team.
    It seems like the recent bad behaviour of the Dhoni generation has given ammunition to Aussie oafs who now say “look at Indian players, bad behaviour”. What is funny is they have condoned worse behaviour by Aussie players but let that pass.
    Where does that leave Sachin, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman, Srinath etc? These were exemplary characters – no one in the last 12-15 years in the Oz team can match them in terms of impeccable behaviour. If we were still in 1999, then it is game set and match for India as far as sporting spirit goes.

    I guess at that time, there were only hard-but-fair defences from Aussie suporters. Because none of them could have pointed a finger at these gentlemen.

    Now that Indian players are retliating,
    a) ICC is reacting – punishing Asian players selectively and creating an history as if only they are badly behaved when the truth is that Aussie players are worse. Recent clear example is johnson vs Laxman. And Billy’s schoolboy treatment of Laxman. However, the likes of Nesta, who like to pretend to be objective observers of the game, will not comment on that. leave that
    b) Aussie players and writers are trying to bask in the bad behaviour of the new Indian players – making it seem like they are saints and the indians are sinners. Shame on your hypocrisy Australia(except the sensible Aussies to whom I doff my hat – though I havent encountered one in the net or in person so far, I believe they do exist somewhere.)

    Well, I have the courage and honesty to condemn the bad behaviour of the current generation of Indian players even though they are only reacting. But I guess no Aussie, including this blogger, will have the courage to condemn bad behaviour of their players. Dont bring Roebuck to me – i guess he is pandering to Indian market.

  24. One important point to note that Indian players, the new generation, had problems with Aussies in December-January earlier this year.
    Then they played South Africa – no major issues. Then they played Sri Lanka – the players were respectful to each othee.
    Then Australia visit again – the bad behaviour resumes.
    From this it is clear who are the real bad boys. Why is it that it is the Aussies who have problem with others and Indians dont have problems with others?
    Australia has to introspect but for that one needs a conscience and I dont think Ponting has one – anyone who cannot even tolerate mild criticism and starts throwing sermons on his integrity is incapable of self-analysis. Therein lies the rub.

    I guess we should learn to ignore this as Aussie players lack the education and moral compass to understand their bad behaviour – you cannot keep justifying it saying it is your culture when everyone else dislikes it. And branding anyone who complains as a sissy has been a standard tactic too. Of course, they themsleves can keep complaining and whining about Sydney without being called sissies – if they had an ounce of intelligence, they would be ashamed of themselves

  25. As for the 4-day snooze fests, this is test cricket. If all tests were like 90-overs-a-day, 4 RPO everyday every single test – how long would you think test cricket survives?
    Variety is the spice of life – to comprehend nectar needs sore necessity – therefore the exaggerated crocodile tears for test cricket can stop

  26. I’d rather take the attrition and chess-like play of day 3 in Nagpur than the thrill-a-minute 20-20. You’ll forget any number of last-ball 20-20 thriller before forgetting Ishant’s hour-long spell to Ponting in Perth, or Warne’s last-day mastery in Adelaide, or Rahul Dravid’s minor epics at Sabina Park.

  27. raj, forget it man. I think there’s bad behaviour on both sides. Though Australia have been more culpable since the Waugh days, India are catching up. As for the ICC, I wonder if their treatment of subcontinental players isn’t revenge for BCCI’s dominance. And BCCI’s tyranny and holier-than-thou attitude isn’t in reveng for ICC’s discrimination. It’s like dog chasing its tail.

    Siddhart Vaidyanathan has a great article on cricinfo about how the Fab Five were actually players you’re parents would approve as role models, but no chance of that with Bajji or Sreesanth. That’s true enough. In fact, this prickly “how-dare-you-criticise-me” attitude is spreading all over India. Just take a look at the news channels, it’s like watching all Foxxnews, all the time.

  28. RK, never denied that the new generation of the India players are obnoxious, except Dhoni – who seems to strike the fine balance between gamesmanship and obnoxious behaviour.

    My point is this:
    While you and I acknowledge this graciously, Oz supporters only talk about Indian behaviour, conveniently ignoring that these guys are doing what Oz has been doing for years – and in fact, one can argue that it is because of television exposure to Australian cricket in the late 80’s and through the 90’s that has taught these new generation of Indian cricketers this sort of bad behaviour – this is clearly reflected in the fact that the previous generation that didnt grow up watching televised cricket from Australia so often is impeccable – viz Dravid Kumble Sachin Laxman etc

    However, try getting even one word from Aussies(including Nestaquin, who is suppsoed to be a relatively objective Aussie blogger) on that! He will call Gambhir unprofessional – fair enough – but will not comment on Johnson’s bad behaviour that too against gentleman Laxman.
    Such is the hypocrisy of the Aussies.

    And the worst part is now that we have these badly behaved Indian cricketers, Aussies are trying to create an image that it has always been Indian cricketers who are badly behaved while Aussies have been role models or hard-but-fair.
    This is sick and with due respect, I have to include nestaquin in this list of hypocritical aussies since he steadfastly refuses to criticise his team’s behaviour.

  29. I concur with the point on T20s and tests. This negative tactic criticism is coming about only because India indulged in it – and succesfully at that. Few months down the line, we might see Vettori or Ponting doing the same to each other and no one will battle an eyelid, much less talk about spirit of cricket and entertainment to spectators.

  30. Brilliant Analysis–RK,

    I agree with the point about Kaif. I think he, should be given much more of a look-in than he is at the moment. He should be considered for the #6 spot, and Laxman at #5. Laxman coming in at #6, no doubt will balance the batting, but I think it’s just a little too late for him to come to the crease.


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