Posted by: rajeshkannan | February 6, 2009

Indian Cricket: Phoenix Redux

ojhaMidway through the Sri Lankan reply in the third ODI of the ongoing series, there was a quite innocuous yet remarkable passage of play.

Pragyan Ojha was in the middle of a classically beautiful spell of orthodox left-arm spin, with Sri Lanka five down and completely out of the match. Ojha bowled his staple, with the ball pitching outside leg and turning towards off, and the batsman Maharoof charged, only to be nearly beaten by the spin and ended up edging on the bounce to Sehwag at slip. Sehwag dived to his right, pouched the ball and relayed it to Dhoni all in one fluid motion. Dhoni, in the same motion, deflected the ball from above his head on to the stumps but Maharoof had made his ground.

The whole sequence couldn’t have taken more than a second, but it was mesmerising to watch, almost balletic.

But more than just aesthetics were at work here. Two balls later, Ojha bowled an identical delivery, but this time, having learnt his lesson, Maharoof stayed in his crease. Maybe he should have charged, for he ended up edging straight to Sehwag, completing an exceptional nugget of play.

My point here is that not only were India doing the one-touch fielding previously the purview of Australians, it had also led to a wicket. And here’s the real takeaway, as consultants would say – this is a team so high on confidence and with so much faith in their ability that they have now developed a swagger which emboldens them and eats into the minds of the opposition.

How else can you explain Sehwag and Yuvraj’s astonishing counterattack from 24/2 in the same game?

These two, and others in the team, are fearless characters, but their fearlessness is both a cause and effect of the whole team’s swagger -it’s a virtuous cycle which infects the whole team. Ten years ago, all the talk would have been centred on Tendulkar’s dodgy LBW decisions, but nobody cares now. And why should they, when the team is winning (more on this on Prem Panicker’s excellent blog)?

Since the 4-3 loss to England in 2007, the batting order has been revamped, with 3 superior replacements in Sehwag (for Ganguly), Raina (Dravid) and Yusuf Pathan (Uthappa). I’ll pre-empt the howls of outrage – Sehwag runs superbly with Gambhir or Tendulkar, something Ganguly never bothered to do, and Raina is superior to Dravid right now in his strike rate and fielding abilities.

Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar have taken Munaf’s and R.P. Singh’s slots. Praveen, in particular, is a curious bowler. He bowls at an unthreatening 125ks but watch him cock his wrist at the point of delivery – it means he can bowl off-cutters and leg-cutters to go with his mastery of swing both ways.

Here’s a startling statistic – India hasn’t lost a single game of cricket, in any form, for nearly six months, since the dead rubber loss to Sri Lanka in their last ODI series. And oddsmakers, quick to cotton on, have installed India as 11/4 favourites for the 2011 WC, ahead of Australia at 4/1 and South Africa at a surprisingly attractive 13/2. India and South Africa have put daylight between themselves and the rest in both Tests and ODIs, and what a mouthwatering prospect an ODI or Test series between them is now!

In fact, India’s current revival began against the Proteas in Ireland, that bastion of world cricket. It’s just been 20 months since, and already there’s heady talk of ’83 all over again.  With the World Cup still more than two years away, slips and cups come to mind, but I can’t help visualise Tendulkar, in his last international game, at the Wankhede, his home ground, holding the trophy aloft in 2011.

Hold that thought, and let a billion people dream.

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Responses

  1. After the IPL auction and with the way India are playing, I expect KP is looking into his family tree for a Patel or Prasad alongside the Pietersens!

  2. the bit about a swagger is dead on. watching yusuf pathan stroll out casally, chewing gum is the stuff of legends.

  3. that would be the fitting finale to wonderful career…

    the world cup is the only thing missing from his otherwise illustrious career/resume…

    and must say the dream of carrying it one day is driving otherwise his wearing body…

  4. Oh, I’d say he’d have liked a series win in Australia or South Africa as well but yes, I suspect a world cup is what is driving him on. He did a Maradona ’86 and more in ’03, but just couldn’t do it one last time – something I don’t blame him for at all. I mean, some of the stuff he did in the lead up to the final was mind-boggling, easily the best individual performance by anyone in any world cup.

    Notice how his performances have changed in the past year – he did nothing in the CB series, and bam, almost single-handedly won the finals. And his test innings are more nuggety and critical 80s than 150s in vain.

  5. I am amazed by all that swagger and confidence too.
    I do think lot of it has to do with the coaching staff.
    I think Gary, V Prasad, & Upton have been doing all the right things.
    And MSD’s leadership of course.

  6. I am a 90’s “Cricket is my religion, Sachin is my God” kid, and if that finish you described indeed happens, I might just bawl my eyes out. What is also heartening is the bench strength that is slowly developing. You could swap Raina for Rohit/Kohli, Yusuf for Irfan/Jadeja, Praveen for Munaf/RP Singh, Dhoni for Karthik and the team would probably do just as well. Hope the likes of Badrinath, Jadeja, Pujara, Rahane, Dhawan etc get chances too (and where’s Tiwary these days?). And I also hope that the swagger you described only stays a Viv Richards-like swagger and doesn’t get hijacked by idiots like Harbhajan and Sreesanth. There’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance, and those who don’t understand/respect this line should be phased out.

  7. I’m not going to crush a billion dreams by reminding anyone about the fickle nature of sport.

    What I will say is India must be very confident about the World T20. Back to back trophies would be deserving considering the stellar cricket they are playing at present.

    They certainly have the wood on Sri Lanka and it will be telling how they perform in NZ next month.

  8. I would predict that India will do well in NZ next month. But cricket is an unpredictable game. And given the record they have in NZ, who knows…the flying Indians might me brought down to the earth. After all, even NZ is playing good cricket at the moment.

    Also as Ravi mentioned, I definitely agree that the bench strength is increasing as the day progresses. Though, I would say India would need Uthappa again if they want to do World T20 2007 heroics again. He batted India out of trouble numerous times and I am confident he can do it again. As for Tendulkar and his World cup dream, I believe India can do it this time before he brings curtains to his glorious career. He deserves it, after all he has been one of the most faithful servant to his country. The only worry is his fitness.

    Oh and by the way before ending my comment, this is a humble request to nestaquin – please add my blog – http://crick-o.blogspot.com to your blogroll. I have already added your’s to mine. I hope you don’t mind it.

    Cheers !

  9. @nesta – I agree with you! A part time philosopher and ball thrasher named Sehwag once put it “Its easy to climb up a mountain but hard to stay atop – the winds are stronger there!”
    Whatever games they are winning they are doing it deservedly so by combined team effort. Some games, I personally could not come up with a singled out match winner. Harbhajan and Sreesanth are indeed spoiled brats but I want to think that MS puts them in their place. If he can keep Sourav and Rahul out of the team, he surely has the power to do so with any of them and I think they know it.


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