Sunday, January 8, 2012

How can India salvage this series?

Indeed how is this possible? This is the question in the minds of every Indian fan! In my opinion, there are two aspects, one mental and one cricketing.

Lets look at the cricketing part - One wonders why Indians are so good at home and so bad overseas. First and foremost to win a Test match, you need to take 20 wickets within 200 overs or so. Simple as that. In the sub-continent conditions, India can go in with 2 spinners and 2 pacemen. The 2 spinners can bowl long spells and take wickets as well. Overseas, India goes in with three pacemen and one spinner. In my opinion, it is too much to ask of the pacemen to bowl 50 overs each a game with intensity and also take on average 5 wickets a game! If one bowler has a bad day, then the load of bowling and wicket taking has to be shared by two pacemen - the spinner not being effective till late in the 4th day (most maches finish by then).

My mantra is simple - India needs to go in with 5 bowlers - 4 pacemen and 1 spinner. This is our best chance of taking 20 wickets within 200 overs. The last game we won in Australia, Perth 2008 saw 5 bowlers in the Indian team with Irfan Pathan opening. I would like to see an SOS go to Irfan. But that is not going to happen. The only viable option then is to replace Kohli with a paceman for Perth. We have seen that Ravi Ashwin and Zak are good enough batsmen. The management is blaming the batting and the batsmen need to take more responsibility but that alone will not win us games.

The next change is to the batting order. Dhoni needs to move up to number 3. He is best when he is attacking and under no pressure. At No. 3, he can bat freely and play his natural attacking game with Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman or Rohit Sharma or Gambhir to follow. Rohit Sharma needs to be brought in instead of Gambhir or Laxman and asked to open the batting. Gambhir, if he is in the team, can go down to No 6.

Dhoni's captaincy needs to change, failing which he needs to be replaced as captain. Although the margins of defeat were big, I believe the 2 games were lost due to a few blunders at critical stages. At the MCG, India lost because Dhoni failed to attack late on the 3rd day and let the game drift. Else India could have bundled Australia out and kept the target to under 200. At the SCG, the best chance for India was to take a wicket early on the second day, or atleast just before the new ball was due. This would have put pressure on the brittle Aussie middle order and might have triggered a collapse (There are a number of precedents for this in 2011). Instead Dhoni bowled part timers with a defensive field and ensured that the Aussies had well-set batsmen to face the new ball. In stark contrast, Michael Clarke attacked Tendulkar and Laxman just before the new ball was due on the 4th day and triggered a collapse. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now lets look at the mental part - First and foremost, the players need to believe that they can pull it off. There is no substitute for this. Some of the young players were seen late at night at night clubs two nights before the MCG game and also again on Friday night after losing the SCG game. This is simply not acceptable. Dhoni and the team management need to put a curb to this and ensure that the entire focus is on the cricket and on winning. The players need to want to win, at least as much as us fans want them to win!!!

Sai Mahesh

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