Monday, February 17, 2014

It is TIME now...

 This is to follow up with my preview. In the preview, I confidently expected India to level the series. Well, India was pretty much on course to level the series until 2 days (end of 2nd day of 2nd & Final Test) ago.  With a day to go in the final test match, NOW, it would be imprudent to expect India level the series. (Again not to forget, Cricket is a glorious game of uncertainty) 

Before any introspection, let’s rewind the tape. Teams in alien conditions mostly start on back foot. India’s story wasn’t any different. First Innings of the first test, India allowed New Zealand to run away with big total. Thanks to those drop catches that proved culprit. McCullum, Willimason & Anderson all pounced on the opportunities awarded to them and made India pay with 503. Again, Indian batsmen first outing in New Zeland wasn’t any special, when they were bowled out 300 short of opposition total. Special thanks to Indian batsman for attempting extravagant strokes little too early and causing their own downfall. Good players learn from their mistakes quickly. Indian players learnt too. The catches that went begging in the first innings found safety net in fielder’s hands in the second innings. As a result, India routed New Zealand for 105. Chasing a target excess of 400, Indian batsman spent time at the crease. That resulted in runs on the board. The lower order showed better application this time. Rather be bogged down to the second new ball, the batsmen surprised the opposition with an offensive play. After an enthralling battle, India lost the match by meagre 40 runs. Though the result ended in New Zealand’s favor, India walked into the second test with head high. Importantly, Indian players had come to terms. Even the batsman like Shikar Dhawan who has been found wanting in bouncy pitches had learnt the trade (at a most important juncture of his career and this series). It was truly impossible to believe India to lose the second test before the start of the match.

Much to the expectation, India started the proceedings well in the Second Test. Won the important toss and allowed the opposition in. They then bundled New Zealand inside 200. This was followed by disciplined batting that allowed India to post a total of 438. A total that is good enough to inflict innings defeat. Everything was falling in place when New Zealand was floundering at 92/5 during their effort to wipe the lead. And then, the match changed course. A couple of drop chances, McCullum in the company of Watling (now Neesham) reminding the historic Calcutta test. You read it right. New Zealand are sitting pretty at 578/6 (McCullum 281*, Watling 129, Neeshan 67*) with a 325 lead and a day to play. It would be imprudent to expect India level the series. We will have our answers tomorrow this time. I feel New Zealand win is a more deserving result to this test match.

I don’t want to introspect technical as many know, where India lost track. Dropped Catches, Defensive Captaincy, Flat Deck… (Feel free to fill up the blanks).

For teams to win matches, delivery should come from both Top and Bottom line. During the Tours of England and Australia (2011-2012), it was very evident that the bottom line was more of the issue to the problem. This was reconfirmed when India lost the home series to England (2012). This bottom line issues were addressed over the course of 2 years by selectors and some senior players took the onus on themselves. We witnessed, Dravid, Laxman & Tendulkar retirement. Sehwag, Gambir, Harbhajan, Yuvraj ouster. Bloated Zaheer was shown the exit while a fit Zaheer was welcomed. And then a revamped bottom line (except for few heads) delivered excellent results at home against Australia and West Indies (2013). Again for home series, the management has little work to do as skills of players are sufficient to trump average opposition. But the true test lies only outside Asia. Big question mark hung around the heads of the young Indian team before the Tour of South Africa. To be fair, the players displayed promise despite the result pointed other way at South Africa. The ongoing series against New Zealand (NZ leading 1-0 as of now) is more of an affirmation to the players promise.

For India, the bottom line seems to be solidifying every growing day. I've no doubts about the quality of this young Indian side representing India. The Time has arrived to introspect the Top line. I second Monga's article.

Bottom line: Now that the young Indian side is promising, it is not a bad idea to hand over the responsibility of managing themselves to a young Indian Captain. I would like to start with Pujara for tests. He is the most experienced player (first class) in this format of the game.

Cricket Lover

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