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The State of Indian Cricket: Roundtable Discussion (part 1)

In a 2-part series, our team of Indian fans brings their view on the most important questions waiting to be answered in Indian cricket right now…

1.      What are your thoughts on India’s latest loss in the Asia Cup versus Pakistan? Where could the team have done better so that they won the match?

Nikhil Puri: Over the past fifteen or so years, India have beaten Pakistan more often than not. This is more so in big tournaments like World Cups, Champions Trophies and the World T20. With regards to that particular match, India probably had too few runs on the board, probably 30 less than where they should have been at a minimum to win the match, and probably 50 or 60 less given the frailty in India’s bowling attack. Missed chances in the field such as Dinesh Karthik’s stumping or letting Junaid Khan take a single in that last over also cost us. In games like this, it is the little things that count, and sides low on confidence like India tend to do those things wrong, and often continue to end up on the losing side. It’s not that India doesn’t have the talent, it’s the execution that is wrong. That’s related to the mindset of the players, whether it is training hard (as Gavaskar points out), leadership (Kohli is new), coaching (coaches have not produced ideal results) and a myriad of other factors.

Ashwin Suresh: I think the fans and the media are reading too much into this particular loss. India definitely had 25-30 runs less than they needed to, though what really hurt them was the shoddy work on the field. But all that aside, I think this loss needs to be looked at from the macro perspective. So you really need to understand why India has been losing so consistently in recent times.

Rahul Ravikrishnan: The main reason India lost is due to sloppy fielding. I think a combination of a lot of cricket, travel, and lack of rest did not allow players to get adequate rest in order to maintain focus and consistency in the field. Karthik’s stumping, Dhawan’s miss fields and drop catches stick out. Jadeja was the only person who stood out with bat, ball and field which may be because he is always in beast mode. The smaller fields also made it easy for Afridi to swing through the line in the last overs. India may have done better chasing. The Dew on the field would not have helped much either. Yuvraj would have been a good selection in the Asia Cup tour. His spin bowling and sixes in small grounds would have helped alot. People will say, that I am making excuses and perhaps I am, but these are legit excuses.

Dhruv Deepak: An unfamiliar Indian batting middle order bereft of Yuvraj, Raina and Dhoni will always raise eyebrows. After a fairly decent start, Rahane and Karthik both got bogged down, then lost their wickets without recovering on their poor strike rates. This was critical – if one of them had continued we would likely have had a winning score – however both of them (and Rayadu) fell to ordinary deliveries. It was left to Jadeja, who is now the heartbeat of the Indian team, to salvage things with some fine hitting at the death. 245 may seem like a below-par score, but not against a flimsy Pakistan batting order, and armed with three very good spinners. True to form, our spinners strangled the runs in the middle and later overs, except for Jadeja. Jaddu strangely had an off-day with the ball, being targeted in the early overs and then later by Afridi. He did create pressure in the middle overs though (not to mention some fantastic fielding as well).  Our spinners created panic as evidenced by the run-outs and fall of wickets in clumps. And then Afridi happened. He was cheeky, he was fortunate, he was inspired. Call it the lack of the cushion of extra runs, or the lack of a pace bowler who can bowl yorkers, but without that little whirlwind, Pakistan would have crumbled to a loss. Overall it was a well-matched game and I thought we selected a good team, good enough to win this one. However, India will always be India ‘A’ without one MSD – KKD can take a bow and gets an honorary mention for making ridiculous errors with the bat and the gloves two games in a row. This was a one-off game, and I don’t think too much should be read into it.

Anirudh Pandita: Not too disheartened. It was a good game and our bowlers (and their batsmen) made the best out of it. We were 30 runs short. The blame for that has to be placed on the middle order. Our number 3, 4, 6 made 62 runs between them in 107 balls. Had they even made 100 in 107 balls, we’d have won the game. It is unacceptable for multiple batsmen to get 20+ and not convert it into a 50+ score.

 

2.      Where is India failing again and again? Fast bowling? Lack of attacking spinners? Top order batting?

NP: India’s batting, which has been its strength in the past, has descended to a state of uncertainty. In the past, there was a certain expectation of a role performed by certain players in the side. You knew that Sehwag would come out dashing, Tendulkar and Ganguly would take advantage of the fielding restrictions, Dravid and Gambhir would consolidate, and Yuvraj, Dhoni and others would attack at the end. There is no such consistency in India’s batting anymore, aside from Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. Granted, this is a young side, but the batsmen have been given ample opportunities to perform and cement their place in the side in many cases, and have not grabbed on to their opportunities on a consistent basis.

Bowling wise, India’s fast bowling continues to suffer. Shami has shown some promise, but at this point, being the spearhead of the attack only a year into his career has probably put undue pressure on him. The problem is, talented seamers with a bit of pace are so rare in India, that when the national side gets a hold of one, they make the most use of that bowler by playing him in every match. Eventually that seamer wears out. I certainly hope that isn’t the case with Shami. B Kumar doesn’t have it in him at this level in my opinion. I had briefly thought he could work, given his success in India, but a quick look at this returns from two overseas tours and the Asia Cup has shown me that he doesn’t have the staying strength to continually threaten batsmen overseas. If he gets his death bowling right, he could be an option for a third seamer in ODI cricket, but he definitely doesn’t have the ability for test cricket.

Spinners wise, Ashwin has failed overseas time and time again, and the one positive to come out of this Asia Cup is Amit Mishra’s bowling. His flight, turn, bounce and the consistency with which he delivered these in a high pressure match is to be lauded.

AS:  Part of it comes down to inconsistent team composition. They haven’t been able to find the anchor pacemen and they’ve been rotating the spinners a whole lot too. The batting composition has been pretty consistent save for tournaments where players are resting. But it’s these changes to the bowling that seem to be having an effect. None of the bowlers are settled, no one looks like they’re coming prepared with a plan. That’s a failure on the part of the coaching staff, but the selectors also need to show some faith in a group of 5-6 bowlers. Yes, it’s also a grass-roots problem because India doesn’t have a pipeline of quality bowlers coming through. The last quick bowler who performed consistently for any period of time for India was Zaheer Khan. And even he lost his form permanently once he kept getting injured. Shami has shown promise but he’s inconsistent. Ishant, on the other hand, is consistently terrible in ODIs. I think on a coaching level India needs to groom some of the guys who have natural pace. I see Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav as iconic failures of the coaching set up in India. In almost any other country they would have been taught to bowl in the right areas and would have been a pretty potent attack.

PB: Seam bowling, Seam Bowling, Seam Bowling. In tests we struggle to take 20 wickets. In ODI’s we struggle to keep the scoring below 7 or 8 an over. But we will have to live with it, as the current lot is the best we have. There are no alternatives that can be tried.  If Harbhajan performs well in some domestic tournaments, he should be given a chance again. I still feel the bounce and pace that he has is more a threat than what the current lot has. But he has to perform better than what he has done in the recent past.

RR: India just needs more gaps in between games, so that they can analyse some more and recoup to be able to be more consistent. Fast bowling is a problem and will always be. Batting is not a problem. Spin Bowling A combination of Jadeja and Mishra, Ohja or Jadeja and Part time can suffice for One Days. Ashwin can be demoted to just being a T-20 specialist. He is better at bowling 4 overs total.

DD: I wouldn’t blame the top order; of late they have all been getting scores and it is very rare to see India 1-1 or 10-2 with Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli at the top. In fact as far back as October, I doubt that India would have had a worse start than 35-1 in 10 overs more than once.  Our spin bowling serves to hold the game, and on occasion breaks it for us. They do a consistent job with Jadeja coming along admirably and Ashwin steady. Looking back at the past year, it is these two that have lent a modicum of respectability to the (high) scores we have conceded. Ashwin, I felt, also went unnoticed for his champion role in winning us the Champions Trophy. Which leaves us with the obvious problem – fast bowling. It is like our pacers fall into a vortex of mediocrity the moment they make it to the Indian team. They are bloody awful. Even the most promising of the current lot – Shami and Bhuvneshwar – have more off-days than not. There is unfortunately no solution to this. We are between a rock and a hard place – we can keep blooding new fast bowlers, risking shooting all of their confidence – or we can stick to a stable of three or four, which is what we seem to be doing in the past few months at least, and it is not working. Quite the opposite. With the new field restriction rules, it is standard for an Indian pacer to have figures of 1-70. That just blows the game for you right there.

AP: I think we are experimenting before the world cup because we don’t know our best combination yet. Like many other teams, we’ve had a massive transition from the side that played the World Cup in 2011. The middle order is not settled and we change bowlers every other game.

 

3. Thoughts on Pujara’s continued exclusion from the ODI side?

NP: I simply cannot understand this. He is one of the two best test batsmen in the country. My view is that test cricketers generally do very well in ODI cricket (if not T20 cricket). Part of this reasoning is due to the fact that the ODI game was basically devised to complete a test in a day. Tendulkar, Ponting, Lara, Viv Richards were all fantastic test batsmen. Pujara averages 55 in List A cricket, with a highest score of 158*. There is no reason to keep him out of the side. He has to bat in the top four. Either he opens with Dhawan instead of Rohit, or he bats at 4 (behind Kohli).

AS: I’m not certain where I stand with Pujara’s including in ODIs. There’s no questioning his ability, and his Test stats are proof of that, but unless he’s given an extended run, I think it’s going to be hard to determine whether he can be a long-term ODI option.

PB: Pujara has an impressive List A record. I would have liked to see him bat in the Asia cup. But I feel that he is a weak link when it comes to fielding, running between the wickets and his fitness (fragile knees). He needs to get a chance to prove me wrong, I hope he does.

RR: Pujara should be given a chance. I thought he would play in the Asia cup. Unfortunate not to get the spot. Pujara > Rayudu.

MN: I don’t think there’s room for him in our best 11, but I’m happy to be proven wrong. I think Dravid might provide an interesting comparison — orthodox, took a while to adjust to one-day cricket etc. And one of the big adjustments he made was to learn how to play with soft hands and rotate the strike. I’m just not sure Pujara has all that figured out just yet, but to be fair, he’s never been given a chance to prove himself.

DD: Pujara for president. The kid has got the goods – now he just needs to take whatever opportunities come his way. I think he is a bit stereo-typed as a defensive batsman, when in reality his big scores in Tests are all quite attacking knocks at high strike rates. I question his ability to run quick singles and be an asset in the field, but other than that he deserves an extended run. The reason that Rayadu has gone ahead in the queue is because we seem to be looking for an attacking replacement for Yuvraj / Raina. Right now, I see Kohli and Rahane occupying his potential long-term position. It will be interesting to see if he gets a go at claiming the #4 position. His ‘continued’ exclusion is not a big worry for me. Pujara will get his chance – there are plenty of ODIs to go before February 15th – and hopefully he will take it.

AP: Don’t think he’ll set the world on fire in an ODI setting. Because of his dodgy knee, he suffers from the same problems as Laxman i.e. slow in the field and slow in running between the wickets. Could be a useful addition to the squad in Australia, if we are really struggling for a stable #4.

 

4.  Thoughts on Kohli’s captaincy? Has he improved on Dhoni’s captaincy? What about Ian Chappell’s call for Kohli to replace Dhoni?

NP: Ian Chappell’s call was not a wise one in my opinion. Dhoni still has a lot left in him when it comes to captaining India. The one place where Dhoni struggles is overseas test matches. I know India lost the ODIs to SA and NZ badly recently as well, but in NZ the side lost several close games. Dhoni’s hands are also tied since his fast bowling talent is limited. Kohli’s captaincy has been more aggressive than Dhoni’s. His mindset is right, to go for the win. I like that he is charged up as captain and that charges up his teammates as well. I liked India’s intensity in the Pakistan game. They came out with a purpose in the field.

AS: The primary difference I’m seeing between Kohli and Dhoni w.r.t their captaincy is that Kohli relies on conventional methods to create opportunities in the field while Dhoni always tried something out of left field. The benefit of the latter is that there’s a surprise element to it when it works, and of course it’s great PR. I like Kohli’s aggression and his intensity, and I feel that if both Kohli and Dhoni had a better bowling attack to play with, Kohli would emerge a better captain. However, the reality is that India has a terrible bowling attack so sometimes the only way to create opportunities is through innovative captaincy.

MN: Don’t have much of an opinion on Kohli’s captaincy, but I think the only circumstance under which Dhoni should be replaced before the World Cup is if Dhoni voluntarily (i.e. without being subject to any pressure etc.) steps down. Captaincy changes can be a delicate matter especially when a well established captain is asked to step down but continues to play (unless of course you’re talking about Pakistan where this kind of thing is somehow normal), and my gut tells me we’re better off sticking with Dhoni until the World Cup (but almost surely not beyond).

DD: Too soon to tell. I don’t think he had a team with which it would be fair to judge Kohli on. Furthermore, he may be the ‘obvious’ successor in that there are no real alternatives, but I would be wary of putting the burden of captaincy on my best, and only, A-list international class batsman. As for Dhoni, he is a great one-day captain and the cornerstone of the one-day team. Ian Chappell is probably talking about Tests (or maybe even T20), and he has a point. This is one thing that works in the Indian ODI team, and I would leave it this way till the end of WC2015.

AP: Hard to judge after one series. I think the one thing in Kohli’s favor is that he has won nothing, so he will have a desire to improve and prove himself as captain. I personally prefer a creative captain like MSD.

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