Does It Matter Who India’s No. 3 Is?

I just praised Sidharth Monga’s piece on partnerships, but as the law of averages dictates, I must now criticize his latest work about India’s No. 3 (or lack thereof).

My problem with the piece is that Monga may not have made up his mind before he started writing it. As Monga states, in the past few months since Kirsten-Dhoni have combined, Dhoni, Raina, Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, and Sachin have all come in at the position.

Should this matter? On the one hand, Monga says no: “The Indian line-up is imposing with everyone capable of batting anywhere.” On the other hand, however, Monga worries that if things aren’t settled, batsmen will soon lose focus (a critique that was often mentioned after the Chappell-Dravid era). Monga sounds a bit unfocused himself: this is a problem, but it isn’t, but it might be, but it might not be.

A far better approach would have been a think-piece about the value of assigning particular batsmen to particular slots. I’m not sure that there’s any inherent worth to a settled line-up in one-day cricket. In the Test match format, sure, you want particular batsmen doing particular things (Brendon Nash, for instance, is the ideal middle-order bulwark, like Michael Hussey of Australia) because the game’s duration lowers the need for immediate adaptability.

One-day cricket is a different creature: you have the field restrictions and Powerplays and slog overs to think off; you have to consider bowling spells (when will the spinners come on? When will the ball lose color and shape?), and you have to think about, as Dhoni said, the batsmen’s own rhythm.

This was Chappell’s point all along. He thought India had grown stale and rigid in its approach, replacing team and overall strategy with a basic reliance on individual brilliance (Ganguly will save us if Dravid doesn’t save if Tendulkar doesn’t save us). The bigger idea — think about the team and do what the situation requires — was lost, as batsmen only did what they thought they were supposed to. With the big players mostly gone, however, none of that matters: Sharma, Raina, the Pathans are all relatively new the scene, and they seem happy to exchange places with one another around Dhoni, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, and Singh.

For now, at least, things are working well, and Monga missed the chance to make a much bigger conceptual argument.

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