Category Archives: Rohit Sharma

What An India Victory at Adelaide Would Mean

Very little, I’m afraid. I understand the sentiment behind calls for a younger batting line-up, but I’m still skeptical. At this stage, there’s only face to be saved and even though they’ve had fourteen consecutive innings to prove themselves, I’d like to give the Big Three two more.

Say Rohit Sharma does come in Laxman’s place and does reasonably well. What exactly would that achieve, other than the untimely end of a great career? Some argue it would set the stage for the transition the Indian Test side so needs, but I think that stage is already well set for this year. We all know the retirements are coming in 2012, so why not wait one more Test? And even if Sharma does well, it’s an innings that will go to waste, since India won’t play abroad for a while. One year from now, when India ventures abroad once more, will an Adelaide Test debut matter all that much for Sharma?

Let him cool his heels. I’m not one for nostalgia or sentimentality, but I’m not a fan of mass hysteria either. It’s over, we lost, and chances are, we’ll lose the last Test too. But at this stage, I’d rather give this lot a nod of the head, some thanks and say farewell. Down with the ship we go. (Hmm, perhaps a little more sentimental than I thought.)

How Many Indian Cricket Players Are Jerks, Exactly?

Two interviews — with Venkatesh Prasad (former bowling coach) and Yuvraj Singh (former, uh, batsman) — offer hints into dressing room drama, and my long-held suspicion that cricketing fame is wasted on 20-somethings.

First, Prasad. The Cricinfo article makes for a depressing read:

During his India stint, he said, he found the bowlers’ work load in the nets to be inadequate. “I was very disappointed with the amount of bowling that was going in nets. And with the amount of training: they weren’t training hard, the bowlers weren’t pushing themselves.”

Bowlers – he did not name any – could not be pushed to put in more than 20 minutes in the India nets, and he said that, as a member of the support staff, he could not be after them every day. “I can’t keep saying, ‘Come on XYZ, whoever they may be, bowl for one hour.” He said he did so on many occasions but it wasn’t always appreciated. “It’s a thin line. There were lots of players who, when you told them something, didn’t like it.

Prasad only praises three bowlers explicitly — Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and S. Sreesanth. One is on the perpetual edge of being dropped; one is a ODI specialist, and the other has a dodgy shoulder.

OK, but these are the bowlers, who don’t usually win India’s hearts and minds as much as the team’s batsmen. For that, we turn to Yuvraj, who sees himself as much wiser and older now that he’s been dropped, injured and out of form:

I see a lot of youngsters like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who are very talented and flamboyant. As a senior I tell them not to make the same mistakes I made, and try to guide them to a better tomorrow…They don’t listen, especially Rohit and Virat. [Suresh] Raina still listens a little bit, but Rohit and Virat always argue with me.

This raises a bigger question: if you had to choose between an excellent batsman with a crappy attitude, or a capable batsman with the right one, which would you pick? And, secondly, why does India persist in selecting young ‘uns? Spending a few years in the wilderness — a la Gambhir — builds character.

India’s Selection Woes

Two contrasting analyses on India’s selection issues from Cricinfo. The first, from Harsha Bhogle, on India’s no. 7 (all-rounder) problem:

India’s wish list is pretty obvious really, and a first reading will expose the biggest problem with it. Ideally this is what I suspect Kirsten and Dhoni and Srikkanth would be looking at the evening before the first game: SachinTendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar or Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha. Eleven of those 12 names look settled, but for India to be strong at the World Cup, No. 7 needs to be identified, and at the moment Irfan Pathan has gone underground.

Sure, there’s a problem there, but for the most part, the team is settled. Now, the preview of India’s game against Sri Lanka tomorrow:

India’s questions are several: Is Ravindra Jadeja good enough? Is there an in-form allrounder who can replace Jadeja, or should the part-time spinners fill the role of the fifth bowler in the subcontinent? Is medium-pacer Abhimanyu Mithun good enough? Should Virat Kohli play in the middle order, or should Rohit Sharma be persisted with? Will Ishant Sharma’s form dip further if he is looted for runs in this format? And how long will Dinesh Karthik continue to squander starts?

Injuries obviously complicate the picture, as do the selectors’ decision (the right one, I believe) to rest some key players. Still, the relative merits of Kohli, Sharma and Karthik will determine India’s lineup in the long-term — and I’m not sure it’s an issue easily settled.

The New-Look India Test Team

The Old Batsman wonders what the Australian team will look like if they planned a bit more for the future (or if they want to beat England this summer).  I wonder the same thing for the Indian national team, whose Test side has remained largely stable while the ODI team has changed immensely in the last few years.

So what would they look like sans Tendulkar, Laxman, and Dravid? Gambhir and Sehwag stay as openers, but a team with both Raina and Yuvraj makes me shudder (besides, I think Yuvraj at this point may need to look at the writing on the wall and focus on ODIs and T20s, where he is most needed). Let’s pick Raina ahead (for now), and bring in M. Vijay (who really impresses me, though I’d like to see him play outside India more), and S. Badrinath (whose relative experience at the first-class level might be a virtue).  That leaves one more spot — but for who? Rohit Sharma (too inconsistent)?  Virat Kohli (too much of a one-day player)? Manoj Tiwary? I see there’s a Twitter campaign to bring in C. Pujara.

So: Gambhir, Sehwag,  Badrinath, Vijay, Raina, Dhoni — how do we feel about that line-up? Are there other top-runners you think should be included?

India’s Rookie Mistakes

I don’t know why, but Zimbabwe has always had India’s number, especially when the South Asians are on tour. You can find the entire record on Cricinfo’s unbeatable statistics page, but they paint a depressing picture: the Zimbabweans twice beat India in Test matches (and won a series in 1998/1999). The ODI scorecard is more lopsided in India’s favor (39-10), but even as late as 2002, the Zimbabweans picked up victories.

What’s different here is that this Zimbabwe team is not the team of the 1990s, when the likes of the Flower brothers and Heath Streak prowled the field. Obviously, they’ve come a long way, and it’s heartening to think that all those years in non-Test wilderness have borne some fruit (if not proper cricketing equipment; Harbhajan Singh apparently had to donate kits after he saw what his counterparts were working with at the T20 World Cup).

But India has also been a tad hopeless. Suresh Raina can no longer be called a rookie, with nearly 100 matches under his belt. Still, in the first match against the Sri Lankans, he had to be reminded to tell the umpires he wanted to call the Powerplay after the first ten overs. This is how we breed talent in the Indian team: we get them young, out of the domestic leagues, and then ship them off to Australia or Zimbabwe to learn, sink-or-swim style. (We did the same in 2009, when a young Dhoni led an even younger team to victory against the Australians in the ODI series.)

So, don’t think of this series as India v. Zimbabwe. Think of it as another Ranji match; look at the youngsters learn. In any event, a few years from now, they’ll be gone too.

That Indian T20 World Cup Brawl

Incredibly bizarre news from Cricinfo, re: Indian players scolded for fighting in a St. Lucia nightclub:

The incident took place on the evening of May 11, after India lost to Sri Lanka to ensure their elimination from the tournament. The players, who had been placed under restricted movement till then, were allowed to go out. A few – including some named in the report – went to a local nightclub where some Indian fans were also present. It is believed the fans, upset by the team’s performance, taunted the players, following which the situation escalated.

Incidentally, Biswal denied reports of the brawl when he returned to India. “There is no truth at all about the brawl. It is all media creation that is doing the rounds,” he said last week.

First of all, Indian fans hanging out in St. Lucia nightclubs, if you meet a collection of superstar athletes, it’s best to ask for an autograph, or offer to buy them a drink, rather than taunt them. This love-hate thing needs to cool down.

Second of all, Indian players, I realize you’re all 20-somethings eager to have some fun after being cooped up in a hotel. But the next time this stuff happens, turn up the Rihanna and start dancing. Or something. We’re not Australians. (Another tip: ask yourself, “What would Rahul Dravid do?” and act accordingly.)

Third: Kudos to Cricinfo staff for pointing out Biswal’s change-of-mind regarding the facts. As a journalist, I can tell you there’s nothing more satisfying than calling out sources when they tell you absolute bullshit.

The Low-Down On Indian Selections

It’s funny to read about the various Indian selection critiques (why did they pick four seam bowlers when they knew they would only use two in the match, etc.) because for so long, we’ve had such a stable line-up. Ganguly, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid — they made things rather easy for the selectors, and for us. The prospect of their retiring — at some point in the next year or two, surely — means we’ll get to do that most Indian of things: pick apart the selection committee, choice by stupid choice.

But maybe the future won’t be that contentious. On the whole, I wasn’t too unhappy with M. Vijay or S. Badrinath. The former should have stuck around longer, and got out to an absolutely foolish stroke, but he looked solid. As did Badrinath — I’m amazed that he’s the oldest debutant Indian batsman; the man’s only 29 (that would be considered quite young in Australia). I’m not sure why he lunged at the Wayne Parnell delivery outside off-stump; otherwise, he seemed to show a straight bat, head over ball, textbook kind of approach.

I’m not yet sold on Suresh Raina for Tests; I prefer Rohit Sharma (Bombay boy, don’t you know) even though he keeps letting me down (an average of just 25 after 41 ODIs just doesn’t cut it). My heart remains set, though, on Irfan Pathan. Watching him lose his way was among the most heartbreaking affairs of the Chappell Era, and I’d like to see him make his way back before the rest of the young ‘uns settle in.

An Indian Decline, Or Just A Hiccup?

Why do South Asian teams go from brilliance to embarrassingly low depths in a week? More specifically, what is going on with India? On the one hand, you want to blame a ridiculously non-stop schedule (who scheduled this ridiculous series anyway?) and dismiss India’s 2nd ODI performance as nothing more than a blip. On the other hand, there are the usual worries: is Rohit Sharma cut out for the big leagues, or will he only prosper in the Twenty20 format? What’s wrong with Gautam Gambhir? And who knew R.P. Singh could play defense so well?

Don’t have many answers, I’m afraid. I’m relatively happy with the current team, and I’ll give them as much space and time they need before the 2011 World Cup. Thank goodness this flare-up isn’t happening too close to the event.

The Flexible Indian Batting Lineup

Must-read blogger Samir Chopra has a post on Cricinfo’s Different Strokes (“Samir Chopra: Because One Blog Ain’t Enough“) about flexibility and the Indian lineup. My thinking isn’t completely sorted out in the matter, but I think I disagree with Chopra’s reasoning. I’m afraid we haven’t fully appreciated the difficulty of balancing stability and adaptability.

Chopra mainly argues that Dhoni wrongly tries to achieve a flexible batting lineup rather than flexible batsmen. So, as Dhoni recently said, who went in as No. 3 depended on who fell first; if it was Rohit Sharma, then Raina would enter, if Gambhir, then Dhoni came in. Chopra argues Dhoni should just tell each batsman to play according to the match situation and be done with it, rather than indulge in a game of musical chairs every match. Good players, Chopra writes, adapt:

If you are a No. 3, and an early wicket falls, you play a little differently than you do if there are a hundred runs on the board. If you are a No. 6, and the team is in trouble, as opposed to looking for a declaration, you bat a little differently. And so on.

OK. So far, so good. But then I’m a tad confused when Chopra talks of one benefit of a more established lineup:

Sure, sending them in at different positions challenges them. But why not give them stability in their expectations of where they are to play and instead demand adaptiveness in their responses to match situations?

And here’s my problem: if we go with Chopra’s argument and each batsman must come in and adapt accordingly to each game (and each situation), then surely that batsman doesn’t enjoy much stability, regardless of where he comes onto the field, right? So, if you tell me I’m your No. 3 no matter what, but that how I play depends on what’s going on, I’d not feel all that stable.

At the very least, I’d feel just as stable as if I had a fixed role in the lineup — pinch-hitter, anchor, whatever — and was sent in whenever my captain felt best. Say I’m Yusuf Pathan and I eat bowlers for breakfast. Why don’t I just hone that skill and then display it whenever my captain thinks the score needs to be accelerated?

My point isn’t that the first system is better than the second. I only mean either way, there’s not that much stability. In the first system, I may be a great pinch-hitter at No. 6, but if a few wickets have fallen quickly, I might end up having to hit singles around for a good 10 overs. Not ideal. In the second model, I don’t even know when to get my pads on. Either way, I have to balance stability and flexibility.

I’ll just add two independent points: first, I think Greg Chappell first introduced this notion of a roving lineup as coach because he felt players had ossified in their traditional roles, stifling creativity and on-the-go thinking. Rather than see a player think for himself during a particular moment in a match, we’d witness too many revolve around the team’s Big Guns — Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar — with no one having a credible answer when the three failed. In a way, then, a flexible batting lineup encourages what Chopra wants; it’s a teaching tool. Some may say international cricket isn’t the place to learn the game, but others won’t dismiss it lightly given the average age of this young Indian team.

And secondly, I think we only get to an ideal place in a lineup when everything works according to plan. That’s why the Australians did so well for so long: their openers regularly saw off the new ball (and then some); their No. 3 went on to nicely bridge the middle order along; their lower-order and tail nicely finished off any hint of opposition.

When something gets misplaced in this elaborate jigsaw, things fall apart, as they did for India. No Sehwag at the top and a flailing Gambhir almost ensured things would go screwy. You send Rohit Sharma to No. 2, but then what happens to No. 4 or No. 5? By 2011, however, I’m sure the top-order will look like this: Sehwag, Gambhir, Sharma, Raina, Yuvraj, Dhoni, and Y. Pathan. Good enough for me, no matter who’s where.

Did Indian Players Fail The ‘Indian’ Premier League?

Now that the IPL circus is over, we can look at which players performed (and earned their price-tags), and which didn’t.

First off, I think Uncle J Rod was correct about Rahul Dravid, ex-captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Over $1 million earned and he produced 271 runs at an average of 22.58. His silly parting shot in the final — an attempted flick off the legs, even though fine-leg was near — helped his team lose an eminently winnable match. Continue reading