Saturday, January 06, 2007

The gulf between bat and pad

This is what I posted on desicritics.

Specially relevant after yet another spectacular and inexplicable collapse of reputedly the best batting line up in the world at Capetown. As Sambit Bal says in
Cricinfo, "India might still go on to the win the match. But if they don't we know where they let it slip."

With every sports writer on the net fixated on the concept of Best of 2006, time to do something different. Time to analyse what happened to the batting powerhouse that was India. How the team which was effortlessly piling up 500+ totals in 2003 and 2004 plumbed to four spectacular last day collapses against Pakistan (twice, Bangalore / Karachi), England (Mumbai) and SA (Durban). And when was the last time you saw India save a test match by batting out the last day? (Actually, you might not have to go too far, Wasim Jaffer and Dravid spared the blushes in Nagpur against the English in March 2006, but what came in Mumbai after that was sheer madness).

So lets try to figure out what's happening. No Ganguly, Kaif, Yuvraj in the analysis as they have been at best fringe players in this period.

Sehwag : Last 20 matches, 35 innings, 1576 runs @ 47.75 with 4 centuries and 4 fifties. Not bad on first sight. But take out the four big innings (173, 201, 254 and 180) and the average falls to 26.48 over 31 innings. Sehwag has always been a hit or miss player, but his misses seem to be overwhelming the hits at the moment. Has he been caught out by the International bowlers? His pattern in his recent dismissals, mostly caught behind / caught slips / caught third man would suggest so. Can he change his game to counter this? Maybe going down the order to #6 would give him some time to ponder on this.

Shot to think over : Airy drive outside off-stump against the moving ball. N'tini has your number, mate.

Jaffer : Last 15 matches, 27 innings, 940 runs @ 33.57 with 2 centuries and 6 fifties. Strangely enough, Jaffer has been more consistent than Sehwag in this period (in spite of Sehwag's higher average) and has surely shown he belongs at this level. Strange shot selections after getting set have always been Jaffer's bane in the domestic circuit and he seems to be falling prey to the same disease here. While he has not been bad in his second chance at this level, the sheer expectation from a #2 in the batting order is much more. And no more of THAT pull shot, please.

Shot to think over : Square cut on deliveries too close to the body resulting in catching practice for second / third slip.

Dravid : 20 matches, 34 innings, 1735 runs @ 57.83 with 5 centuries and 11 fifties. Clearly the standout performer over this period, but hasn't he been doing that for some time, now? The over-dependence of the batting line-up on Dravid is evident in the hue and cry raised over his small scores in the SA series. The sheer burden of the captaincy is not adding to his joy and is sometimes reflected in his batting. Is it just my imagination or has his stance become more open leading to uncustomary flirting outside the off-stump? I have a feeling too much one-dayers are to blame for this. Is Rahul listening?

Shot to think over : The one-day special, steer to third man. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Tendulkar : 15 matches, 23 innings, 747 runs @ 33.95 with 1 century and 4 fifties. The form slump which has become the national obsession. Is it the tennis elbow, is it the sprained back, is it the ageing body or is it the mental cobwebs? Whatever it is, this Sachin is someone we do not know at all. The one whose feet are moving in slo-mo, whose first attacking shot unerringly picks out the fielder positioned just for this purpose, the one who gets bowled comprehensively in 1 innings out of 3. A straight drive still sparkles sometimes, but the wunderkid terrorising the bowlers all over the world seems to be history. A more mature Sachin playing within his limitations? The thought is hard to bear, but can you really think of any other Indian batsman replacing him even in this form?

Shot to think over : The ever-so-slightly cross-batted flick to mid-wicket on balls on the middle-stump. The shattered stumps are a sight Sachin fans could do without.

Laxman : 15 matches, 25 innings, 903 runs @ 43.00 with 3 centuries and 5 fifties. The perennial under-achiever managed to keep up the tradition in the period under review by alternating between sublime and pedestrian. With Laxman you are far more interested in "what could have been" rather than "what happened" and its really up to him to physically lift himself to the greatness which he has been promising for so long. After all, does he want history to remember him for only that one innings?

Shot to think over : The lazy waft outside off early in his innings. Now why do you want to play that shot, when you can send the next delivery crashing to the mid-wicket fence?

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