Archive for August 21st, 2011

Was India ever a No.1 Test team?

August 21, 2011

India may have become a No.1 test team but it just seems to be a statistical error. The current performance against England has been so so bad that one does not know where to look for answers.

The current India-England cricket series has produced far worse outcomes even for the most pessimistic Indian team critics. It may not be a black swan event but was a clearly a tail event with very low probability.  To imagine how Indian cricket team has been so thoroughly outplayed in all departments for four consecutive tests is something I have never seen. Each test has produced a defeat bigger than previous test. As I am writing this post, India is at 150/6 with England piling 590 odd runs in the first innings. Barring rain, the outcome is certain. A follow on and an innings defeat. The first two tests India lost by runs, third test by an innings and fourth follow-on innings defeat.

India has always been an domestic tigers and awful travelers losing tests easily travelling abroad. This changed in 2000s after England tour in 2001 (ironically) where we managed to draw the series followed by an amazing series of runs with wins in Pakistan (in 2003), draw against Australia in 2003-04 series, wins against England in 2007, New Zealand in 2009, draws against Sri Lanka and South Africa in 2010 and so on. We did not win in Australia, South Africa etc but atleast held our heads high with some stellar performances and winning atleast one match.

But this series in 2011 has been too much to handle and figure. We never really bowled so badly abroad as our gentle pacers managed some movement which was absent in Indian conditions. There have always been one-two memorable spells from someone which turned one match around in previous away series. But this time it looks like any college/club attack. There has been no memorable spell with each inning of bowling worse than previous inning.  If we did not accidentally discover Praveen Kumar (who could not turn around matches) England might have put 1000 runs as well..

Batters were always a pride but have failed so miserably (not one score of 300!) collectively that one does not know which way to look. First test match of the series was always bad, but to bat so badly in each test has never been seen before. Barring Dravid, it has only been shame.

Fielding has always been a case of embarrassment which was hidden in batting and some bowling performance. So, nothing to write on it. The so called youngsters are no better. Dravid himself  has spilled so many catches which shows the minds are elsewhere.

The ongoing series reminds me of two such series. SA in 1996-97 and Australia in 1999. We were just shocked by the pace and movement. Both bowlers and batters could not handle swing in 1996 and first test got over in 3 days (scores of 100 and 66). In second we saw a mighty fightback by Sachin and Azhar and managed to save the follow on. But SA was too good and we just could not fight in 2nd innings. However, in third there was a beiger fightback and India could have won the test if it was not for Cullinan and rains. Dravid batted superbly and we showed it was not lack of skill but for lack of preparation.

In 1999, we ran against one of the best test sides ever and barring some spark from T’kar and Laxman in last innings of the 3rd test, it was a complete whitewash. Laxman was awesome in that inning and went onto dominate Australia which no one else could.

However, in 2011 we had far bigger reputations. We were nowhere there in 1996 and 1999 but were no. 1  in 2011. To imagine performance like this between No 1 and No 3 (Eng was no. 3 before the series with SA at No. 2), was unthinkable. Barring the first two days of second test, India looked like the last ranked team. Even currently last ranked team like B’Desh, Zimbabwe etc would have put better performances in atleast one test.

I am not sure what is going on? People have come up with following answers:

  • Too much of cricket- Yes there is too much of cricket but that applies to all. Not an excuse really. People are free to choose whether to play or not. It all boils down to your preferences.
  • IPL and money – I don’t like to say this but this has been a real factor. It is connected to the first. Right after a week of WC victory, players moved on to IPL. It was sad to see some Indian players having double standards of first preferring IPL and then saying too much cricket is being played. Many nursed injury but still played IPL for pleasing their teamowners and BCCI anf ofcourse their bank balances. They say it is nobody’s right to question their playing as it is a personal choice. But we surely can question them for such shoddy performance playing for the country. It Is sad to see such tall players carrying injuries and not notifying things in advance. Well perhaps they also knew there is no replacement so wait and see if injury heals in time.IPL has opened a Pandora box like seen in football. Some players play really well at club level but fail to deliver for their country. Forlan/Suarez of Uruguay are not really known in club football but are different players when donning Uruguay colors. Whereas Messi can never perform for Argentina. Similar would happen and is happening for IPL as well. We need to choose players carefully. IPL success may not lead to similar success playing for country.
  • BCCI – Well, like Indian government is one of the biggest hindrances in India’s growth same is the case with BCCI. It is just interested in making money without any major initiatives to make money. We are being told that Indian batters cannot play swing/seam as no pitches. In India.  First such pitches are never really made or promoted in India. Second, what prevents the board from sending players a month early to get familiar with the pitches. This obviously will not happen as it has to make money from as many tours as possible with as limited time for another tour. It is amazing how little cricket teams play on coming to another country. Earlier 2-3 matches before the test match was a must. Now to get even one is a luxury. Even this is not an excuse as our middle order and openers have played so much outside. They know what to expect.

So it is all a mixed bag. A problem which was being seen by a few but ignored by others. Ian Chappel has long said India does not have the bowlers to help it remain at No. 1. It is so amazing to see how useless we are without Zaheer. How can we be no. 1 with just one bowler? Even in batting it was really a case of Sehwag firing in a couple of matches which allowed middle order to settle and pile runs later in the day. Now both openers out of form, we are usually one down by the first over itself.

How badly Indian cricket has been is indicated by spin department. We just have nothing there. We never had good pacers (barring Kapil Dev and now Zaheer) but spin was always a force. After Kumble went, we have just struggled. Harbhajan has declined sharply after Kumble departure and to not have any other spinner is baffling.

The tour also saw same glaring errors. We already saw what happens when you field a player in England without match practice. Sehwag became the third opener in history to score a golden duck (out first ball) in both test innings. And we again did the same with RP Singh who was never really a substitute and was asked to come to England and start bowling the new ball right away! The first over from RP turned out to be one of the worst first over bowling.

Having said all this, it is equally amazing how England has played. They would have been surprised by both how well they played and how poorly India played. This bunch of English players looks really solid and up for a fight. They have been building slowly since Ashes drubbing of 5-0 in 2007 by Aussies. They bounced back winning both Ashes continuously and last one in Aus was a true thrashing. India should have woken up then but was busy sleeping.

All Eng batters and bowlers look in ominous form where all players from India (barring Dravid and Pravin Kumar) look awful. We have not managed to bowl their side out barring one inning and have managed 600+ scores in most innings. People say that when India bowls, ball does nothing and when Eng bowls it starts moving around like crazy. Well, this is nothing but true. We are just clueless about bowling at the moment.

The coach Fletcher was appointed primarily for his knowhow of English conditions but says he has never seen the bowl swing that much in England. Really Sir! Do you think if the swing was lesser our batters would have handled it? He also says where does one practice swing batting/bowling in India as there are no pitches? Well what stopped him of telling the board this in plain English? If he did tell the board and it did not hear (which is a huge possibility) he should have chucked the job. We need some independence here otherwise what is the point.

Overall, the difference between the former no. 1 and current No. 1 was just too large. I don’t think even in form Zaheer and Sehwag could have avoided the rout. We just became No. 1 somehow and it is sad the way the ranking has been given away without any fight or even intent to fight.  Thanks to Anna Hazare as no one is really focused on cricket. People are also trying to ignore cricket preferring Anna.

The loss exposes many ills related to Indian cricket which has become too obsessed with making money without really doing anything much to improve the overall game. The skills of few select players bailed out the team earlier but they all were meant to fail one time which has happened in this series. It is not the losses but the way Indian team has lost the matches. This is easily the worst performance I have ever seen (and most would have seen). Even close losses to Pakistan in 1980s and 1990s were not as bad as it was a decent fight. Pakistan had something towards the end which gave the match to them. This one has been so bad that it should hurt us for a long time. Then only we will not try and repeat them. One also feels bad for guys like Dravid, Tendulkar. Laxman etc. They have to face such humiliation at fag end of their career. It will make their retirement (whenever it happens) even bitter.  But this is what happens when you delay it so long. You should retire at the top and not forced to.

The worst bit is one does not know where to seek improvement. Who do you fire and who do you keep? Where is the bench strength? One Eng players said “It is not very cold and to see Indian players putting hands in pockets while fielding, shows their disrespect for the game. If not interested please go home”. I wish Dhoni and the Indian cricket team fan had that option.

Update:

The forecast of India loosing after following on was bang on the target. I wish my economic forecasts were as good. There was some hope when Tendulkar and Mishra were batting but after Mishra, we lost 7 wickets for 21 runs! It is as if Mishra was the main batsman of the team. It made things even worse as it tells you how hollow the whole team is…

Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong in this series. If it was not for Dravid, we might have struggled to even post 100 runs in an inning with matches getting over in 2.5 days. I wish he was out of form as well.

He has been such a gentleman. The selectors keep picking him when they feel and drop him at will. So when you have seaming conditions in SA and England, they say hey Dravid come in the team and then drop him. It is a shame that a board which as so much money has still not been able to nurture youngsters who can face this kind of bowling. Dravid hined his talent in Indian conditions and others can do it as well. Dravid was very kind to agree to play ODIs in England on his selection. He should have refused and retired from ODIs on his announcement of selection. Someone needs to teach the board a lesson and should be run by professional cricketers who know what cricket is all about. But then that is how things are in India. Most sport administration bodies are run by people who have never played the sport.

We just had one sport to look forward to, now even that looks in such bad condition. Someone commented that B’desh might take offence that Indian test team being compared to them. Even their performance in England have not been as abysmal as India’s with just one inning of 300 score in 4 test matches…


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