Chalk and Cheese

The much vaunted middle order of India, before they embarked on the tour of England, made public their desire of scoring a hundred at Lord’s and getting onto the honours board. Only one of them was successful and he went on to score two more hundreds in the series, only to see his team being whitewashed

On the other hand, the man who it was thought would score his 100th century on the hallowed turf of Lord’s came a cropper till the last innings of the series. It was in that innings that he started to come into his own and the century of centuries and consequently, a draw seemed to be on cards. It was not to be as India stumbled onto a defeat as soon as he was dismissed

As it always does, the failure of Sachin Tendulkar on this tour sparked off a huge debate about who is the better player of two. It is without doubt that if it comes to the range of strokes, effervescence, and rising to the occasion it is Tendulkar who would run ahead but when the parameters are set to being effective, competitive and rallying the troops it is Dravid that tops the list

A glance at their records will reveal a lot about the kind of players that they are: Tendulkar more often than not is not-out when he scores a century plus knock. Over 30% of his innings have ended up without him dismissed. That proportion reduces to over 20% for Dravid

The difference is stark when we compare the balls faced for both these batsmen when they cross hundred runs. Dravid averages a 291 balls for every 100 plus score whereas the corresponding figure for Tendulkar is 247. The complaint about Dravid is that he tends to be slow off the blocks and more often than not, doesn’t raise his game. As the above statistic shows, the Indian innings tends to last ten more overs, at least when Dravid scores a century. Dravid is invaluable as a team player because he tends to extend the frustration of the opposition team

Before this tour only one century from 32 had come in a losing cause for Dravid. A distant observer would attribute it to good fortune. As the above figures show, the fortune wasn’t without effort

The figure that shows Dravid in an encouraging light is the fact that he tends to average more than one century stand whenever he scores a century. Sachin only averages one century stand whenever he crosses the century mark

Sachin has never had that dreaded series where he was unable to get off the blocks and ceded the advantage totally to bowlers. He very nearly had those kind of series in the Caribbean (2002) and Australia(2003-4). On those occasions, he displayed tremendous resolve to get into form. He overcame the problems against Pedro Collins to perform in the final Test in the Caribbean and took the cover-drive out of his repertoire is Sydney to get into form

Dravid, in contrast has endured a few dreaded series against Australia and England. He was also in the danger of losing his spot during the England series in 2008. He dragged himself out of the wretched run by scoring a century at Mohali

Their captaincies also show the kind of players that they were. Where Sachin went the extra mile to set an example for others, Dravid concentrated a lot lesser on himself to get the best out of the team. He was immune to individual accomplishments in pursuit of a team goal. Tendulkar himself stands as a testament for that attitude of Dravid’s

It is indeed unfortunate that at a time when the two top run-getters in the history are in the same team, one gets to be branded as an accumulator and the other as a competitor. But as the saying goes there is ‘no smoke without fire’, the brandings aren’t without arguments

Short ball- Shot dead

Last month when India were on a tour to the Caribbean, they handed out debut to a player who is almost considered as the next batting great- Virat Kohli. He did not make any use of the opportunity and had to return to the repair shop immediately. His technique was found wanting against the short balls and the working over that he got from Fidel Edwards is something that would stay in the mind for some time to come

 

Now in England, the youngsters and not so young, especially the left handers, are being hunted out with the short balls. Anybody who saw the dismissals of Mukund, Raina and Yuvraj, would have lost hope on them countering the short balls. Mukund did not make anything of the reprieve he got of the first ball he faced in the second innings. Instead his response to a continued barrage was to put the hand in front of the helmet grill!

 

For long, the talk about Raina was his susceptibility to the short balls. Any kid with a working knowledge on cricket will tell you that the situation SHOUTS for a short ball when Raina is at the crease. If he does not change the position that he gets into, while facing the short balls, he would be in for a lot of similar dismissals abroad. The tendency of getting behind the line of the delivery and then trying to duck does not actually give him enough time to do that. More often than not, he ends up playing the short delivery. Eventually, he does his best to swat it away from above his eye level. With this kind of weakness, employing a fine-leg fielder against him will always pay off. Else he needs to weave away from the delivery Robin Smith style

 

Yuvraj’s dismissal was the most surprising of all but not quite so for the England bowlers. They consistently pitched it short, so as to make him play on the backfoot. Once they got him playing on the backfoot, they went for the throat. Yuvraj was hit on his hands on more occasions than one. And finally he too was dismissed of a short delivery, and it was a well thought out dismissal

 

The murmurs of Indian batsmen coming up short against the rising ball gained momentum during the failed T20 World Cup campaign of 2009. On that occasion, India was hunted down by West Indies with the same ploy and the other teams followed suit. Champions Trophy held in South Africa further enhanced that belief

 

In the quarter final against Australia in the World Cup, Raina seemed to have finally put the horrors behind him as he faced the rising ball with aplomb. And in the tour to Caribbean, he seemed to have found a method of countering it. Two Tests into the England series and the old failings are back to haunt him again

 

Part of this can be attributed to complacency arising from success in One day Internationals and T20 cricket. It is easier to front up to short balls in the shorter formats of the game with the knowledge that only one short ball per over is allowed. The lack of sustained attack on the batsman with the rising ball allows him to thrive in these formats

 

There is a common thread that links Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Azharuddin,  Dravid and Ganguly. They have had success in English conditions and some part of it can be attributed to the county circuit or the youth tours. The best part of most tours till the mid-nineties were the warm-up games. These allowed the players to slowly acclimatise themselves to the conditions

 

It is perhaps an indicator that of the three left handed batsmen ravaged by the short ball from the previous match, only one would find a place in the eleven for the Test starting today

The Number One Conundrum

The media and the experts are crawling all over the Indian cricket team after the first two Tests. They have their reasons to do so. The supporters of the Indian cricket team, after having been through the high of World Cup victory, are just about to see their worst nightmares come true- Losing the Number one status in Test cricket

 

A lot of observers will put the loss down in the first Test to habit. The loss in the second Test was more shocking as it was due to ineptitude, inability and the lack of a stomach for a fight. In the two years of  their reign as numero uno, India were never a dominator but a team that had high bounce backeability quotient

 

It is as much an administrative failure as it is the players. Knowing the Indian players, the board should have seen to it that the players had more practice matches than one. It was essential for the players coming from the tour of Caribbean as it would have required a lot of effort to adapt to the conditions. Turns out that the players who performed well on that particular tour are the ones that are performing well on this tour too

 

Indians have for long have carried the tag of being sluggish starters. Considering the fact that they only tend to play 3-Test series and rarely 4-Tests, their efforts to get back into the series always have the pressure attached to them. It’s alright to draw series against your closest competitor on their pitches but when the same starts to occur on the home stretch then there is a cause for concern

 

In a drawn series between the two top teams, it is the team that is placed at the top that tends to lose out more. The problem with India’s reign as number one lies with the fact that they start an away series with evenly matched teams, as underdogs. Sunil Gavaskar attributed this to the inherent traits. He said as people, Indians are not ruthless. You need not be ruthless to be at the top. Being clinical is enough. Wonder what stops us from being clinical

 

That India have taken over the reign from Australia also matters a lot. Australia relinquished the position after what seemed like eons. Before them it was West Indies that dominated the top position for a long, long time. With both the West Indies and Australia, it had been a natural trait to dominate. It took a lot of stopping on the team’s part to halt their juggernaut. It was not that they were without frailities

 

What differentiated them from the teams of their time was the fact that they were clinical. They were quick to pounce on an opportunity and hunted the opponents down. That they tended to be bought down by strong individual performances was a giveaway that they were too good as teams to be bought down on a consistent basis

 

Though India has not been defeated in a series for the past two years, they are defeated consistently enough. In fact the tendency to lose the first Tests has been their bane. It goes without saying that the moment they lose the first Test, they are on the backfoot. Last year’s home series against Australia is a case in point as to what they can do if they can win the first match of a series. They were clinical and at their best in the second Test at Bangalore. For the first time, India blanked Australia in a Test series

 

It has been seen from the time of the reign of West Indies that the number one teams have been vulnerable against one particular team. If it was Pakistan for West Indies, and India for Australia, it turns out that India are now vulnerable against two teams- South Africa and England

 

More often than not it’s found that Zaheer Khan is injured for the first Test of the series and the rest of the bowlers find it tough to cope in his absence. Also the fact that Gambhir and Sehwag find their names on the injured list more often than not presents a unique headache. It was on the basis of the opening partnership between these two Delhiites that India rode to the top of the pile. Bench Strength is where India is lacking. Gus Logie, Simon Katich, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, and Justin Langer will all attest the fact that a player has to make the most of whatever chances he is given or else they might end up in cold storage

 

The questions on number one are not unique to cricket. They exist in Tennis too, where Dinara Safina and now Caroline Wozniacki had their reigns questioned by not only the audience but also their fellow players. That India is not universally acknowledged as number one is a known fact. It is the respect that they need to command by their performances, that will make them one

 

The questions will certainly be answered by the end of India-England series. If India manage to latch onto their numero Uno position, they would do well to learn from their past failings and try to be assertive from the day one of the series