Friday 2 October 2009 

India Need A New Plan After Champions Trophy Exit

Chetan Narula

Ahead of their final league game against the West Indies, skipper MS Dhoni simply summed it up, “It’s not in our hands anymore.” Well, he couldn’t have been more wrong, for it wasn’t the way the 2009 Champions Trophy began for them. It was very much in their hands – at least in the game against Pakistan, considering the rain in the second game – to play decently well in the tournament opener.

At the click of your fingers, a number of excuses will emanate, mostly pertaining to injuries. Yes, India were missing a few key players, namely Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. That’s two wonderful batsmen, with a full array of strokes who also field well and more than often make up the fifth bowler’s quota. And the third has developed into one of the most fearsome fast bowlers in the business at the moment. Certainly then, the quality and brash talent that these three bring to the table is enough for any international side to want them in their first eleven.

Having said that what needs to be understood is that team India hasn’t really failed in their batting as such, or the fifth set of ten overs for that matter. It’s more the other forty overs that have failed to ignite any purpose for the team on the cricket ground, not to forget put undue pressure on the batsmen. Yes, putting it simply, the Indians didn’t have the bowling attack to win this tournament and that was just the beginning of their problems.

It can be a mixed feeling preparing for a tournament in South Africa by playing a series in Sri Lanka. The BCCI sometimes doesn’t realize the true way forward and so playing the hastily arranged Corporate Cup followed by the short trip to Lanka cost us an extra warm-up game. Even the Lankans had time to play two and even though they themselves didn’t make the semi-finals, one thinks India’s poor performance finds resonance in the other team that played just the one warm-up game, South Africa.

So, why are the warm-ups important again? Because this bowling attack had been found wanting regularly towards the end of the last season. Especially in the IPL season two, it seemed that most of these fast bowlers had gotten used to bowling short of length to counter explosive batting in T20 cricket. That doesn’t work in ODIs (or Test cricket for that matter) especially when they are played in different conditions and on different surfaces.

And it is not just the fast bowling that the Indian think tank ought to be worried about. India’s most experience bowler in the absence of Zaheer Khan was Harbhajan Singh and he took three wickets in three matches, two of them against the West Indies. For what its worth, after the match winning haul in the tri-series final, it seemed the Turbanator could spin India to victory here as well, but from the evidence on display in Africa, probably he was the one who needed the most practice.

When one says team India needs a new plan that means there is something wrong with the management somewhere as well. And in this case, it is not towards coach Gary Kirsten that one is aiming the guns at. After all who would want him gone ever since he came out with the more sex dossiers? Jokes apart, the Indian bowlers’ inability to alter their line and length while being clouted in the matches seems to indicate lack of thinking on the players’ part and the think tank’s part, especially the bowling coach. Which is why, in particular the BCCI should be taking a second look at one Venkatesh Prasad and evaluate the options available. If team India can have a foreign head coach, so too a bowling one at that!

Prasad’s head is not the only that might be on the line here for surely a couple of the first team bowlers will find themselves plying their wares in domestic season this winter. Ishant Sharma for one, and the other might as well be RP Singh. It is more of a requirement than banishment for these two, for at the moment they seem pretty messed up and that’s speaking in terms of not only their line and length. This invariably means that competition will heat up once again for the seamers’ slots in the team and the likes of Sreesanth & Munaf Patel will be competing against some new names, Sudeep Tyagi and Dhawal Kulkarni.

The consensus is that the weak bowling heaped more pressure on the batting. Come to think of it, if we consider that the batsmen weren’t chasing 300 against Pakistan, then in that singular sense, they did fire. But in totality of the loss, the one aspect that stood out was when Yusuf Pathan came to bat, the way to go was either slam-bang or yet another wicket. Since it was the latter, it has since led Dhoni to proclaim that too much thought is being given to performances in the IPL, wherein longevity is needed in the ODIs and Tests. While the Indian captain couldn’t be more spot-on, it does now put intense spotlight on the senior Pathan’s role in the side.

Dhoni, himself, though hasn’t been spotless. The T20 World Cup proved beyond doubt that his honeymoon period at the helm of team affairs is definitely over. His frequent chats with the bowlers were missing, more so against Pakistan when the spinners just couldn’t bowl anything but short. Even so, under a barrage of fours, his refusal to put third man and fine leg back at the boundary left much to be desired.

Questions, for the moment though, will not be asked of the batting and the captain when the selectors do sit down to select the side for the seven match ODI series against Australia. The focus will be to improve the poor bowling and unless fresh ideas – and faces – come in, the rejuvenated Aussies might just prove to be a rampant bunch.

Chetan Narula