There was King Midas who had the gift of turning everything he touched into gold. Then there is Greg Chappell who suddenly seems to have developed the Midas touch. Just like the Indian team was looking ragged in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, they look razor sharp in this series and man, is everything clicking for the Indian team or what?
They send up Pathan and he delivers the goods! They send up Dhoni and he delivers a knock out punch. SRT has suddenly become ten years younger and Bhajji is again looking like the spinner who gained such a reputation in his early days.
Firstly about Dhoni … I can’t wait to say this but I know I will get plenty of flak for this. Man, is this guy’s cricket ugly or what? Sure, when u hit 10 sixes in an innings, it doesn’t really matter if u r pretty but seriously, some of those shots had me going “ewwwww, man that sucks”. He does have raw power though … I think at some point of time he must have fluctuated between playing cricket, golf, hockey or tennis and when he finally decided on cricket, he carried over some style from his other passions. Some of those shots he hit in Jaipur were clubbed so hard the fielders are lucky the ball didn’t go in their direction else they might have been duty bound to try and stop it. As for his sixes … LOL … the first two over covers were amazing simply coz of the power behind them … it isn’t easy to hit them where he did … even SRT and Sehwag who go for sixes on the off prefer to cut it over point or third man for six where the momentum of the ball does most of the job. Even Sourav Ganguly, whose come-down-the-track-and-hit-over-covers shots were breathtaking used to get into a good position by moving his feet to the correct position … Dhoni on the other hand just stayed in his place and swung the bat hard … the ball kept traveling.
I will say this though. As much as his innings was impressive in its audacity and power, it did nothing to convince me that he will succeed against any decent attack in even mildly helpful conditions. He doesn’t really have a great technique … it is more of hand-eye co-ordination and that works fine when the pitch suits batsmen and the bowlers keep pitching it up … but a bowler who can move the ball will eat him for dinner … unless the ball gets old or the pitch becomes too flat in which case Dhoni will eat him for supper. Anyway, the man is young and he can learn … there is no rule which says he cannot learn how to counter the moving ball … and if he does that, he will be devastating. Today, in my book, he is just impressive and for those who are comparing him to Gilchrist, forget it! He is good … but not that good!
SRT gave his wicket cheaply in Jaipur but suddenly, there is a spring in his step and a freshness about his batting which has been missing for so long. It is like he put down a burden he was carrying for so many years and suddenly discovered he can straighten his back and stand tall again … he really hasn’t aged as much as he thought he had. Personally, I think the reason for the sudden change is two-fold. One is the straight talking Aussie named Greg Chappell who might have given him an honest opinion of the same type he gave Ganguly … only where he told Ganguly that he wasn’t good enough, he might have told SRT that he was just plain stupid. In the Chuckster’s opinion, SRT has been shooting himself in the foot for the past two years in the guise of becoming responsible and being senior etc. In true Indian tradition, all the people he spoke to, including former players named Sunil Gavaskar, would have patted his back and told him that a genius like him could do no wrong. Enter Mr. Chappell and to the same question, he might well have told SRT that he was making an ass of himself. Even before the series, there were talks of SRT moving to the middle order and that might well have been spelt out by Chappell to SRT … “listen mate, I need a hitter up top and if u can’t do it, u better let someone else handle it”. Frankly, if the first three matches of SRT’s return are any indication, Chappell needn’t worry about a hitter up top … they don’t come any better than SRT in current form. Even in the third match though he went cheap, really it was the rust that showed up … sooner or later he was bound to screw up coz he has been out of cricket for so long. The ball from Vaas was wide and SRT could either have left it alone or moved his feet some more … he tried to stand his ground and swish at it and paid the price … personally, am glad it happened in the third match and not in the first.
This “back to the SRT of old” approach leads me to wonder if his lousy batting of the past two years was indeed due to his own mental cobwebs or if he has paid the price for being “little Mr. Perfect”. People have talked about injuries taking their toll on his body which may well be true … but the recent layoff, from my knowledge, has been purely from the tennis elbow point of view … so injury cannot be the sole reason for the change in approach. He hasn’t had a back operation, he hasn’t had a toe operation, he hasn’t had any operation except the surgery for tennis elbow treatment. Even in his interviews, he has soundly condemned those who questioned his change of approach as “those who don’t know much about cricket” and has advocated his changed role in the team as a senior batsman who should play responsibly. Leads the Chuckster to ask one question - Who defined that role and responsibility for SRT? Did team management in the form of Ganguly and Wright dream up this strategy? Did SRT formulate it on his own and if so, why didn’t team management have a say in how the best batsman in the team approaches his cricket? Was SRT playing lousy cricket coz of “team interests” as defined by team management? Was SRT happy playing the way he was playing or was he just being the “complete team man”?
The above paragraph reflects badly on Wright and Ganguly but isn’t it so amazingly apparent that SRT is a different player under Greg C and Dravid’s leadership? Just to cover all bases, let me detail yet another theory which could account for the change … and I am not giving the theory just for the sake of giving it but I keep wondering about this and so just putting my thoughts on paper. Maybe it was injury after all … but not in the way we are thinking. Maybe injury did make a big difference to the way SRT approaches his shot-making and he adjusted to prolong his career … after the layoffs at different times over the past year or so, maybe he just had enough of it. Maybe he realizes that he has no control over his body wear and tear and someday, sooner or later, he just has to accept reality that his body is no longer upto it. And once that realization came, maybe he just figured – hell, dunno how long it lasts but as long as it does, let me enjoy myself out there and to hell with the safeguarding of the body by cutting out the shot-making and the aggression. Let me play the way that will make people remember my last days on the field even if my body breaks down next year.
I would love to hear SRT’s real take on the matter some day … in some auto-biography, maybe! Coz whatever I have heard from him till date … well, under Greg C, he is contradicting himself completely.
Dravid has been getting a lot of praise from all quarters for his captaincy and frankly, he seems to be a more active on-field captain than Ganguly ever was. To his credit, he has tried to make things happen both while his team is fielding and batting … and luck has favoured him. Also, his team has supported him well and for that reason alone, it is celeberation time. I was afraid that it might take time for the Ganguly hangover to go and Dravid might face opposition from within his team. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet or I am yet to see it in whatever TV coverage I am catching.
This brings up the tickling issue of Ganguly and a possible place for him in the team. As long as SRT was being thought of as a middle-order option by the team management, there was always the possibility of Ganguly making his comeback in his favorite position. Now with SRT going great guns at Number 1, suddenly there seems to be no need for Sourav Ganguly. Whether u bat Sehwag at Number 2 or 5 (as the Chuckster advocates), u still don’t a place for Ganguly. Assuming Kaif becomes fit for the next set of ODIs, the first seven (including Dhoni) select themselves …. SRT, Sehwag, Dravid, Yuveraj, Kaif and Venu. Ganguly’s supporters (and Mr. Navjot Sidhu has suddenly become one … as my friend “S on Cricket” pointed out in a comment) have already started looking at the fringe players to push Ganguly’s case. In a program yesterday, Navjot Sidhu ripped into JP Yadav (wonder what the poor fellow did wrong) and kept asking how a JP Yadav can fit into the team when Ganguly could not. Well, Mr. Sidhu …. JP Yadav can bowl a good wicket to wicket line that Ganguly cannot (or would not when he was captain … might change now that his ass is on the line); JP Yadav can be sent at number 3 or number 7 or number 9 according to the plans of the captain / coach which cannot be done with Ganguly without the media and all of Calcutta raising Cain. JP Yadav can be kept as a super-sub which Ganguly cannot without *sigh* the media and all of Calcutta raising Cain again.
The reason for the *sigh* above, u ask? It is because India have hammered SL three consecutive times and some people are still attacking JP Yadav and burning Pranab Roy’s (selector from East Zone who is taking flak for not getting Ganguly into the team) effigy. Anyone have any doubts still why India cannot adjust to the likes of Greg Chappell?
For those who are questioning JP Yadav, Venugopal Rao and Murali Karthik’s place in the team as a point in favour of Ganguly’s inclusion, all I can say is – “How the mighty have fallen”! There was a time when Ganguly used to be our top ODI batsman … now we r wondering if we can push the kids aside to make place for the guy … everyone realizes that on form, Ganguly cannot challenge any of the players he ought to ideally challenge for a spot, considering his experience and position …. Hell, if Dhoni hadn’t hit that 183, we might have found Ganguly taking tips from Syed Kirmani and trying out for the “keeper who can bat a little” slot.
I can’t help grinning at one thought … Sadagoppan Ramesh must be laughing himself silly at Ganguly’s predicament. The best opener India had before Sehwag came onto the scene, Ramesh’s career was cut short coz of Ganguly’s whims and fancies … he just didn’t fit into the “team” that Ganguly was trying to form. There are those who say Ramesh’s “lack of team spirit” attitude went against him but if Sehwag, Yuveraj, Bhajji and Zaheer can be in the team, then there is no reason to give that as a reason. Probably (just a guess here), he might not have given Ganguly the “respect” due from a player to a captain … we might never know the reason but that might well be the “attitude” problem Ramesh had … lack of runs certainly wasn’t a problem. Now to see Ganguly kicked out for not being part of “team” plans … man, that must be sweet music to Ramesh’s ears.
The Chuckster has in the past commented on Ganguly’s role as career maker or breaker. There were those who supported the power given to Ganguly on the arguments of “Ganguly is making the team … so let him do it his way” but the Chuckster has always maintained that while Ganguly has every right to support players and give them a long run, he doesn’t have the right to take away chances from those he doesn’t like or those he doesn’t feel are upto mark. It is a thin line between supporting the correct player and discarding the wrong player and no one should have that right to break a career. When Indian cricket plays so many games in a year, any player on the fringes can be given a decent run to gauge his capabilities …. instead of giving some a long run and others “not considered good enough” a shorter run. Let the player’s performance push him into the team or out of it … not the captain’s opinion of him or his capability. That way I like Greg C’s technique better … he sets down the standards and anyone who meets those is welcome to join the game … obviously the role defined for a player comes into the picture but I can’t see him dropping a bowler who takes a decent number of wickets or a batsman who makes a decent number of runs simply coz “he” feels the player isn’t good enough. At least I hope he doesn’t operate that way. There are many who owe their careers to Ganguly … and there r many who owe their lack of a career in the national team to Ganguly … while the former is good leadership, the latter is a bad sign, whether from Ganguly or from Chappell.
Finally, to end this post, a comment from my side on the way this blog takes user comments. I was getting too many spam comments and blogger provides a way of authenticating the user posting the comment is indeed a user and not a spam program. So for those who think it is an irritation, kindly bear with me. It is indeed dis-heartening for me to see “23 comments to ur post” and then realizing 21 of those are pushing pills to enhance some or other part of the human anatomy.
As I post this, the fourth match is on and Agarkar has just bowled a beautiful spell where he got pace and movement and troubled all the batsmen … took two LBW decisions and got a sitter dropped in slips by Dravid.
A final note to John Cook, a blogger from Australia who mailed me to inquire my interest on a blog-link exchange. Sure, old pal ... ur link is up on my blog now. May the cricketing blogging community never stop growing.