Saturday, March 29, 2008

Can India do a South Africa to become Australia?

Daryll Cullinan, in his interview to Cricinfo reviewing the 4th day's play in Chennai between India and South Africa explained India's quick demise after Sewhag's fall due to an effort to produce an unlikely result out of the match. He says that in doing so they showed characteristics typical of recent world conquering Australian teams. We all know how the Aussies have plucked victory out of thin air in recent times. 2006 Adelaide against England, 2008 Sydney against India are a few such examples. It showed us that champion teams can turn matches in blink of an eye.

Although Cullinan may not have meant everything I have said here, this is a great compliment coming from him. Yet I must say the Indians must learn a few things and take a few tough risky decisions before earning it.

First of all, they must know to tackle any situation, any twist in the tale, must try to plug the leak before it develops. Instead of blinking on the pitch as to what is to be done, they must have definite plans to continue the match.

The most important problem today was the Indians didn't have a plan B. They had dreamed up of a situation in which Sewhag would bat for an eternity or at the leat until declaration, that is he would cross 400 in their plan A, and in quick time too. However, the South Africans had done their homework and had different ideas of their own.

So when an intense Ntini pulled off two blinders to remove Sewhag and Sachin in quick succession, the Indians felt they had floundered the opportunity. Actually- they had not.

Its foolish to think that all your plans will come good, to expect no fightback from the opposition. The best teams always know how to handle a situation if it doesn't go according to plan, or if plans backfire.

The Indians just had to regroup and go back to plan A. They could have tried different things too. They could have sent in Dhoni immediately after Ganguly fell, to keep up the scoring rate, by attacking Harris.

Without a plan B, the batsmen were torn between going for runs or building their own innings. Nobody knew what their role was, now that they were in a commanding position. Either Dravid or Ganguly had to tie up one end, while the other attacked. And although for a certain passage of time both were scoring boundaries freely, with the fall of Ganguly and Dravid, everything fell apart. Laxman and Dhoni are two contrasting batsmen, yet they can score a fast rate in their own styles.
Laxman deals in smooth caresses, Dhoni deals with bludgeoning blows and both leave the fielding team in chaos. If you doubt Laxman's prowess, just ask the Aussie attack that bowled to him this summer.

So they just had to string a partnership to wrest back the initiative. In that context, Dhoni's mode of dismissal was deplorable. He had no business charging Steyn- a bowler renowned for fiery pace and swing and bounce, who has been man-of-the-series for the past 3 consecutive series. If he wanted to bully someone, he didn't have to look further than Harris, the poor spinner who went for more than 200 runs. in fact, Dhoni had made a living biffing spinners out of the park until he became captain.

Dale Steyn cut him to size with two vicious bouncers and sent him packing. After that it was sheer carnage- Steyn style. He just ripped through the lower order like knife through butter. (This must be a warning to the Indian batsmen of Steyn's lethal nature.)

This wouldn't have happened if Dhoni had been a bit more responsible and strung a partnership with Laxman. This is where it became clear that the Indians had no clear working plan. They had the intent to get runs quickly and have a go at the Proteas, yet sometimes, just intent is not enough. You must know the methods.

Dhoni must by now know his role in the team. He needs to bottle up his aggressive instincts (of which we see very little of lately) and play gritty innings whenever required. Otherwise, if given the license, like in this case, he must be able to pummel the opposition into submission (like what Sewhag did as an opener). In effect, he must be able to do a Gilchrist when it is most needed. Above all this, he must know that his wicket is the door to Indian tail. He must not carelessly give it away like he did today.

Going for broke and getting out in the process is something, but walking down the pitch to an express fast bowler considered in the level of Lee is suicide. He must respect the bowlers for what they are. Had he done it against Kallis or Harris, or atleast Morkel (rarely) it would have been prudent.

Dhoni's manner of dismissal was unforgivable and it was the decisive moment the match turned from a possible Indian victory to an almost inevitable draw. Instead of unsettling or bullying Steyn, he was made to look like a dunce on the ground, stranded outside his crease, ungainly fending the ball like a rank No.11 batsman. Dhoni wouldn't forget this hard baptism, and if he intends to become a great Indian Test captain, he must not.

Anyway, the rest, as they say, is history. Indian dreams of a victory became thinner by the minute, and were almost extinguished once their own new ball bowlers sprayed it all over the pitch gifting away runs like toffees on Independence Day. Only a sliver of hope of a result in this match remains. And that is to do what South Africa did to us today- take the remaining 9 wickets for 150 odd runs in under 50 overs.

That would leave us with about 200 runs to get in about 35 overs. At a run rate of 6 with Sewhag in such searing form and the South African pace contingent recovering well after their 3rd day mauling, it promises to be an exciting run chase if it materialises. If it doesn't, then plan B- play for a draw. Let us hope the Indians come tomorrow with more than one plan and although I fear any amount of planning may not produce a result, it is always good to be ready.
Because they say "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail!"

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