The Pune Warriors have again lost a well fought contest. After their shoddy show in the field — giving away runs that shouldn’t have been given away that easily, an awful beginning with the bat, the fact that they could push the contest this close is in itself surprising.
But Pune has surprised both fans and critics by putting up inspiring performances in this season so far. They have won three out of their six encounters and have come extremely close in two others. For a team whose very participation in the tournament was doubtful, this should be termed inspiring.
Their woes did not end there – there were other issues to cope with : Yuvraj Singh had to withdraw from the tournament, forcing the team management to put the onus of leadership on former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly. James Hopes, the Australian all-rounder also had to withdraw last moment due to injury.
Ganguly, since then, has built his team with pieces of bricks. There are no visible stars in their line-up. In the matches they have won, they performed as a cohesive unit. Full credit should be given to Ganguly for the smart tweaks that he has made from time to time — like opening the bowling with Murli Kartik etc. In fact, even till early yesterday people were drawing comparisons between him and Dhoni, and most of them found the former to be the better tactician.
Yet, like it happens when walls of our houses start dilapidating, after two consecutive defeats it’s time for us to find out where exactly does the rot lie.
Cricket writer Chetan Narula pointed out to me, in a twitter conversation that Pune hasn’t yet played with a regular wicket-keeper.
“Just realized, Ganguly still doesn’t have a full time wicket keeper for his team. Some things never change!”
I thought Uthappa hasn’t done badly behind the stumps, at least his seven dismissals from six matches say so. So what if you can play an extra batsman by doing away with a regular keeper. Dravid had done so under Sourav’s captaincy and we had almost won the World Cup in 2003.
Still, the larger truth that hides behind the facade of getting-the-team-balance-right is that the Pune squad is actually out of a regular glovesman. It is baffling how, in a squad of almost 30 players they could adjust only one wicket-keeper, Ekalavya Dwivedi. The Uttar Pradesh player’s first-class record isn’t noteworthy, and so one can understand the dilemma Pune must be facing swapping him for any of the core members of the side.
Moreover, Pune’s batting has consistently failed. Uthappa, who also happens to be the team’s leading scorer, averages an unenviable 30. Jesse Ryder and Steven Smith come close, but none of these players have put up a performance to be written about.
Sourav Ganguly’s own form with the bat has been appalling. From his six matches Dada has collected 85 runs at an average of 14.16 — his highest being 24. He is fifth on the table of run-scorers, that tells you the rest of the story.
We have seen fear in the captain’s face. The beautiful cover drives of yore have been exchanged for life-saving hoicks. Every shot seems like an act of desperation, and when he is not desperate he is just figuring out ways for survival. That’s not to say that his captaincy has lost any shine, but whether or not a non-performing captain can continue is a debate for another day.
Pune’s bowling looks as clueless. Ganguly has tried his best to put his limited resources to full use. His defense of Marlon Samuels, his vociferous ‘come what may’ backing, seems nothing but his attempt to prevent from spilling the little he has. Apart from pacer Ashok Dinda, who leads their wicket-takers list, none of the bowlers have risen up to occasions. Murli Kartik has failed to live up to his past magic; Ashish Nehra has failed to live up to his captain’s expectations on more than one occasion. Due to the fragility of the batting order, Angelo Matthews and Wayne Parnell had to be swapped and played.
It is amusing to think what the situation would have been, if Pune had Yuvraj Singh at their disposal. But with Yuvraj’s inclusion, probably, on current form, Sourav would have found it hard to maintain his spot in the side. In this way Pune would have lost out on an astute leader.
Hopes aren’t lost. There are still many matches to go. Australian skipper Michael Clarke is set to join the team once his international commitment gets over. We hope that that won’t be too late.