England vs India tie: More questions than answers
As an Indian fan, you must have had a sigh of relief after the last ball of the match was bowled. With English batsman scoring a single off that ball tied the match and India, was saved from an embarrassment. Embarrassment of being the top team and not being able to defend a total of 338. It wasn’t a loss but surely nothing less than a loss if analyzed closely. If you rate the two teams’ performance on the cricketing criteria, England will get slightly more marks than the Indian team. If this is the case in an encounter against the number five team in the world, then what will be the case when the next one is against the number three side of the world, South Africa? While top teams answer through their performances in a match, yesterday the Team India drew more questions than delivering answers.
The biggest question of all is “Has India progressed in the recent past and learned from its mistake?” India’s batting might was never doubted. Batting has always remained India’s prime weapon and India’s strategy always revolve around its batsmen. The only problem the ‘strongest batting line up in the world’ faces is the sudden crumbling. It is not a problem with the current line up. It has remained with the team since time immemorial. We remember how Indian team has, many a times, let a winning opportunity go due to its sudden crumbling. When the biggest scorer in a match gets out, that wicket starts a chain reaction leading to collapse of the batting line up. Something similar happened yesterday. Lower middle order’s inefficiency proved to be costly as India fell a good 20-30 runs short. Can you imagine a team scoring 338 runs couldn’t even play the full 50 overs?
It wasn’t a new problem, but no one thought it to be a major concern. Certainly this problem is not a big one like the next one: the ineffective bowling attack. Didn’t we know that our bowling department except Zaheer Khan lacks the teeth to bite the opponent batting? Last year, our bowling was a concern. This year the no.1 problem was our bowling. The bowling was the only worry in India’s first match against the Bangladesh. And it still remains a problem. Buoyed by the apparently turning tracks in India and having ‘top class’ spinners in the side, no one bothered “what if our spinners fail? what if the pitch we get will not be a turning one?”
Then comes the somber fielding on the field. Sure, fielding was never an weapon for Indians and Indians were always considered as the poorest fielders of the game(with a few exceptions, of course). But with the promise of building a young team, all fans hoped for a bunch of agile athletes in the team. No one expected Indian fielders to jump, catch and save runs like Australians or South Africans but certainly better than the previous Indian team players. In the past, when the game was much slower than what it is today, fielding and saving runs on field was not that important. Now the situation demands athleticism on the field. Remember captain MS Dhoni‘s statement in the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia few years back in which he talked about senior players’ fielding level and pitched for a young team? And yesterday with his acceptance that Indian fielding can not be bettered, that high promise was broken. Words like DROPPED, MISSED still rule the commentary when India fields.
When a team’s all the problems get exposed in one match, the team loses. Thankfully, India didn’t have to face that due to the mistakes by the England yet the problem areas needs to be addressed. There are some more telling questions posed on Dhoni’s captaincy. I heard many blaming MSD for not bringing the fielders in and attack the English batting. Dhoni was blamed for giving away easy singles in the middle overs which helped Strauss and Bell to grow the confidence. With all fairness, I disagree with that. Such decisions are always risky and may or may not work. Bring in the field also mean opening up the outfield; such a double edged sword is difficult to handle with an average bowling attack. But Dhoni’s problems lies in his game plan. Every captain has a distinct game plan. Dhoni’s plan is to bat first, post an imposing total and then defend it. It works in most of the matches as 1. posting an imposing total is easy for India considering its batting strength 2. The pressure on the chasing side compensate the lack of depth in the Indian bowling attack. But you can’t expect to win every match with a single plan. In 2003, India won with a single strategy but failed in the final due to lack of an alternative plan. In 2007, the same happened. Dravid and Chapell’s plan didn’t click in any of the matches and there was no back up plan. Same is happening now. Thanks to some spirited performances and suitability of the ‘Dhoni game plan’, India managed many wins. But baring a few instances, this strategy was never questioned. It is high time Dhoni along with the team management rethinks the plan with the question “What if this plan fails? What should be our Plan B or Plan C?”
I must admit that it’s easy to question strategies, point out the problems in the team and blame management after a loss or a bad performance. The practice of criticizing the team or captain after every bad performance is something which shouldn’t be entertained. But when the questions are old and still linger around without answer, then these have to be repeated. If no progress has been made in any areas since the 2007 World Cup and the same problems persist amidst high hope and promise, it is better if the questions are answered. This is the stage of World Cup and in a few days when knock out stage begins, there will be no scope of mistakes. The team must start giving answers. The sooner, the better.