What’s wrong with Tamil Nadu cricket?
Abhinav Mukund: 9 matches, 560 runs, average 70; Varun Chakravarthi: 9 matches, 22 wickets, economy 4.23. These two cricketers from Tamil Nadu top the charts for the most runs scored and wickets taken respectively in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy 2018-2019.
Yet, Tamil Nadu have made an early exit in the limited-overs tournament. It’s time for some tough questions. What’s wrong with TN cricket? They have been once again ‘consistently inconsistent’.
Attitude problem? But why address it so late?
Post yet another debacle, coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who had a dream debut stint at the helm of affairs with the side in 2016, was quoted as saying by The Hindu: “We can’t teach basic things, like cutting angle, at this level. The fact that we have to tell them this shows where we are, in terms of game awareness. We are either not aware or some of them don’t want to put in the required effort. I think the attitude and energy were not up to the mark. More than lack of talent, it’s attitude.”
The coach and team management spoke about similar issues back in 2017 as well and that too after an embarrassing defeat. This wasn’t a new issue. It was there last time around as well with the similar bunch of boys.
If that’s been the case, why not pull those 'some' players, then and there, and sort it out. Why is that it has to come out only after an exit? There are some top state sides which have taken disciplinary actions on some top cricketers in the past. Why not do that?
What’s going through the mind of the captain - in this case, Vijay Shankar. Is he aware of such ‘attitude’ problems which the coach has put across again for the second year in succession?
Process and role-definition: Is the process, which modern day cricketers often talk about, right when it comes to TN cricket? The preparations were ideal and the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association has one of the best cricketing infrastructures in the country and gives its players the best when it comes to match practice.
TNPL handed TN a mystery spinner in Varun, who delivered the goods. It was followed by VA Parthasarathy tournament, a 50-over tournament, that got the players into the groove ahead of the Vijay Hazare.
TN played all the nine matches in their own backyard. Given the amount of league cricket TN cricketers play every season, they should and would have analysed every inch of the pitches that were on offer. Yet there were a few tactical blunders when it comes to toss decisions and in picking the playing XI.
Kanitkar was spot on when he told reporters after yesterday’s loss: “There are quite a few teams in the tournament who don’t have depth in numbers. Teams, who don’t have proper leagues and pool of talent, have performed better. We have all those things. It comes down to attitude and approach, like their desire to win it for Tamil Nadu and their state teammates.”
There are a few first-class cricketers that were in the same group that TN was part of, who feature in the TNCA second division league (50-overs cricket) as well. They make the most out of the opportunities they get in Chennai ahead of the season.
When it comes to TN cricketers, the roles they play in league cricket are completely different to what they do for the state. With the exception of Indrajith and Vijay Shankar, the rest of the TN batting unit mostly bat somewhere in the top three for their respective club sides.
Washington Sundar, who joined the side for the last leg post an injury, B Anirudh, N Jagadeesan, B Aparajith, M Vijay, Abhinav are all top-order batsmen.
Being a professional cricketer one is expected to be flexible but an opening batsman going down the order, especially when they are to face spin bowling right at the start of their innings or when they are up against the run-rate or when they are to rebuild an innings, is a touch difficult.
The inability of the middle-order to drive home the advantage or resurrect the side from mini-collapses was evident when they failed against Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand and Haryana.
Three out of the top four - Abhinav, Jagadeesan (297 runs) and Indrajith (401 runs) - TN batsmen feature in the top-run getters list and the middle-order was patchy with Vijay Shankar and Anirudh delivering in patches. The middle-order issue needs to be sorted.
The Aparajith question: What’s the role of Aparajith in the TN side? There is no doubt about his talent. But has he progressed the way as he was expected to? The answer is no.
Is Aparajith a batsman, batting allrounder, bowling allrounder, allrounder, top-order batsman, middle-order bat...? He was way below par with his performances in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. 121 runs from seven innings is not what you expect from one of your senior cricketers.
For a player who has had enough exposure at the highest level when it comes to white ball cricket - being part of IPL for five years - one would certainly expect more from him.
He is 24 with 62 first-class matches under his belt and is no more a youngster who is finding his feet at the domestic cricket. He was in the radar for captaincy as well last year.
He had an ordinary TNPL, a decent Duleep Trophy to start the season and then came the Vijay Hazare low.
Having known Aparajith, the person, for a long time, I can guarantee that he would be the first person to accept his ordinary show but it’s high time he addressed all his shortcomings.
On the other hand, has the team management defined a clear-cut role for Aparajith? Is there confusion? He has batted at almost every position from opening to No 7 in the last two years irrespective of the format. Every time someone joins the side, Aparajith is the man juggling around.
He bats at No 3, then goes down to No 5, then bats No 4, No 7, No 6... at times he pads up and just waits for his turn, he gets to bowl three overs in one match and then bowls eight overs in the next, then doesn’t get to bowl for three-four matches…
Inconsistency in selection, inconsistency in defining roles, inconsistency in handing players a decent run and at the end of it inconsistency in players’ performances are hurting TN cricket.
Left-arm spinner R Sai Kishore looked threatening in the first half, picking up a five-for and after a couple of ordinary outings, he was replaced by Rahil Shah later. While teams are looking out for wrist spinners, TN don't have many options left.
TN do have leggies M Ashwin and M Abhinav but are they high on confidence? What about the wrist spin future of TN cricket? Varun is certainly an interesting prospect but this is his maiden season. For now, he is a mystery spinner but teams must have started discussing his action and variations already. Consistency will be Varun's challenge going forward.
The match winner? Every time TN lose, there are murmurs: “We miss Dinesh Karthik”. TN’s dream run in the 2016 Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophy can be largely attributed to the individual brilliance of Karthik. From there on, there was no looking back for India player Karthik.
A fully fit Vijay Shankar has played a few match-winning cameos, Indrajith has been amongst runs, Jagadeesan is a consistent performer, Abhinav has been impressive with his attacking display. But still, something is missing. TN lack that X-factor in the batting department minus Karthik. “Talent in abundance.” Yes, but still TN haven’t spotted a match-winner of Karthik’s calibre.
The management has to soon find a player who doesn’t fear failure, a player who can be audacious, take the game by the scruff of the neck and importantly back him.
Can TNPL and VAP Trophy provide that for TN in the next season? There were flashes of brilliance from individuals such as Vivek Raj and NS Chaturved in the last TNPL.
The selection committee, led by S Sharath, which has backed quite a few youngsters such as R Sai Kishore, Washington, Hari Nishanth, Shahrukh Khan and so on, should look out for that match-winner with an X-factor.
Injury concerns and backup options: TN were a bit unfortunate on the bowling front with injuries. They didn’t have Aswin Crist, the workhorse of the TN attack. The spirited K Vignesh and crafty T Natarajan were out with injuries right at the start of the season.
It meant that Vijay Shankar and M Mohammed had to take up the new-ball duties. There was hardly a threat in the pace attack. Slinger Athiyasaraj Davidson, who was picked mid-way through tournament, didn’t get much games in the season. A new face, Sharun, got his turn and couldn’t make much of an impact either.
The fact that TN haven’t had greater success at the junior level (U16 & U19) last season is a concern which needs to be addressed at the earliest. Washington, Shahrukh Khan, S Radhakrishnan were probably the best TN had produced in the junior circuit in the last three-four years.
Is there a pace bowler or two hiding around somewhere in the junior category? Are J Kousik and M Shahrukh Khan batting all-rounders or bowling allrounders? What about V Yo Mahesh, who made a stunning comeback last year, did well in TNPL, and didn’t find a place in the starting squad?
TN need to have specialist backup options, which at the moment, doesn’t seem to be the case.
Yet another season full of expectations ended up in disappointment. Certain critical issues are to be addressed and it has to be carried out either before and not after things are done and dusted.
Every time the team had lost, the ‘attitude’ issue has been thrown into the picture, irrespective of the coach or the format.
There is still some time to prepare for the Ranji Trophy. Can the coach, team management and selection committee sort out the ‘attitude’ issues before the season starts?
CSK coach Stephen Fleming always stated the importance of consistency in selection and performance ahead of every match. It’s time for TN think-tank and players to be consistent in their decisions and performances respectively.
Someone has to put the foot down and take certain tough and harsh decisions before the Ranji Trophy gets underway.