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The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Posts Tagged ‘Ashish Nehra

Dhoni Can Blame It On The Rain

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The good news after the washed out match against Australia is that the mathematical probability for the Indian team to make it to the next stage is not over as of yet; there is a slim chance riding on a lot of factors going India’s way. The bad news is that some of the crucial factors are not in control of what Dhoni and his men do.

India has to hope that Pakistan beats Australia in the second last match of Group A. And if it wins, then India has to ensure that it beats West Indies by a margin that takes its net run rate above that of Australia.
This reliance on mathematical possibilities is quite a depressing situation for a team that has been flirting with the number 1 position in the ICC ODI rankings. Despite all the consistent play that has taken India to the top of the charts, this is not an unfamiliar situation for the team.

Remember the World Cup in West Indies; a loss against Bangladesh in the first match and it was two must win games for India. Bermuda was easy but the loss to Sri Lanka was the end of our campaign. It was also the end of a period defined as ‘commitment to excellence’ by former Australian legend and India’s pre-World Cup coach Greg Chappell.

Persisting with the same attack that won India the Compaq Cup final in Colombo may have cost heavily.
In that final, 18 overs were shared between Yuvraj, Pathan and Raina. Pathan was hammered at 9 an over in his four over spell and Yuvraj was decent at 4 an over. Raina was superb with 8 overs for 26 runs and a wicket. RP Singh went for above seven an over, Ishant and Nehra were not too different. None of the fast bowlers finished their quota. Harbhajan won the match with his five-wicket spell.

Also India had piled 319 runs with a top-class 138 from Tendulkar and a finishing kick of 56 not out by Yuvraj. There was no Yuvraj here who gave India a buffer of 20 extra runs and six frugal overs in Colombo.

What if India had to defend a modest total? And what about restricting a good batting line-up on a decent surface? In Colombo Sri Lanka was all out for 273 with 3.2 overs left; it was a 46 run win but that does not tell the story that the chase was on till the 42nd over. Sri Lanka was 60 for no loss after 7 overs. RP, Ishant and Nehra flogged out of the attack.

Harbhajan was brought in the 8th over with the field still up and he rattled Dilshan’s middle stump with his 5th ball. Jayasuriya hit two consecutive boundaries in Harbhajan’s next over and then took a single. Then a scrambled seam doosra with some over spin on the off stump line drew Mahela forward but he could only manage a leading edge that looped straight back to the bowler’s hands. Two big wickets in two overs for Harbhajan inside the first power play changed the tempo of the chase.

Still the chase was on and the scales turned in India’s favour when Raina had Kapugedera. Then Harbhajan took two in two in the 45th over to reduce Lanka to nine down and completed the formalities by removing Mendis in his 10th over.

The match before the final was even more instructional. Sri Lanka made 307 batting first. India used seven bowlers. Here also Raina bowled 3 overs for just 14 runs and took a wicket; Harbhajan was superb giving 37 runs in 10 overs for a wicket. All the others leaked runs in the range of 6.42 and 7.25. The chase was disastrous; we were effectively out of the contest by the 25th over. India lost by 139 runs.

Did it occur to the captain and the team management that there were some serious concerns? In the last four innings in which he came out to bat before the Centurion game, Yusuf Pathan had spent 5, 8, 4, and 12 minutes in the middle for a combined total of 2 runs. He was hammered for 9 an over and had two ducks and two singles in four outings with the bat. What was the role he was picked for?

Was their any concern for Dhoni and the team management when they went ahead with this composition in a crunch game? An abysmal RP, a low on confidence Ishant, no fifth bowler and to top it all a complete misuse of the only world class bowler in the team. So it wasn’t that you felt three bowlers short you were actually 4 bowlers short with only Nehra at your disposal.

To get the best out of Harbhajan you have to use him like a field marshal uses his most potent weapon; the way he was used when the Sri Lankan openers had hit 60 in 7 overs and it was still the first power play. It was Dhoni who let Harbhajan down at Centurion and not the other way round.

I don’t know if Rohit Sharma was available for selection but he’s played 41 matches and has four fifties to his name. The simple reason that he had in the company of Tendulkar guided India home in a tense one-day final against Australia in Sydney should have been reason enough to consider his case seriously.

The quality that Rohit would have brought to the team apart from his obvious batting talent was his experience and unruffled temperament. India was in a solid position when Kohli came up the order but his inexperience and not his form let him and the team down. Another six or seven overs later he could have pulled that risk easily.

Inexperience sees the five dot balls while experience knows that there is a long way to go and numerous opportunities to cash in will come. Inexperience is a lack of awareness of the state of the game while experience is exactly the opposite.

Raina would have been a much better promotion; the left right combination would have made it difficult for the spinners to choke runs. His natural ability to strike the balls in his zone would have been an added advantage.

The Centurion game was decided in the passive period between the 15th and the 25th overs. Pakistan was under the pump at 65 for 3 after the 15th over and they crept to 108 for 3 by the half way mark; 43 runs without losing a wicket. India was 97 for 2 at the end of the 15th over and by the end of the 25th they were 138 for 4; 41 runs and two big wickets.

Dhoni used the most ineffective bowlers at his disposal when Pakistan was reeling under pressure and Younis used his most effective bowlers when India would have been content to develop a sedate partnership. Ajmal and Afridi would not have been as effective if Younis had allowed a few overs to pass with just containing the batsmen as his motive. A set Kohli with Dravid would have played them much more effectively.

The most consistently-successful part-time bowler coming into the series was Suresh Raina; yet Dhoni didn’t give him the ball and preferred to experiment with Kohli and Pathan at a critical juncture.

The ice-cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a bad tournament; an awful one in fact. He knew exactly that his attack had no bite except Harbhajan; he needed Amit Mishra in the playing XI and also a replacement for RP. He could afford to be a batsman less and play Kohli at number 6 with Harbhajan to follow. Now he can just hope and pray for the Gods of fortune to oblige.


Dhoni Got It All Wrong At Centurion

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It was a good solid performance from Pakistan; they were 3 wickets down without too many runs on the board at the 15 over mark but they clawed their way back to a position of dominance on the back of one solid partnership. The partnership was built with sensible and gritty old-fashioned cricketing sense. Pakistan also fought their way back despite giving a multitude of free hits when India was trying to make a match of it later. The two run-outs sum up the story for India: Gambhir’s was the start of self-destruction and Dravid’s was the end of it.

Indian captain Dhoni said that the team bowled poorly and he felt that he was not one or two but three bowlers short. There were problems but not of this magnitude. At 65 for 3 at the end of the 15th over, India was just a wicket away from ensuring that Pakistan plays in a consolidation mode.

And at that time the ball went to Virat Kohli and Yusuf Pathan. And between the two part-timers and an over or two by the seamers the game moved on till the 25th over. In a pressure situation you can get a few overs out of your part-timers; and if that was the thinking it worked as just about 43 runs were taken in those 10 overs.

It also ensured that Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf were nicely settled before your attacking bowler was introduced in the 26th over. It was a different ball game now and both players were content to pick runs without risking much. Then they took the attack to the Indian camp as one bowler after the other was put to sword. When India finally managed a breakthrough, the brilliant 206-run partnership had taken Pakistan to 271 with four overs still remaining. Malik made a very good hundred and Yousuf was gone in high eighties.

Dhoni must have felt a bowler short but does that justify that the most economical bowler in the pack, Ishant Sharma, did not bowl his quota and finished with figures of 8 overs, 2 maidens, 39 runs, and 2 wickets. Pakistan’s main spinners were introduced in the 13th and the 19th over; India’s only attacking spinner bowled his first over after half of the game was gone. Harbhajan is a confidence bowler; he likes the challenge of adversity and responds to the faith invested in him as a main weapon. Some of his best spells have come when the captain has even risked using him inside the power plays.

There could be some strategy to hold Harbhajan back or may be to send some message to the opposition dressing room. The bigger concern, though, is the message that goes to your main attacking bowler when he is introduced after trying five options, two of them part timers.

And why are we letting the batsmen get away with it by putting the blame squarely on the bowlers? At the end of the 15th over India was 97 for 2; 32 runs more and a wicket less than what Pakistan were at the same juncture.

Given how the wicket was playing, it was by no means an improbable chase. Tendulkar looked in good touch but he was on the wrong side of the law of averages and Aamir, the fiery youngster, bowled an amazing slower one that was just perfect to catch him in no man’s land and Akmal gobbled the edge diving to his right.

Dravid at number 3 showed how common sense, good technique and a sound temperament still counts much more than a capability for big hits. If India’s potent off-spinner had a bad day then Pakistan’s frugal and accurate Umar Gul had an even worse outing, going wicket less at over nine an over.

India was cruising at 90 for 1 in 13.4 overs when Gambhir, who was batting like a dream, was out against the run of play. Dravid hit the ball hard and straight to a shortish mid-off where the possibility of even half a run was fraught with danger and Gambhir had taken just a few paces but was not sharp enough to grasp the danger and Younis hit the stumps; a dismissal that was part harakiri and part inattention.

After 20 overs Pakistan were 86 for 3. India at this point was 122 for 2; way ahead of Pakistan and getting ready for self-destruction. In the next four overs India threw the advantage to be 134 for 4. In-form Virat Kohli took a needless risk that exemplified inexperience. Dhoni was then hit flush on the pads and he was quite forward and quite plumb.

In came Raina and showed why he would have been a good choice at number four. One it would have kept the left right combination going and two Raina is more experienced with an audacious array of strokes that he never hesitates to play if the ball is there. He would have been an ideal partner for Dravid, rotating the strike and also punishing the bad balls. It would also have been a bit difficult for the spinners to adjust their line and length. Even at number six he turned the heat on Pakistan with a very effective 72-run partnership with Dravid. Just as another 20 minutes of Raina at the crease would have been more than dangerous for Pakistan, he got a poor decision—that was the cruel turn of his and India’s fate. There was enough doubt with bat, pad and boot close together and should have been referred upstairs as it was a crucial decision that could have had a bearing on the result of the match.

Out of the three players who were making something of the situation, two fell to very avoidable run outs and one got a poor decision. Just see the number of players who threw their wickets away to attacking strokes when it was not desperately needed and you can see what went wrong. The only two partnerships of consequence that were developing to be potentially match-winning ended with Dravid watching helplessly from the other end—the faster than run-a-ball stands of 67 with Gambhir and 72 with Raina ended in what can best be called a tragic quirk of fate for India.

The match teaches basic lessons: If you’ve got the opposition on the back foot don’t take your foot off the accelerator. The bowlers can’t maintain the same pressure throughout; your time will come if you don’t force it. Cricket is a game of partnerships; even one can make a difference so work towards stitching it. It is the runs scored by the top order that result in wins more often than not, if you are one of them put a premium on your wicket. There is a difference between batting your way out of trouble and hitting your way out of trouble; the probability of success is always higher in the first approach.

Dhoni is a good cool captain but in this particular game he had a bad outing and Younis out-captained him by quite a fair distance.

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