Thursday, February 23, 2012

Staring down the abyss

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It wasn't too long ago that India had scaled the ODI peak by winning the World Cup. Tendulkar declared Dhoni to be the best captain that he had played under. It was Team India and not a collection of individuals anymore. We had declared that the team had been cast in Dhoni's image of being calm, cool and collected against the highest of odds.

Alas, it didn't last! Historically, India had never fielded unified teams. The feuds between stars are well known. Most times these feuds impacted the team's performances but sometimes they came together for the collective good. Sports persons are strong personalities. They usually require emotion to fuel their intensity and deliver great performances. Superb individual efforts often inspire team efforts of success.

On the ODI front, Tendulkar alone seems to have inspired stroke play hitherto not the forte of India. Often we had marveled at Pakistan's ability to produce the Inzy's out of nowhere to shred bowling attacks. Recently however, India laid claim to that title of inspired, jaw-dropping stroke play with Sehwag, Gambhir, Dhoni, Raina and Yuvraj leading the charge.

Sehwag has been a misfit in the ODI squad for quite a while and we had advocated dropping him completely from the World Cup squad. However, most people are willing to let Sehwag play for that occasional enormous innings that he plays like the recent 219 and the opening salvo he fired in the World Cup against Bangladesh.

Perhaps, the Indian team's astounding ODI performances had led to a happy dressing room and maybe not being accustomed to failure, harsh emotional exchanges had been rare or non-existent. Dhoni didn't need to perhaps assert himself on the team because the team was delivering without his inspiration. This is all theory and speculation.

Post World Cup, however, it appears that the team has begun to fall apart. Dhoni and the "seniors" in particular seem to be at odds with each other. In my opinion, Gambhir and Sehwag are deliberately undermining the captain and it is pretty sad. The captain is first among equals and he deserves the support of the team members, senior or otherwise. Every team member is a significant member and for Sehwag and Gambhir to claim some special exemption from a policy that the captain seeks to implement is quite sad.

Having said that, Dhoni's lack of ability to navigate the shark infested "senior waters" is telling. We would all want the captain to be the ultimate diplomat, salesman, motivator, evangelist and handsome to boot. Unfortunately, Jesus Christ died on a cross 2000 years ago and Gandhi didn't play cricket very well. We are still researching to find out if Jesus played any sports. Judging by Tendulkar's statements, Dhoni must be the best person to be captain of the team.

To me Sehwag dropping Rohit Sharma and making him a pawn in the game of team politics is pathetic. Sharma needed a confidence boost and I think this latest act of political doo doo would have done him no good. I hope Tendulkar is taking the time to help the young batsman stay focused on his cricket. Sehwag seems to have made it a point to drop Sharma to rub Dhoni the wrong way. For the BCCI to ask Dhoni and Sehwag to work it out and not instantly drop Sehwag is another pathetic attempt at non-leadership. Insubordination is a big deal and should be treated as such.

If a future inquiry reveals Dhoni's motives to be suspect, by all means Sehwag should be brought back. But to openly rebel against the skipper's stated policy is shameful. Coming from a mediocre ODI performer it's even more pathetic. For all of Sehwag's inspired test match stroke play, his recent captaincy performance deserves be to condemned. Putting his personal vendetta over the team is miserable. My respect for Sehwag has nosedived.

I had thought Gambhir to be an emotional, yet smart player. I also respected his captaincy credentials and thought him to be the man best suited to take over after Dhoni, should Dhoni have given up test matches. Kohli would be the future leader, but it would be another 6-8 years before he was ready. But by undermining the skipper, Gambhir deserves a reprimand too. None of Gambhir's and Sehwag's actions are helpful to the team, regardless of whether the rotation policy is the right policy.

Dhoni is still captain and he deserves to be allowed to succeed or fail on his merits. Back-stabbers like Sehwag and Gambhir will do it to other skippers whose policies they don't like. It's dangerous to pamper them.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Policies, Rules, Processes and Culture

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With the BCCI, it is probably hard to report anything with a straight face but almost all reports covering the predictable reunion of Sahara India Parivaar and the BCCI started off quoting Rajiv Shukla that "no rules were broken".

I am not sure if the intent of these reports was to induce a roll of the eyes, a scoff, an uncontrolled involuntary laugh or it was just plain old reporting the news as it happened. However I was curious as to why the BCCI would want to stress and communicate that it has broken no rules in mending relationships with Sahara.

The BCCI is run by smart, successful leaders in India, be it politicians or businessmen. A lot of intelligence, real world skills and dollops of cunning is plentiful among the BCCI elite. Over time, I have realized that nothing the BCCI bigwigs do or say should be dismissed as nonsense, however strong the urge to do just that. So when the BCCI says the they are rejecting the Woolfe report or want us to know that "no rules were broken" or they are unwilling to take a "leap of faith" with the DRS or they make statemements like "players are free to request rest" there is more to it than mere words and the meaning it conveys.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The legacy of India's greatest generation of batsmen is sadly just personal numbers and home wins

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Over at ESPN Cricinfo in a piece, titled Which teams are the worst travelers?, S Rajesh digs up some numbers since the end of Australia's reign as a super power on the field. I add 'in the field' because I don't even for a minute want to cast any doubts on who the super power is in the board rooms of the ICC.

The numbers reveal trends that are largely to be expected. On the surface it is evident that Asian teams struggle outside of Asia and non-Asian teams struggle in Asia. 

However England, South Africa and Australia as a unit, compete far more effectively in Asia compared to Asian teams in Australia, South Africa and England combined. But these visiting teams have little to show in terms of real wins in Asia. However Asian teams simply refuse to show up and offer any sort of competition to home teams outside Asia. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Victory is Beautiful

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India win an away game. Yes it was a T20 game. But it was a win. Actually to hell with the but. It was a T20 game. Big deal. It was cricket wasn't it.

Even so, let us put this win in perspective.

It is huge. As in BIG huge. It got me all animated while watching. Alone. It felt important. It was needed. I needed it.

Even though my belief in India's youngsters is steadfast, it was not that I believed they would start winning games right at the outset. Especially after the mindset that the illustrious seniors had adopted, I had resigned myself to the definite possibility that this tour too like the one in England, end with no wins for India.

This win is indeed special.

First, it just feels nice to be winners.

Secondly, it came with no Sachin Tendulkar.

No VVS Laxman

No Rahul Dravid.

Thirdly, It came on the back of excellent fielding and more importantly...

...Fresh minds. New thoughts

Fourthly, it came against Australia. I hate losing to Australia. I hate it more than losing to Pakistan. Its just the way it has been for me.

Fifthly, it was delivered by Dhoni's team.

The way he can express himself with the seniors out is good to watch.

Sixthly, it was comprehensive. Not a fumbling, someone-had-to-win-the-game kind of win. India controlled the game right from the start. The kind of win that we can build on. This could translate to wins in ODIs and God willing wins in Tests.

I think we can now compete. On this tour. Something that seemed impossible after the 8 Test defeats. While the older lot was always in denial, the young ones know only wins matter. They have no past records to fall back on.

Before this win, I did not believe we could compete in the rest of the series.

Not after the doom and gloom and our experiments in trying to redefine insanity. Trying to do the same things over and over in 8 Tests and expecting a different outcome every time.

It feels good to see a young side win.

It feels beautiful to be the winning side. Feels good.