Friday, March 1, 2013

Rethinking "Settled Combination"

Best Blog Tips

"I never learned anything while I was talking", said Larry King, the popular CNN host. I should do that more often. I spent some time through ESPN's videos. Rahul Dravid's latest video provided an interesting insight to me about some of the spin strategies that teams apply on the sub-continent. This wasn't new information or a brand new tactic, just that I had lost sight of a vital piece of the puzzle.

Dravid mentioned Panesar's spell on day one at the Eden Gardens when he conceded only 70 odd runs in 35 overs. This put the lid on one side and racheted up pressure on the batting team to score more runs. Obviously, Indian batsmen didn't step up and they lost. Jadeja is expected to play a similar role in the current set up where his role is to bottle one end up. Keeping this in mind, a 3-fer or a 2-fer is fair game provided he concedes less than two and a half runs per over.

A tight bowler at one end and an attacking one at the other is the most basic template of test match bowling. Play on the batsmen's minds, don't give them balls in the areas where they are strong and let them make decisions to attack or not. More often than not, batsmen who are successful playing long innings are probably likely to play the waiting game rather than make anything happen. And then there are the others who probably instinctively know when it's time to take over and disrupt bowling team strategies. Tendulkar did this in 1998 against Australia. Kevin Pietersen did that in Mumbai, Richards would routinely do it and most recently Dhoni against Australia when nothing you throw at him seemed to matter. He literally willed the bowlers to bowl into his "areas".

Australia don't have such a batsman right now. I think Hussey could have been it, but he's retired. Watson could don that role, but he doesn't want to bat that far down the order. Clarke remains too classical and too effective with his current methods to do anything different. Henriques demonstrated great patience and effectiveness in dealing with the situation, but he didn't seem to have the audacity and confidence required to be disruptive.

So maybe, this is what Dhoni meant when he was talking about a "settled combination". Maybe he's not looking for wickets and runs from Jadeja. Maybe he's simply looking for tight, disciplined bowling spells that Ravi Shastri would often reel off. Maybe he's looking for Jadeja to simply occupy the crease and let Dhoni and Kohli do the damage required, except perhaps in the rarest of cases. India no longer have the batsmen of Dravid and Laxman's pedigree for whom conditions didn't matter. Clearly, Dhoni seems to be ok carrying Tendulkar at this time given his stature. Tendulkar couldn't convert his great start into a big one and for a number four to not score centuries at least once every four to five tests is tough on the rest of the folks. It's  prime batting order real estate when it comes to opportunities to score big. But I suppose this is a not so good Australian bowling attack and it's ok.

However, India do need to look at things in a different perspective when it comes to selecting a team for South Africa. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav should be cut loose and a good bowler to control runs such as Praveen Kumar or even Ishant Sharma (given his inability to take wickets despite being oh-so-close). Batting-wise this supports the need for Gambhir to come back and bat within himself. It would be unfair to blood a new opener in South Africa of all places

So it appears that India will go in with four spinners into the Hyderabad test, with perhaps Kohli opening the bowling with Ishant or Bhuvaneshwar.  Looking forward to a "disruption" strategy from Australia. Who will it be?


Golandaaz said...

i think what dhoni meant is 'settled' in his mind. that he has now settled on his preferred combination for Tests, that in his view gives us the best chance to win....

so if i interpret it that way, i would still disagree with him because he is only kidding himself, for the very reason you mention. with a he-is-like-that-only-opener Viru and an underperforming Elephant-in-the-room-with-a-tiger-inside occupying #4; I would not have said what Dhoni said

Vidooshak said...

My interpretation would be that he has reconciled himself to carrying his underperforming seniors including Harbhajan. Given that state, he is devising strategies to win. And in that strategy he probably sees Pujara, Kohli, himself, Ashwin and Jadeja being the prime actors.

Dinesh said...

It appears Ishanth Sharma might sit out for Ojha. Dhoni is not the captain who believes in tradition. He has no problem opening with spin on the other end (if requires both ends too).

Jadeja bowls tight. But if you are a bowler who tends to bowl little faster (especially an away going spinner) maintaining decent line and length, you are obviously going to tight up one end. Panesar did exactly the same for England. But he had the class to pick wickets too.

I agree you dont need to attack at both the ends. But that doesnot mean that you will have 2 pace men, where one does not have the habit of taking wicket (I Sharma), while the other requires condition to aid him (B Kumar). And then there is an off spinner (Bhajji) who is making a comeback for no justified reason. Finally, you are left with only two bowlers where one is used for tighten things (Jadeja) and other is all left to attack (Ashwin).

Aussies are overawed initially, but it is not going to take them long to figure it out. I feel it is mandatory to play Ojha.

When we tour South Africa, we have more options. Umesh Yadav & Varun Aaron (pace), Irfan Pathan (all rounder), Ishanth Sharma & Shami Ahmed for holding up one end, B Kumar for swing etc., to choose from. There are always spin options like Ojha, Ashwin to support.

I don't wish read too much into Dhoni. According to him World Cup 2007 loss was more tragic than India slump in Test Cricket.