November 22 , 2007
The other side of a win
20 years seems to be to cutoff point as far as Indians' record-breaking spree is concerned. a) Haven't won in the Caribbean in more than 30 years - check b) Haven't won a test series in England in more than 20 years - check c) And this one is little tough to believe, Haven't won a ODI series against Pakistan in more than 20 years, (and here comes the amusing addendum), on home turf - check. With the amount of cricket being played between the two teams on different fora in the last few years, this little nugget got swept underneath the carpet and it is only after India triumphed in the series, did the little known artifact got dusted off and given a new face-lift. Oh, there is also one more 20 year trivia - India notched up a series victory (both in limited and longer versions) against Pakistan on their soil, after 20 years. It is interesting to analyze why all of sudden, decades old records are bring downed like bowling pins. Either it has to do something with India playing exceedingly well in the past few years or the opposition has become considerably weaker over the period. The obvious aspect in all these series victories (against WI, Eng and Pak) is how weak all the three teams have gotten in their bowling departments. The daunting pace battery of WI during most of the 80s and much of the 90s, the consistent attack of the English, and the intimidating bowling line up of Pakistanis seem to have magically vanished in thin air, and that seemed to have levelled the playing ground for the Indians, who on the other hand, have been pretty consistent with little or no consistency to boot, over all, save for flashes of individual brilliances here and there.
Particularly when it comes to the team in question, Pakistan, the current composition is probably the weakest one, in terms of batting and bowling (fielding has constantly been their Achilles heel), that Pakistan has fielded in recent memory. The team which had been synonymous with raw pace, rough around the edges, seems to be grasping at the straws, what with the frontline battery - Akhtar, Asif, Gul and Sami, either injured or ineffective and the rest - just plain ineffective. There was a period during the 80s, towards the middle, when Pakistan found itself in a similar predicament, with Imran sustaining a career-threatening knee-injury and Safarz Nawaz retiring at just the same time, when there was no one bowler who stood out and up to shepherd the rest, and consequently the dressing room looked like a revolvin door for bowlers. Azeem Hafiz, Tahir Naqqash, Jalaluddin and the like stuck around just to warm the berths for the fearsome Ws - Wasim and Waqar - to take over, not to mention Imran returning to the stable. Pakistan finds itself in a similar quandry couple of decades down the line, with no solid prospects breaking away from the pack to emerge as the next torch-bearers. Save for a few outstanding batsmen - Miandad, Inzamam and the current Mohd.Yousuf, Pakistan has predominantly been a bowlers haven ever since its its inception, and to not play to its core strength, is gifting the opposition that much advantage right away without a ball being bowled. Until the bowling roster reads "Right/Left arm fast" all the way down, and not "Right/Left arm fast medium", "Right/Left arm medium fast" and many other confusing variants of the terms medium and fast, victory is unlikely to bestow its benevolence on a consistent basis anytime soon.
7 ODIs + T20 tournament (that they had to play all the way through) + 7 ODIs again + 5 more ODIs - for some teams, that schedule would fill up a couple of calendar years with little breaks in between the series. Around 25 international matches within a span of 3 months and with the mainstays clinging to their spots in each every game, the situation is ripe for a total breakdown, with the players not getting enough breathing room for recuperation and recharge. It was a sad sight to see Dhoni clutching his hamstring and going down, while negotiating a run, during the final ODI. While on-field injuries are a common sight in any sport nowadays, what is alarming is a lack of rotation policy (or if there is one, a strict implementation of it) to space the inevitable injuries wide apart, so that a grave one to a key player at an important juncture would not sway the result decisively in favor of the opposition. Which calls to fore an important question - what were the likes of Sachin, Dhoni and Yuvraj doing in the final one day in an already decided series? Were they present on the insistence of BCCI or the local cricket association hosting the game to garner enough turnout at the turnstiles? Or were they playing it just to get another one under their belts just in time for the Christmas bonuses? Wouldn't it have made more sense playing the likes of Dinesh Karthik (to get him into the groove of the glove in front of and behind the wickets, should anything untoward happen to Dhoni), or Dravid (it is sad to club him in this category, but nonetheless) or other lesser known players waiting in the wings for some game practice? It is important at this juncture to talk about board/selection committee's guidelines in dead rubbers. From the board's perspective, players are a very prized investment. For it to not protect its interests in the form of mandating the strict implementation of the rotation policy, particularly during such long stretches of uninterrupted playing, does not make good business sense. A word of advice from the South African or Australian boards who regularly bar their key players (the recent omission of Jacques Kallis from T20, and the selective use of Alan Dolland during his waning years come to mind) from taking part in unnecessary matches, is certainly in order.
If Sachin's aim is to go out in a blaze of glory, he surely seems to be enroute to his end, running full speed. Even with his current purple patch, it is tough to see him play series after series, for no more than a couple of years. And if he has already made up his mind to throw in the towel for the next World Cup, then the current workload that he is taking upon himself can be justified. Otherwise, he has either turned incredibly optimistic about his fitness (the cracks in which have already been on display during the England tour) or unnecessarily insecure that he would have to give way for the talent du jour, should he leave it unguarded. Both the scenarios do not bode well for the team in the long run. And as Sourav pointed out (with a touch of envy) in one of his sound bites that if there is one guy who cannot be touched in the whole team, regardless of his performance, it is Sachin, it is high time Sachin realizes his self-worth and start staying away from proceedings that are only statiscian's delight at best, in the better interests of the team. Competition and insecurity are two faces of the same coin. But with more than 15,000 runs and 42 centuries (and counting) in the bank, he can give himself a little more credit, slack and rest, in the same order. And if security isn't an issue, it is even stupefying that he risks an injury for such an inconsequential game, specially with the test series closing up on the heels, and the Aussies just around the corner, sniffing even for the slightest possibility of making early inroads into the opposition's psyche.
What's a policy that is not enforced? Guess, the same as great wisdom and tremendous experience that are never called for!
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