The plain truth is that the champions of the inaugural tournament three years ago have been overtaken tactically by teams which plan their strategy according to the players available and not vice versa.
By Suresh Menon
No tears will be shed for India should they, as seems likely now, fail to qualify for the semifinals of the World Twenty20. For the plain truth is that the champions of the inaugural tournament three years ago have been overtaken tactically by teams which plan their strategy according to the players available and not vice versa.
Australia have the fast bowlers, so they have built their attack around them, grateful that their aggressive opening batsman Shane Watson is also capable of bowling at over 140kmph. The West Indies, taking a cue from Australia’s tactics against India tested the batting with short-pitched deliveries, and even if the early batsmen didn’t look as desperate as they did in the previous game while swatting at everything, the bowling defeated them.
There is something to be said for picking your best team and building your strategy around that. If skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni felt that two medium pacers were sufficient against the West Indies, he ought to have strengthened the spin by playing Piyush Chawla. What are specialists like Chawla and medium pacer Vinay Kumar doing in the team if their jobs are going to the bits-and-pieces men who are being regularly carved into bits and pieces by the opposing batsmen? There are too many non-regulars being targeted by the opposition who are happy to allow Harbhajan Singh his miserly approach knowing that they can take the others apart.
Poor Ravindra Jadeja is having a torrid time, being collared as a bowler, with nothing to contribute as batsman and responsible for the early misses in the field to boot. Dhoni clearly is no member of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Cricketers and insists on an under-confident Jadeja taking the stage at crucial moments.
For a relatively young team, India continue to disappoint in the field, allowing batsmen to convert singles into twos, dropping catches and seldom giving the impression that they think sport has anything to do with physical fitness. Watch the manner in which Watson rocks on to the backfoot, bides his time and strikes into the stands. Or Chris Gayle do the same. Not elegant by any means – Twenty20 is not a game of elegance except when Mahela Jayawardene is batting – but effective, and that’s what matters.
In short, India do not deserve to make the semifinals, although mathematically, I suppose they still can. Australia and the West Indies, and even Sri Lanka have played the better brand of cricket.
In 2007 when India won, tactics had not evolved to this extent. The element of hit-or-miss was dominant, and it was assumed that bowlers were merely fodder for the swinging bat. Three years and three IPL tournaments later, this format of the game has developed its own narrative, its own unique techniques and strategy. India appear to be lagging behind, not learning from teams which focus on keeping wickets in the first six overs rather than slog without control. India’s problem against the West Indies ultimately boiled down to the fact that they did not have enough wickets in hand in the final overs.
With another World Cup, the 50-over variety, coming up next year, it is good to see an attempt to give the second string a chance in the Zimbabwe tri-series. Suresh Raina was the obvious choice as captain once it was decided to rest the big guns.
Traditionally the Indian selectors have liked to keep the national captain on his toes by pointing out that there may be more options than he thinks. Till Dhoni took over, every Indian captain was forced to look over his shoulders by authorities who liked to introduce an element of uncertainty. In the days of Sunil Gavaskar, there was Kapil Dev. Sourav Ganguly had Rahul Dravid and so on.
Dhoni, one of only three or four players guaranteed a place in all three forms of the game, has been told where his challenge will come from. This is not just a cynical way of looking at the issue of captaincy, but a practical one, a historically recurring one. Insecurity is built into the job by selectors who are always wary of players getting too powerful.
In Dhoni’s case, he is as secure in his post as any Indian captain has ever been. His record speaks for itself, and he obviously lacks the sense of insecurity of some of his predecessors.
So this might be a peep into the future. Perhaps a three-way split in the national captaincy after Dhoni?