It isn’t about Sehwag

The T20 Cricket World Cup is underway, and the Indian men’s team lost to Australia today. Badly. That they got annihilated may be more descriptive of the event.

I have some thoughts of this–and it probably won’t make sense to you if you haven’t followed today’s scorecard, and Indian cricket in general in the recent past.

The debate seems to be about Sehwag being dropped. As if Sehwag’s presence in the team would have miraculously made our bowlers bowl better. Australia cantered home with 31 balls to spare. At the rate they were going, how many more runs would India have needed to win? Too many.

No, it isn’t about Sehwag. Sehwag deserved to be dropped–he hasn’t been playing well of late, and has been throwing his wicket away. (Come to think of it, I wonder if there have been any other players in the team who have not been pulling their weight as batsmen. Anyone come to mind? Did you say Rohit Sharma? Right.)

No, the problem is one of planning, and having foresight, and making contingency plans. India seem to be doing none of this.

The captain, MS Dhoni, blamed the weather for the bowlers’ plight. The spinners were blameless, he said–they couldn’t grip the ball after rain intervened! Indeed, that is correct. Question: has rain been a surprise factor in this tournament? Has there been rain interruption for the first time in this match? No, rain has been a regular feature.

When India chose to play 5 bowlers instead of 4, why did they choose three spinners? Through their long history of playing 4 bowlers, the fifth bowler was invariably a spinner (Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, and even Virender Sehwag). Indeed, India’s part time bowlers, who India have depended upon for a long time, are mostly spinners. When you decide to play a fifth bowler, in conditions where rain has been in the air consistently, why would you play the extra spinner? If you need more spinners, you have a contingent of part timers to fill the role. What if spin backfires, as it did today, and you need other pacers? Virat Kohli is who you are forced to turn to. Play the extra seamer instead; this way your attack is balanced, and you give your bowlers more chances to fail without jeopardizing the match result.

That was bad planning. That was a case of not having contingency plans even of “what if it rains like it has been almost every day?”

I asked above why India played three spinners. I will tell you why. Because of the England game. India’s spinners ran through England, and left them in tatters. The only problem is, that result wasn’t because India’s spinners were suddenly brilliant, but rather because England were pathetic against spin. They were unsure, were not proactive, and allowed India’s spinners to dominate. Australia is no England when it comes to playing spin bowling. R. Ashwin has been a constant fixture in recent India squads, and I can understand getting Harbhajan back into the fold based on his county cricket credentials. What exactly has Piyush Chawla done since he got hammered in the IPL? Conversely, what wrong has Pragyan Ojha done to be dropped from the squad? Why is Piyush Chawla donning India colors at all?

That was an extremely poor judgement call based on the England game.

When Virender Sehwag was dropped today, who opened the batting? Irfan Pathan. Why? Why did Kohli come at No. 3 today? Did Kohli not want to open? That seems extremely unlikely, given his attitude towards his game and his confidence in his abilities. Did Dhoni suddenly think India’s middle order would forget how to bat if they batted one spot higher? Given the length of the innings, and the form that Kohli is in, why in the world would you not send him in to open?

That was, I think, a poor call, one that robbed the Indian innings of momentum.

And finally, on a day that India decided to play the extra bowler instead of the extra batsman, India were ill-equipped to carry dead-weight in the batting department. India has been carrying Rohit Sharma through his extended bad patch, and a couple of innings in this tournament is not enough to pronounce him ‘back in form’. Yuvraj Singh has just come back from serious illness, and deserves his place in the team, and the opportunity to fail a few times and find his feet. But India is not equipped to carry two underperforming batters, especially when playing 5 bowlers. At least Yuvraj has been pulling his weight as a bowler; to keep the side balanced it was time today to play another batter instead of Rohit, notwithstanding his 50 against England.

That was simply diffident of India, not being bold enough to drop the guy who made a 50 in the previous match, in favour of not carrying extra dead weight. (Curiously, the other contender for Rohit’s spot–Manoj Tiwary–was benched for an extended length right after he scored a hundred.)

No, it wasn’t about Sehwag.

What is Duncan Fletcher’s contribution to this, I wonder? MS Dhoni, the captain, can make some bad calls, but then isn’t it Fletcher’s job to point these out to him and strategize better along with him? Or has Fletcher heard too many Greg Chappell horror stories, and is wary of putting it to Dhoni that his decisions are questionable? Worse, are these strategies Fletcher’s? I don’t know what to make of this team management any more.

It wasn’t about Sehwag; it was about everything else.

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