I am the essence of overconfidence! I am speculation, adventure; the spirit of pursuit; the stag howling for its winsome yet anonymous mate. I am the love call of evolution; the perfume and color of the flowers as they offer their pollen to the gentle buzz of the bees.
I am sex itself, gentlemen. I am life. I am appetite!
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Goodbye! John Wright.
After a long time a blog about things that are cricket. I avoided writing cricket because I usually pretty caustic on this topic and dont hide behind the Indian flag like a scared kitten. But anyway..
These are interesting times for Indian cricket. What with the change of guard coming at a time when our performance curve is dipping from the peak it touched in 2003. India's performance curve has definetly dipped in the ODI's and we are now probably half as good as what we were in 2003. But Test cricket now is more interesting. This is where things are "happening".
So whats Johnny done to us?
A lot perhaps! India as a country in general and Indian cricket in specific lacks the "professional" touch required to be competitive in global sport. The "associations", the "honorary" posts and general lack of basic intelligence ( let alone any kind of vision) among the men who hold higher positions are the reason why were have been mediocre to pathetic in every other sport ( barring cricket) . I believe the country now has a system in place which will eliminate, pretty ruthlessly that too, any sort of intelligence, creativity, vision, attempts at professionalism in any sport. They've gone and done it. Built a system which make sure we will remain mediocre forever. To put it simply an Indian cannot do the job of a coach very well. The system we have in place that searches for an appoints coaches will eliminate trained professionals and in the end come out with an ass like Kapil Dev ( with all due respects -- he sucked as a coach) or even worse Madan Lal. If A.C.Muthiah in his short one-year term as the BCCI president did not identify this evil system that prevents sense from happeneing and appoint John Wright as a coach, we would probably had someone like.. Navjot Singh Sidhu as a coach. Sidhu, who according to me is the biggest fool to ever hold a bat and a collosal idiot in the commentators box, would have made sure Indian cricket was completely ruined by the time he was done as a coach.
So John Wright, who was spotted by Rahul Dravid in his Kent playing days, came in - inspite of Jaggu Dalmia doing his best to prevent such a thing from happening. Names like Greg Chappell and Marsh were thrown in and a few ex-indian cricketers were made to say "is there no Indian who is good enough to do this? why a foriegner?".Normally people would hide behind the flag and say nothing. But Muthiah by appointing Wright said just that - No Indian is good enough. Muthiah promptly paid the price for doing the right thing. He was sacked as the BCCI president by Jaggu Dalmia Evil Inc. By the time Jaggu could change the coach in the pretext of showing allegiance to the Tri-Color, India won the 2001 series against Australia. A single day at Eden Gardens ensured that Laxman, Dravid, Wright, Ganguly, Harbajan, Leipus would have an extended career in their respective roles. Mr.Dalmia saw a perfect setting getting foiled in his own home town.
In these 4.5 years we have seen Indian team making slow and steady rise in the ODI and Test rankings ( and rankings do matter). Regardless of my obvious disrespect for Ganguly as a batsman, you have to say he formed a good partnership with John Wright. I often said this before - the main reason why Indian cricket improved under Wright was the decoupling of its performance to that of a person called Sachin Tendulkar. For almost 6 years it definetly was Tendulkar and 10 other dudes playing cricket. The fierce struggle to promote the "Team India" feeling was to make everybody feel that everybody carried equal weight in the playing XI. Success came when the team began to evolve a strategy where it always assumed Sachin would fail. And today Sachin failing and India winning is not an uncommon as it was in the 1990's. For the past 3 years it has been heartening to look at the organized way in which the team has been managed. There are specialists for every requirement. There is a clear defintion of roles in the team. In short we know that they are giving their best. At least a majority of them, which was not the case before.
Some Key Players who have made an impact in the test arena during Wright's tenure are
1) Virender Sehwag:"A good student will study anywhere - A good batsman will bat well in any position and anywhere." Obviously he has been a big difference at the top of the order. After the openers juggle-athon that happened all through the 1990's -- he is a welcome relief. That he is a batsman of Sachin's quality ( or even better) is a bonus and a boon. The key differentiator is his combative attitude. I have seen this in Sachin during the early nineties and so I am not surprised by his I-dont-care-if-you-are-a-big-bowler attitude. . But I expect that to wane once India becomes a one man team based on Sehwag. If things dont happen the right way - thats what I predict in the years following Sachin/Dravid's retirement. And if Sehwags career follows Sachin it will not be bad for him but he ( and Sachin ) could do a lot better. A good opening partner for Sehwag and my choice would have been Sadagopan Ramesh. Outside of Sehwag he is the best opener in the land today. Anti has written good pieces about Saddu here and here. Sadly his exclusion has be inexplicable. Anyway Sehwag's promotion as an opener was a master stroke and one that has so far been credited to only Sauvrav ganguly. I think John Wright needs his share of the gold too. Another wonderful opening combination would have been with Rahul Dravid. Sadly he refused to step-in. I dont think walking in at 0 for 1 is any different from walking in as an opener, especially for a person of Dravid's calibre. He just didn't want to do it and boy! does he have the right to refuse.
2) Rahul Dravid: He is the best batsman India has produced in the last five years and the most influential batsman after Sunil Gavaskar in Indian cricket history. He is definitely intelligent and that seems to help him organize his batting in a strategic way. This combination of intelligence and talent is what makes him better than Sachin Tendulkar nowadays ( this was not the case prior the that eden innings). That Eden Garden innings, I believe, gave him the self-confidence that he could be the best batter in the world and can produce one great innings after another. his self-confidence was the difference between him and Sachin previously. Now with that difference eliminated, he is able to think plan and organize his innings and his entire career in a way that would result in his talents to be utlized effectively to maximize results. He has contributed to every major Indian victory and near-victory since the Johanessburg match in 1997. Not all of them were strategically planned the Dravid-way but a big chunk of them certainly were a result of a directed effort. He has the stuff to get into the greatest-batsaman-of-all-time category. He has nearly the same talent as Sachin ( he may lack the 5th gear) but he is infinitely more organized and intelligent.
3) The Three-man Pace Attack: Three of Balaji, Pathan, Nehra, Zaheer, Srinath and Agarkar ( ahem..ahem) always delivered in the Wright era. More importantly it took away our dependence on spin during overseas tours. The sidelining of Kumble ( and deservedly so) made sure that the spinner realize that his place in the team was not for granted. Kumble's performance today is certainly a result of bomb-under-the-chair phenomena that most Indians are totally familiar with.
4) Sachin Tendulkar:Dissapointing may look like a harsh word but it can be used. Strange is a more appropriate word. He has done well and all that but man! he is strange. At best he has supported the Indian team during some important victories. He has played the lead role in victories also. There is always a stupid expectation that he did not generate a single-handed victory. I do not have any such expectations from him. Since that was the scenario the Wright era precicely tried to avoid, having such an instance(where Sachin won a match single-handedly) would mean a decline in standards. The Dravid-Adelaide effort was a one-off brilliant one-man-show and may never happen again even in dravid's career. Another thing I won't comment in detail and waste time is on whether he is a team guy or whether plays for himself. Usually I have found that the people who make such comments are not serious cricket followers or are completely cricket retarded. Giving respect to such comments is a waste of time and not worth any sort of analysis. To put it simply at this level you cannot play for yourself even if you wanted to and its plainly obvious that he is putting his all for the team. As to why he did not make as big an impact as the above three, it maybe be because (a) his role in the team was very vague (or) (b) his technique of batting slowly is so unlike him that the actual value to the team goes un-appreciated. For example his 241 in sydney was probably done at the same speed as Dravid's 200+ in Adelaide. But it looks slower because you dont expect that from him.
Having said that one has to concede that his batting quality in terms of "impact" generated is lesser than expected. He did play a lead role in away tests wins at West Indies, England and Pakistan but something is missing. I can't put my finger on it. But it just looks like he got morphed into a Rahul Dravid kind of player and that combination doesn't seem palatable. Only Rahul Dravid can be Raghul Dravid not Sachin Tendulkar. After seeing him blaze 140's and 160's you sort of expected him to blaze away a Sehwag like 300 not a Amarnath-Dravid like 200's. I think maybe that expectation is the problem. Furthermore, it has been a long time since he has successfully delivered. I am not referring to the silly expectation that he should remain a not out batsman and help India chase a 400 fourth innings target with a tailender. But more of doing his job as a number four batsman. The almost masochistic way he defended for 15 overs in the last match was surprising. His defence technique was in full display, an isntructive manual for any upcoming batsaman and all that. True! except Rahul Dravid I can't see anybody good enough to defend without scoring for that long. If I remember right, he had tried this and failed before. Trying the same tactic one more time is either arrogance to show off his technique or just a geeky determination to find out if he is realy that good. One last word - He should really take care against over-exposure in TV. He appears in TV too much nowadays. Even his mother may start hating him.
Saurav Ganguly: His batting has made no impact in Indian cricket. Any cricketer with a below-par average like 37 can never claim to have any sort of impact whatsoever. So the same standards that was applied for Dravid or Tendulkar cannot be applied to him because he is really not that good. In 1996 when India were trailing England at Lords by 400 runs at the end of second day, Geoff Boycott asked Shastri " So what do you think Raaavi". Shastri the politcaly correct guy replied " the new boy Ganguly and Sachin are there and they could save the game". Geoff typically ignored the full comment and says " so you are saying India depends on Sachin". Shastri promtly rebutted " No both Ganguly and Sachin are there and they can bat". What happened is history and it remains in history. Dead and Buried. Ganguly as a captain has done many good things which have already been exagerated and praised by the lickass media. I like him as a captain too.... but thats it. Ganguly has effectively managed to brainwash the cricket followers and the biggest example is -- when it comes to Sachin Tendulkar he has made them ask "is the individual important or the team important" and when his name comes up for scrutiny he has made them ask "are you going to support an Indian or a foriegner" ( referring to some foreign commentator who would have pointed out his lak of form which was obvious anyway). This is a nice public relations trick he seems to have done. one that projects Sachin as a person who does not play for the team and Ganguly as the only true red-blooded-Indian alive. While, the idiot section of the public has clealry bought the view, nothing could be farther from the truth. Ganguly is the most selfish player in the Indian team. Thats it period. Kumble must be laughing his ass off. He scored more runs in a match than ganguly did in the entire Pakistan series.
About God and offside play: I take strong exception to that comment and think that saying that is the biggest black mark on Dravid's career. Ganguly is pathetic on the offside. He gets out to the outside-the-offstump-line 95% of the time. Club bowlers are getting him out that way. He can't play leg side, he can't hook, registers blip on the ondrive. So he is a one-dimensional player who can survive on the square drive and the cover drive against mediocre bowlers. Agreed his timing is great and all that but he is nowhere near being called a great player. For gods sake! - His net impact to Indian cricket in terms of innings of substantial quality is abysmal. 1 innings in Lords to save a match. 2 innings in England ( along with Dravid and Tendulkar) to save and win a match. 1 inings in Srilanka to win a match and 1 in Brisbane to save a match ( Even in a rain affected match, we were galloping towards defeat. He prevented that. That much is true. Whether we would have survived without the rain is a different matter). That is his net career impact. He has not done well against an attack that had a top quality bowler like McGrath, Akhtar, Donald, Pollock, Akram, Ambrose, Walsh or Shane Bond ( or even Merv Dillon). Imagine that kind of abysmality in a career spanning 9 years. He is in because of the Calcutta power center. If the ODI's arent there to mask his wretchedness he would have been dropped ages ago. India would do well to drop him. But the thing is he won't get dropped. I dont see him losing his test or ODI position until he retires.
His contribution as captain marginally abates his dismal performance as a player. But only Marginally.
Good Bye! John Wright! We dont know what will happen without you. What with the Zonal selection policies and the narrow-minded zonal thinking? hell can break loose and Azhar can become a coach! :-) We can only hope you change your mind!