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Monday, November 24, 2008

It’s time to rest key players

Apparently, logic and the complex D/L method do not go hand in hand.

Try figuring this out: India score 166 in 22 overs. England score 178 also in 22 overs, yet are declared losers by 19 runs! Of course, Messrs. Duckworth and Lewis have been around for a while now, but surely, the ICC should devise a simpler method that lends itself to logic, whereby the team that scores more runs should be the winner.

Anyway, I am in the minority and so congratulations are in order for Team India and Dhoni for wrapping the ODI series, leaving England and Pietersen wondering what they should do to beat a side that is so obviously on a roll. It is another matter that the Indians have always been tigers on home soil, but their comprehensive superiority over England cannot be doubted.

The Indian team showed the kind of commitment and confidence that saw them beat Australia 2-0 earlier in the month. For sure, we are witnessing the birth of a new Indian side that has the potential to go all the way to the top in all forms of the game.

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It is difficult to visualise England bouncing back contrary to Pietersen’s brave words after the Bangalore game. There appears to be plenty of confusion in the England ranks with the captain himself looking rather out of his depth. They might yet win a game, but their cause is already lost. More to the point, Pietersen has not showed the kind of leadership qualities to keep a team together. At the moment, the England team is falling apart at its seam and yes, the slip is showing!

In contrast, I thought Dhoni kept his composure under pressure when England kick-started a serious chase after a hesitant start. The skipper displayed the same equanimity that he did in dealing with the sordid “Leakgate” where a National selector so obviously lacking in culture, ethics and decorum, whispered to his media friend about Dhoni’s threat to resign during last week’s selection meeting.

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The wretched episode saw the Indian media having a field day while providing us a relief from the usual quota of “meltdown” news items and such depressing stories that have become a staple diet in the recent weeks. There are some who feel that the selectors who leaked inside information should be identified and banned for life from holding any position in the game, but I, for one, hold the BCCI equally responsible in view of its stubborn refusal to explain team selections.

Under the circumstances, just about everything concerning the BCCI is a matter of speculation and it is pointless blaming the media alone for feeding on the juicy crumbs that are thrown to them from time to time. For me, Greg Chappell’s leaked email a couple of seasons ago was a bigger crime and the former coach even resorted to sending out text messages to select journalists.

Yet, the BCCI continues to adopt a policy of non-disclosure ignoring the fact that the public at large has every right to information. After all, it is the paying public that either buys tickets or indirectly pays through cable that is the biggest stakeholder. Further, it is the public patronage that influences Corporate investments in cricket.

As for Dhoni, he would have got the first taste of cricket politics in India that at times descend to gutter-level. Before him, Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar were all victims of politics and intrigue that are so much part of Indian cricket. You would find many such schisms even in those long gone days of Nayudu.

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Hopefully, the episode will be buried and not exhumed for further post-mortem as Dhoni has done more than his bit to knit an effective unit that is brimming with talent and bench-strength. So much so that even Tendulkar’s absence is hardly felt and the team seems to be performing at the same level regardless of who is in or out. Of course, though, the Indians have to show the same high performance on foreign soil and in different conditions before one can hail Dhoni as the best captain the country has had.

If there is a point that needs to be highlighted then it is the maturing of Zaheer Khan as a bowler. In the series against Australia and the four ODI games so far, he has been the pick of the bowlers with his consistency, whether line and length or providing early strikes. Some minor alteration in his action by cutting down on the final leap at the wicket, has done wonders to his bowling and like the young terrier Ishant Sharma, Zaheer needs to be carefully nurtured to prolong his career.

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Now that India have taken an unbeatable lead in the series, perhaps it is time to rest key players and provide opportunities to those on the bench and fringe players. I am pretty certain that Dhoni would insist on this although a 7-0 margin looks better than 4-3 or 5-2 or whatever.

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