Indian cricket : Time to reboot the ‘process’!

Fletcher and Dhoni - End of road?

Fletcher and Dhoni – End of road?

When Rahul Dravid was appointed as the batting consultant before the Test series in England, every Indian fan, including yours truly, was overjoyed. Suddenly, the atmosphere was electrifying and you got a feeling that BCCI has finally played a blinder in hiring a ‘cool’ customer.

And after 28 years, the victory at Lord’s was sweetly timed with Dravid returning home thinking that the result will do India’s confidence a world of good during the rest of the series!

Then, it all collapsed dramatically as Cook’s men threw the kitchen sink at India. It went bad at Southampton, worse in Manchester but the Oval saw the worst. There were no half-measures from England – they took the aerial root, tightened the screws on India and bounced back like a tracer bullet to win the series!

However, after the annihilation at the Oval, we all got a feeling that something’s gotta give and if you aren’t tired of the clichés already and are still reading this, the news from the centre is that, BCCI is all set to end their ‘foreign coach’ honeymoon as Joe Dawes and Trevor Penny have been awarded well deserved ‘breaks’.

Sorry for all of the above but when the God of clichéd commentary becomes the head of Indian cricket, it’s a little hard not to go overboard. However, before I get rapped on my pads with too many Shastrisms, let’s get back to the matter in hand.

For the upcoming ODI series in England, India would feature an entire new set of support staff.

Ravi Shastri – Director of cricket

Sanjay Bangar, B. Arun – Assistant coaches

R. Sridhar – Fielding coach

BCCI has flashed and they have flashed hard!

But is it what the doctor ordered for Team India? (Sorry, just couldn’t help myself!)

Will these changes fix the leaks and transform the mentally battered Indian unit into a winning squad?

The answer is NO.

The changes are mostly cosmetic and they have been incorporated to appease the Indian fans. Nonetheless, these moves can be productive if persisted with. Then again, BCCI did persist with Duncan Fletcher and we all know how that panned out. In fact, the persistence has taken Indian cricket a couple of steps back and now, it needs a complete reboot.

That means, bidding goodbye to Duncan Fletcher and MS Dhoni.

Often during the England series, Nasser Hussein has heaped praise on Fletcher as being the best man to iron out technical deficiencies in young batsmen. Hussein kept raving about how Fletcher masterminded the Ashes triumph back in 2005 and converted the English tail-enders into better batsmen.

Fletcher made Harmison and Jones better with the bat but he couldn’t sort out Virat Kohli’s technical glitches. Neither could he improve Che Pujara’s batting record overseas. He has failed to cure Shikhar Dhawan’s poking syndrome and hasn’t been able to put a lid on Gautam Gambhir’s jumping jack rendition.

Two whitewashes in a row and now, another English embarrassment – Fletcher needs to go, period. He might have turned England into a potent force, back in the beginning of 2000s, but has done nothing for Indian cricket to argue his cause.

When Gary Kirsten left in 2011, Fletcher had the job to see-off the smooth transition of Indian cricket. The legends were entering the sunset of their careers and a host of exciting young talent was making all the correct noises in the horizon.

He botched it up miserably and has failed to deliver on that promise.

MS Dhoni - Time to go... skip!

MS Dhoni – Time to go… skip!

MS Dhoni, however, is a different case but he needs to take moral responsibility of this recent failure. As a batsman, he performed remarkably well in adverse conditions but as a captain and a wicket-keeper, this England tour has to be his poorest.

He is a leader of a kind and India will never have a captain like him. India might get captains with better cricketing acumen, but MS Dhoni is a different breed.

His unusual ways have brought both success and failures. While he has mastered the art of marshalling his resources brilliantly in the shorter versions of the game, he’s always run out of depth in Tests. He elevated his show with the willow with immense gumption but has failed in inspiring his team to cross to the next level.

MS Dhoni needs to step down from the longer format because right now, he doesn’t have anything more to offer as a leader.

In 2011, he had a mission of rebuilding Indian cricket with new players. When Rahul Dravid retired, Pujara was the answer, Virat Kohli was the heir to Sachin Tendulkar’s throne and Ajinkya Rahane was to slip into the VVS mode! MSD picked his soldiers, laid his ‘process’ in place and asked the fan to hang in.

After three years, the ‘process’ has failed. There is nothing to rebuild because there’s nothing new available. The one’s that failed are the best that he’s got! No wonder, the excuses suddenly lack steel and the sarcasm misunderstood.

However, India is not ready to let him go because the man, who was being groomed for the job, is now clouded with self-doubts. India can’t let him go because we don’t yet have the answer to the question – “Who’s next?”

Still, MSD has gone past his expiry date as a Test captain.

Shastri the saviour?

Shastri the saviour?

One would normally point fingers at BCCI for being unprepared, but this time we need to understand the problem they face. BCCI hasn’t got a replacement for Dhoni; neither do they have a new man for the coaching job. They didn’t expect the ‘process’ to fail and after Lord’s they, like most of us, actually expected the ‘process’ to bore results!

Now the wheels have come off the ‘process’, so, they have done what they do best – play the ‘Shastri’ card!

That’s been BCCI’s quick fix for the last decade. Whenever they run out of ideas, first, they pull out either Shastri or Gavaskar to get a hold of the situation. Then, they arrange a home series against a weaker opposition to get the team back on its feet.

The contingency is in place but Indian cricket is losing the plot, thick and fast. Right now, BCCI needs something (or someone) that’s more result oriented. By clipping Fletcher’s wings, BCCI has showed some intent but for the fans, it’s going to be a really long season.

The questions are tough and the answers unavailable. BCCI needs to mount a time-bound ‘process’, rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard moving until they can find the right answers and the right men for the job.

Till then, hope that #ShastriTheSaviour sees us through the crucial phase so that at the end of the day……

The Manchester Mess – Blame it on MS!

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Abject – Harsha Bhogle started his post match show with that word describing whatever happened in the last session of Day 3 at Manchester.

How do you describe that batting display from India?

You don’t. After watching that parade, you switch off the television, log off twitter, disconnect from the internet and curl into bed trying to forget the way India threw away the game.

Too harsh?

May be but I am angry and if MS Dhoni is not, then there are serious issues that lie ahead.

21st July, I was overjoyed but in two weeks, the Indian cricket team has managed to pull off a string of displays that’s made Harsha Bhogle struggle for adjectives.

“We were not up to the mark”, – MS Dhoni said to Mike Atherton.

Sorry MS, you got that wrong. India weren’t off the mark. In the words of Billy Bean – first, there’s the mark, then you miss the mark, then there’s fifty feet of cr*p and after that there’s the batting display from India in Manchester!

I normally don’t fly off the handle. Neither am I a harsh critic because, unlike most fans, I understand how hard the game is and so, try to reason out a bad performance.

Sadly, I can’t do that after Manchester and neither can the Indian media. So, we have done what we do best – ‘Blame it on MS’!

Manchester was a tough loss to digest and it took me good two days to calm down and put things in perspective (if there was one, that is!) but I was appalled by the way the Indian media has found a way to spin the ‘Manchester mess’ as a direct result of Dhoni’s tactics.

And here I thought, after a long time, MS Dhoni got things absolutely right the day the Test began.

He picked five bowlers – as ‘we’ prescribed. Dropped Rohit Sharma and included Gautam Gambhir and Ashwin in the eleven – again as the billion ‘intelligent’ minds recommended. Won the toss and elected to bat – as Dada and Shane Warne advised in the pre-show.

Where was the tactical mistake, again?

He did exactly what was required. On a brown pitch, bat out the first hour and the game was there for the taking. Instead, India slumped to eight for four (yes, I had to put that in words!). There was a bit of nip off-the-track and England bowled brilliantly, take nothing away from them but apart from Murali Vijay, every one of those wickets could have been avoided had the Indians applied themselves.

A couple did – R. Ashwin, who looked like a million dollars with the willow in hand and MS Dhoni, a man who isn’t supposed to succeed in English conditions. Ashwin batted delectably for his 40 but MS Dhoni’s innings of 71 was an underrated gem, given the circumstances.

India, somehow, scraped to 152 and with an okay-ish bowling effort, the match was still on. All India had to do was to dig in on a good track, build an innings and let hurricane Bertha take care of the rest.

India blew it and how!

However, according to the media and a few ‘experts’, MS Dhoni is the one to be blamed for it!

The collapse happened because Pankaj Singh started the proceedings of Day 3 and not Varun Aaron. The collapse happened because Ravindra Jadeja bowled a middle-leg stump line in Southampton. The collapse happened because MS Dhoni placed the leg slip a couple of degrees closer than normal.

Mind you, that collapse had nothing to do with Gautam Gambhir’s non-existing footwork, M. Vijay’s diminishing confidence, Che Pujara’s lapses in concentration, Virat Kohli’s refusal to learn from his mistakes or Ajinkya Rahane’s ‘I-will-play-one-silly-shot-every-innings’ syndrome.

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The collapse happened because MS Dhoni charged down to Moeen Ali and threw away his wicket.

The Indian media is justified in blaming MS Dhoni because the more you think of that batting performance, the worse it gets. Durban 1996 springs to mind, but there you had Donald, Pollock, Klusener, McMillan to deal with. Barbados 1997 flashes by but that featured a four-pronged pace attack led by King Curtly.

Manchester 2014 has Moeen Ali etched on it – a man who’s spun a yarn that has evaded the likes of Shane Warne, Muralitharan and Graeme Swann.

Now that’s a piece of history (and mystery!) that has confounded both the Indian media and Kohli and co.

In the 1990s, fingers were easily pointed at the W.V. Ramans and the Vikram Rathores but 2014 Manchester doesn’t give us that luxury.

Virat Kohli, Che Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, M. Vijay, Gautam Gambhir – that’s serious quality. However, this batting unit has succumbed under pressure a few times now, especially, the middle-order. They are not bad players by any stretch of imagination but have played poorly.

The shot selection has been substandard, the zeal of digging-in missing and the skeletons of their techniques have been exposed. And after about 30 Tests, the excuse of being ‘inexperienced at Test level’ is also running thin.

Then again, arguments like ‘technical deficiencies’ don’t really appeal much to Indian audiences, but a #yoDhonisodefensive trend immediately hits home.

Since the Lord’s Test, India has hit a downward spiral and MS Dhoni has his share to be borne. He has made mistakes. Glaring ones too. His wicket-keeping has been below par and a few of his on-field decisions have been baffling. But hoping that we will get the sarcasm behind – “We will get two extra days of rest,” – was perhaps the biggest one.

So, MS Dhoni was the man behind the ‘Manchester mess’, period.

May be he was because he is now India’s worst captain overseas and when Harsha Bhogle says, “Does MS Dhoni really believe his team can win?” and bails out the batsmen, a #Dhonifanboy like me can only smile, nod and join the #Dhoniout bandwagon, however, abject it might sound!

Sorry MS, we don’t care how well you bat, we just don’t know who else to blame!