The good news is that we have some cricket again ! And by that I mean international cricket – the kind that seems to keep our hyperactive minds occupied. Because no matter how much domestic cricket we play (and there has been and continues to be a fair share), it does not seem to stop conspiracy theories and other notions flying around blogosphere and the press. (As someone once said, the popularity of conspiracy theories is explained by people’s desire to believe that there is someone out there that knows what they are doing.)
So we’re hopefully done with the racism thing. And this blog does not think those crowds were racist. Yes, they probably taunted Andrew Symonds and crowd behaviour in India is something that we have written about in the past but as far as race and colour go, India’s largely been very tolerant and I don’t think this time was time was any different. Most people I know remember the 1985 World Championship of Cricket final at the MCG against Pakistan and a huge banner which said “BUS DRIVERS vs TRAM CONDUCTORS” and most people shrugged it off as humour which tried to racially stereotype then and will do the same now. That said, its purely an opinion and anybody that intends it otherwise needs to be shown the door and a lot else. As an example, Dean Jones, after whats passed off as an indiscrete remark on television, was brought back on Indian television as a guest for the World Cup while a bunch of kids who made monkey faces in the crowd were booked for jail. Does that make sense ?
Anyway, like I was saying , the good news is that we had some international cricket again.
India vs Pakistan is always unique no matter how much recently increased frequency has reduced the drama. The intensity (and profitability) of this unique sporting rivalry derives as much from the common cricket culture that unites the two countries as from the history that divides them. And each time it finds some new aura to add to the spectacle. The last time they had met was in the final of the Twenty20 Worldcup which in turn had the ignominy of the first round exit of the ODI Worldcup as its backdrop.
Yesterday, with a number of selection issues hogging the limelight, MS Dhoni walked in for the toss. A long overdue haircut was probably not the only reason that his head probably still felt lighter than his younger counterpart. Shoaib Malik, a year younger, captain of a Pakistan team with people a lot senior and some, probably a lot less willing to toe the line is likely facing an emergency every time he chairs a team meeting. It comes with the job.
Pakistan won the toss, batted. For the first time that I can remember, Dhoni expressed doubt. ‘I have no idea how it’ll play in the second half of the day , besides which , the light fails really fast from about 4 pm in Gauhati so we’ll just have to see’ he said.
Pakistan’s start was swift but that was partly because of Zaheer Khan. This might be down to overwork, but given the importance we seem to be paying to form, its important that everybody be judged by the same standards. Zaheer Khan’s last 20 ODI games have got India 20 wickets at 43.15 with a best of 2/32 against Bangladesh. In the series against Australia, he had 8 wickets in 7 games at 44 and an economy of 5.81. I bring up this point because those that are calling for “rest” are using the Zaheer Khan example to illustrate that it works. Well, does it ?
Harbhajan Singh and Murali Karthik (Dhoni’s choice, like he keeps reminding us) pulled in another great spell in tandem and what looked like it could be a big score ended up being a 240 to win for India inspite of a 80 from Mohd Yousoof. The key though was that apart from the times when Zaheer Khan was bowling at one end, India never looked out of control – 23 overs in the middle without a boundary tells its own story.
The Indian squad of 15 has 6 specialist bowlers, 1 all rounder, 1 wicketkeeper-batsman and of the 7 remaining batsmen – 5 are openers. So much for having professionally paid selectors. And its not like there is a dearth of middle order talent out there thats not perfoming either. Even as the match was being played, Manoj Tiwary and Suresh Raina were getting double hundreds on the stage they were performing on. Badrinath had been dropped without reason and was waiting for his turn to bat for Tamil Nadu and Rahul Dravid – well, thats a different story and worth a whole series of posts but for now, he’d gotten 40 in Karnataka’s first innings 195 and was batting at 77 unbeaten after being rested / asked to prove his form and fitness / having nothing to contribute besides batting – depending on what time of day or day of week you managed to get Dilip Vengsarkar in front of a microphone.
And so India opened with that part of the lineup which has been most stable for the most part over the last two series (leave aside Ganguly’s injury). Sachin Tendulkar came and went and it was Gautam Gambhir’s turn at 3. MS Dhoni likes the guy – and he should because Gambhir’s done really well in the Twenty20 version of the game. But Dhoni’s wrong when he says Gambhir’s in great nick and thats why he preferred him over Sehwag (who in turn was preferred over Dravid) because the one day results don’t show that. In 4 ODI games in England, Gambhir scored 113 runs at 28.5. And in the 3 games he got against the Aussies, 17 runs at 8.50. Those numbers don’t lie just as age does not.
Both Dhoni and Malik believed that Gambhir’s innings was important for the game – he got 44. And although the innings itself was wonderfully paced and full of strokes, what Malik meant was that Pakistan should have held on to the catches that Gautham Gambhir offered off succcessive balls to Shoaib Akhtar between the ‘keeper & first slip.
The idea here is not really to run down Gautam Gambhir – but to highlight that the selection policies are lopsided. He has now played 33 ODI games for India and has an average of just above 31 (sub 30 if you eliminate Scotland and Ireland and worse if you elimininate Banglandesh). So fitting him into a side with 5 opening batsmen does not make sense on the basis of ‘potential’. More maybe in the comments section of this post or another post altogether.
Dhoni came in at 4 after another Saurav Ganguly run out. This is how he explained it. “I’ve said in the past that I need someone to fit in my place at No. 6 or 7. Today we needed a left and right-hand combination. Afridi was bowling offbreaks to left-handers, and legbreaks to the right-handers. That encouraged me to promote myself.” Considering that Afridi had not bowled to right handers yet, I wonder how Dhoni knew. Hmmm.
Nevertheless, it worked and India never looked in any danger of losing. I guess its easier on the nerves losing to Australia at home than it is to South Africa.
One up. Four to Play.