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January 22, 2009

Samir Chopra

Worrying about Indian batting

Samir Chopra



A recurrent feature of the Indian cricketing landscape, especially since the Azhar-three spinner era of the early 1990s, has been the optimistic expectation of a New Dawn in Indian cricket following a win or two, perhaps in a series, perhaps in a solitary game. Such optimism (whether journalistic or fan-based) has, ever since the first Indian Test win (Chepauk 1952), never flagged in its timing or its hopefulness. And nowhere is it more manifest than in the period immediately following a home season that has gone well for the Men in Blue (or White).

We are in a similar period now, following the Test wins at home over Australia and England. Sure, no one is going overboard in their claims (leaving aside some suggestions that the Indian bowling attack was the most varied or the most incisive or whatever, in the cricketing world). But the feel-good vibe is present, with the twin Test series (and the 5-0 ODI thrashing of England) putting a convenient distance between the team and its recent past. But the anxiety that underwrites this bluster has, for me, been most intriguingly revealed in the discussion over whether Dravid should remain in the Indian team, especially for the forthcoming tour of New Zealand.

For the central claim of the pro-Dravid camp in this regard is that Dravid is needed in Kiwiland, on its spongy, seaming, pitches. That without him, the Indian middle-order will be at the mercy of those dreaded seamers, cutters, swingers that are the hallmark of the New Zealand attack.

On the face of it, there is something very odd about this claim. The Indian cricketing world is currently glowing in the glory of its new opening pair (confidently proclaimed by some to be the best in the world); we have rediscovered the glories of Tendulkar and Laxman; and only one batting retirement, that of Ganguly, has taken place. The Indian team has not replaced its entire middle order and the New Zealand team is judged by most folks to thoroughly deserve its position in the Test cricket rankings table. Given the bluster about India and the brick-batting of New Zealand, it would be plausible to claim that India should do just fine and win comfortably (we do have a very effective pace attack, after all).

Whither this anxiety then? Will the replacement of Dravid by a relative newbie (and not necessarily at No. 3) do such damage to the Indian team, if it really is poised for greatness? I think what this argument reveals is that there is considerable worry about the Indian batting. Most of Gambhir's heroics have come at home; Yuvraj remains untested overseas as well; Laxman might be going off the boil; and you can insert your favourite worries about Sehwag (loose cannon) and Tendulkar (will age catch up soon?) here. (I only worry about Yuvraj and Gambhir but I sense insecurity about the entire order out there).

The caution that pervades the latest spell of boosterism for the Indian team is appropriate. Much needs to be done: the Holy Grail of away wins over South Africa and Australia will only come when the batting order can do well there and if the quicks can remain injury-free and turn in consistent match-winning performances over an extended period.

For what its worth, I cannot make up my mind on whether Dravid should stay or go. But the arguments made on his behalf have been very revealing of the justifiable guardedness the Indian fan has at this point in Indian cricket.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Ross on (January 24, 2009, 6:19 GMT)

I think that a lot of Indians are going to be surprised when New Zealand fight back in the ODIs. They do deserve their wretched Test ranking, but in ODIs their medium pacers and spinners are advantaged, plus the smashing power of Ryder and McCullum (yes Sehwag and Gambhir are better) but the home advantage will tell too.

Posted by Jayesh on (January 23, 2009, 4:59 GMT)

We went to New Zealand last time in 2002 to play 7 ODI's. We were comprehensively beaten 5-2. Out of the two that we won, Sehwag had scored centuries in both the matches. No other batsman could score even a 50. Tendulkar scored 3 runs in 3 ODIs, Dravid scored 116 runs in 7 ODI's. So all this talk of technique is nonsense. That technique is best which enables you to score runs

Posted by vs on (January 22, 2009, 23:56 GMT)

Chill out junta! Peace!

What the heck - lets just watch the series and have fun. If Dravid plays lets wish him the best of luck. If a newbie gets a shot at it we can look forward to new/fresh talent.

Samir, we enjoy what you write so please continue to do so.

Although, I never understand speculation about selection, team construction fantasies, etc.

And, Dravid is my fav player so I'm biased in his favor. I was eager for him to do well when he struggled thru his first few ODI innings and will continue to hope for the best for him. :)

Posted by Longmemory on (January 22, 2009, 22:44 GMT)

The last time India won a series in New Zealand was in 1967 - that is, 42 years ago. We have never won a series in Australia or in South Africa. When we won (1-0) in England it was after 21 years, and the victory (again 1-0) in the Windies came after 38 years. I think the last time we won a series in Sri Lanka has to be at least 15 years ago if not more, and over the decades we have won exactly one series in Pakistan (2-1). This is the backdrop against which Samir's pessimism and anxiety about our likely performance in NZ should be viewed. His piece is only incidentally about Dravid, on whose future the author is agnostic anyway, and many of the comments equate the author's paraphrasing of common viewpoints as his own. I wish many of the readers would take a moment to actually comprehend the point of the piece before rushing off to respond.

Posted by Laki on (January 22, 2009, 22:17 GMT)

The only ones who should be left out of Indias tour of NZ are cursed, greedy, megalomaniac Lalit Modi and the BCCI. This would make both countries free to field their best possible teams and be in the greater interest of cricket. For while these two are consistently allowed to throw their toys out of the cot when they don't get their own way and unduly influence cricket in other nations by forcing the banning of non Indian players then India can never be considered a truly great team. While the Australians have always played tough neither they nor the great WIndies of the 80's ever had to use blackmail and politics to undermine their competition. You are not great unless you overcome all the other greats at their full strength - and while NZ are not great I think without any unwanted Indian influence even they would be a handful for the current Indian mob.......

Posted by Mahek on (January 22, 2009, 20:44 GMT)

No one has forgotten his solid batting of over a decade, but how long do you keep hoping he will get back his form? Why should the team suffer because of his, or anyone else's form? No player is above the team, that includes Sachin Tendulkar as well. These guys are what they are because they've had the privilege of playing the sport of cricket. Had they not played it, someone else would have and they would have attained the kind of iconic status the current players have.

The Indian team finally has a chance to be the best in the world, and it's because the focus has been on performance more than reputation. We're arguably the best limited overs side in the world, but we're nowhere close to the South African test unit no matter what the chauvinistic fans and media will tell you.

Posted by Mahek on (January 22, 2009, 20:39 GMT)

It is sad to see most of the people undermining the ability of the next generation of Indian cricketers. But that's how it has been with us forever. We want people to get a chance after they've proven themselves, but how are they supposed to prove themselves when they haven't been given any chances?

Subramaniam Badrinath has been consistently good for over half a decade and hasn't even played a test. This while Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly have endured a prolonged run of bad form. The argument in favour of them is that they've scored truckloads of runs and how can anyone dare to argue against that? Matthew Hayden has scored truckloads of runs too, but he was asked to go. As was Steve Waugh, and he was averaging over 50 over his last few tests.

New Zealand are an average test side and even if the pitches are seamer-friendly, how do people see today's Dravid coping with it better than the rest of the lineup? He has been an eyesore and a burden on the batting lineup for two years now.

Posted by rocky on (January 22, 2009, 20:16 GMT)

another ridiculous piece by this author to cover the space!!( this author talks bout indian stadiums though he claims he has never seen them.) anyways coming to the present topic, dravid had a lean patch for a while but he did come back with a century. anyone picking a team to play in NZ will try to pick batsman who can cope up with those conditions.anyone who has seen a bit of test cricket played in NZ (atleast on tv) or followed statistics of batsman who excelled down there would not write a rubbish article like this. and guyz just cos' u r making a living penning these spaces does not give u the right to write off established cricketers whose life and careers r dependent on the game. Please let them make their own decisions.

((probably will be deleted cos' of the frankness of my opinions))

Posted by Sachinfan on (January 22, 2009, 19:52 GMT)

Haha! What a joke! You are suspecting everything. So why don't you think stuff like whether there will be rain? India won all these matches with someone performing. Its about team. Not about individual performance. Don't worry, Zaheer (both bat and ball) will save us if everyone fail.

Posted by Gopal on (January 22, 2009, 19:12 GMT)

This is a truly bewildering article , and it is extremely disappointing that Cricinfo has chosen to highlight this on its home page.

It is news to me that there is a debate on Dravid's position. Dhoni and Srikanth have made it clear they want him in NZ

Secondly, the claim about anxiety is really puzzling. Debates on places in a team dont necessarily arise out of anxiety. There was a big debate on whether Symonds or Watson should play for Australia against NZ recently. Everyone knew that in either case, Australia would win easily- but the debate was which one would be more effective. Frankly, whoever bats No 3, we should comfortably beat NZ in NZ. I am a huge Rahul Dravid fan, and believe he has been India's greatest match winner in test matches, but there are good reasons for him not to be selected- ie mayve he is no longer the bastman he was, and someone like Vijay deserves a chance. But this idea of Dravid being selected as an insurance against others losing form is bunkum.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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