February 16, 2010

Mike Holmans

To drop or not to drop?

Mike Holmans

"It was painfully apparent at Port Elizabeth that Ntini had lost his zip" © Getty Images

Established players' careers end (or take a long break) either through retirement (whether for personal reasons or injury) or because the selectors think someone else can do the job better. Retirements take the decision out of the selectors' hands – they only have to work out how to replace what is lost; the harder call is when a dip in form signals terminal decline, or who has to be omitted to accommodate someone whose form and ability simply screams “pick me!”. Getting those decisions right is what justifies a selection panel.

England's selectors have done quite well at this recently. Andrew Flintoff's retirement was met with a lot of worry about how he would be replaced, but he was hardly missed in South Africa. There is no one specific player who replaces him, but what he brought to the team is being covered. Super Fred, the great all-rounder only really played between 2004 and 2006; thereafter, Flintoff's value to the team was as a mid-innings specialist.

An hour and a half's batting would bring 60 or 70 quick runs, demoralise the opposition bowlers and buoy the England tail so that what had looked like being a mediocre 264 turned into a healthy 380. The lack of five-fors shows that he was no destroyer, but his special gift was coming on with a 58-over-old ball and nabbing three middle-order wickets to start a slide, cutting what had bid fair to be 480 to a manageable 305.

Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann have all shown themselves capable of the rumbustious cameo with the bat, and Swann and Broad are now regularly chipping in with those mid-innings spells. Between them, they usually now produce the impetus which Flintoff provided. What the selectors got right was predicting that would happen, allowing them to pick Ian Bell – much criticised at the time – whose batting was crucial to winning at Durban and drawing at Newlands.

The transition between specialist swing bowlers was also pretty smooth. When England lost the first Test on their tour of New Zealand in 2008, they took the tough decision that Matthew Hoggard should be replaced by James Anderson, who responded with a five-for and England went on to win the series. Hoggard complained bitterly for months that it had been one bad match that did for him, but the selectors have to be praised for getting it right.

South Africa's selectors, on the other hand, got it wrong in a similar situation. They really had little choice but to pick Makhaya Ntini for the first Test. Steyn was injured, and an attack of Morne Morkel, Friedel de Wet and Wayne Parnell would have been horribly inexperienced and what Ntini certainly has is experience.

However, although it was painfully apparent at Port Elizabeth that Ntini had lost his zip, his 390 career Test wickets tempted the selectors to give him the nod ahead of de Wet for Kingsmead. Strauss made mincemeat of him and set up England's big first innings total, and thus South Africa prevented themselves from winning the series as they should have.

To be fair, they have recognised that whatever fine qualities Ashwell Prince has as a No. 5 or 6, he can hardly open a beer can, let alone a Test innings, and Alviro Petersen's debut hundred has rewarded them.

For the future, the big question is how the Indian selectors are going to deal with the inevitable loss of Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar. Will they have the courage to wield the axe when it becomes necessary, or will they leave it to them to retire? Of course, there is no point in dropping legendary players unless and until there are players ready to take over and as yet there is little sign of any serious challengers emerging, so perhaps it will not matter. But if their constant dithering about what would be a good bowling attack is anything to go by, it will be chaos.

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Posted by Jorge on (July 31, 2012, 19:39 GMT)

This squad will be more strong, if Samaraweera, Mathews, Tharanga, Malinga &Dilhara were rmoveed & more experienced players like Jayasuriya, Mubarak, Chamara Silva, Dilruwan Perera & Vass were included. Even if we had got Peter May, Allen Border or David Boone type selector , there won’t be any change to the squad . The plain truth is that we have dropped down to the No 7th position from No 2 position of the ODI rankings after the retirement of Marvan. We have lost almost all home ODI tournaments since 2007 & we were nearly beaten by Zimbabwe & Bangladesh in away tours in2009 with all these experienced stars . This happened so because we didn’t have a single batsman who can deliberately play the ball right along the carpet at the top in tough situations until Mathews has forced his way into the National squad. Though Samaraweera is the most proficient complete batsman of last decade, he has been sadly under used. In fact he had to make way for selectors’ favorites. He should have been our play-maker instead; he is the ideal No 3, immediately followed by Angelo Mathews. During this disastrous period of 15 years many brilliant schoolboy cricketers couldn’t make into the National side instead very ordinary players were selected at regular basis. If these favorites were not picked to play in the 1st XI, they’ve always found places in all other touring squads.If we are to select a batsman, the thing we have to consider most is his current form & his playing history from present to his early school days. A batsman who doesn’t have skills to maintain consistency can never be any help to win a tournament in the future. Why did we win the 1996 WC? What it had mattered most? Was it risk filled stroke play of Jayasuriya, Kaluwitharana & Gurusinghe or the chanceless clean hitting of Aravinda, Hashan & Mahanama.In this regard I rate Khausal Silva, Paranawithana, Lahiru Thrimmanne, Chandimal, Angelo Perera & Dimuth Karunarathna, Sachithra Serasinghe, Romesh Bhuddhika together with Samaraweera, Mathews, Dilshan & Upul Tharanga highly as best batsmen the country has at present. When it comes to spinners it is hard to ignore skills of tall bowlers like Sachithra Senanayake & Umesh Karunarathne for their consistency. (0)

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Posted by Murali on (February 25, 2010, 6:08 GMT)

Like all other countries, India will take a dip in performance and miss these good players. When australia lost Hayden, Langer, Martin, Gilcrist, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, and Glen Mcgrath, they suffered a few losses but have bounced back stronger then before. Lot of youngsters will standup to the expectation. These players were youngsters when they replaced Gavaskar, Vishwanath and vengsarkar.

Posted by Murali on (February 25, 2010, 6:08 GMT)

Like all other countries, India will take a dip in performance and miss these good players. When australia lost Hayden, Langer, Martin, Gilcrist, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, and Glen Mcgrath, they suffered a few losses but have bounced back stronger then before. Lot of youngsters will standup to the expectation. These players were youngsters when they replaced Gavaskar, Vishwanath and vengsarkar.

Posted by Anoop on (February 24, 2010, 19:08 GMT)

Sachin could play until he is 50 years old and he would still be one of the best in the world because he is that good. As long as Dravid and Laxman look after themselves I don't see why they can't carry on for at least 5 years.

Posted by Dj Das on (February 22, 2010, 2:21 GMT)

@ Abhishek Mehta

How is discussing this matter with you going to help anybody with anything? You're not the selector nor do you have any influence on the Board. So stop trying to feel important.

I think we will just have to accept the fact that India's batting will simply not be as strong as it is once the Big Three retire. Look at how the Windies are still struggling to replace their pace attack even after 12 years.

I think we should just enjoy our stay at the top while it lasts, as in two years, this will not be the same. I for one, will marry an Australian, move to Sydney, and cheer for whoever picks up Ponting's scraps, maybe Clark.

Posted by getgopi on (February 19, 2010, 18:56 GMT)

I don't think Flintoff would have made a big difference. Given England's "here and there" form, the ECB needs to actively find solid talent for their lineup. Flintoff would have injured himself again, given the ECB more selection headaches and slowed down an otherwise important process. Its better the way it is.

There are some cool-headed Indian fans who know their Test cricket like that groundsman who prepared that Kolkata pitch for the 2nd Test between India and South Africa. But, yes, quite a "bit" of them are sentimental about their Cricket players. Nothing wrong with such passion as long as the Indian selectors don't get carried away with that same mentality...and the selectors showed that in the way they picked up and later dropped Dravid from the ODI side last year.

Last year, I remember fans chanting Raina's name during a game in NZ and later during a match against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy. So India has a decent chance of replacing the big 3...a decent chance...

Posted by Abhishek Mehta on (February 19, 2010, 8:25 GMT)

First of all i would love to say if someone want to know whats Patience can achieve just observe dravid statistics......What is Commitment,just see VVS Laxman.well i really respect this man...he nver played world cup but the way he is professional and the way he manages 4 or 5 matches in a year..Superb......well i will nt say anyting for master blaster.........Sachin paa ji..wht can i say is 20 years still he is hungry for runs......but its part of life as well as in cricket that we have to move on ...i feel after 1 or 1.5 year these people will retire till then BCCi have to make test players like Raina,dinesh karthik really deserve to b there,murli vijay n one guy which i feel can b huge investment if he n board pay attention towards him.Mainsh pandey...see no1 can replace sachin paaji..but sumwhere dravid n vvs can be replaced by murli,karthik,raina,dinesh karthik n Manish Pandey......Hope u guysalso agree with me......mail me if sum1 wanna discuus abhishekmehta1712@gmail.com.

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