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Sanjay Manjrekar: Seam bowling is a weakness in ODIs
Sanjay Manjrekar analyses India's unimpressive performance in the Champions Trophy (10:16)
September 30, 2009
India v WI, Champions Trophy, Group A, Jo'burg
Sanjay Manjrekar: Seam bowling is a weakness in ODIsSeptember 30, 2009
Dileep Premachandran: India's campaign has just come to an end against the West Indies, they don't make the semi-finals; Pakistan and Australia qualify from Group A. Sanjay, Pakistan nearly did India a big favour today at Centurion, but not quite. How do you assess India's campaign in the Champions Trophy, did they deserve to go through?
Sanjay Manjrekar: If you want to be a little considerate and little understanding of India's performance here - you can see that one bad game against Pakistan has hurt them very badly, the second one [against Australia] was a washout. So they will go back not having qualified for the semis with one bad game. Though Australia, from the position that they were in that game, looked they would win. But who knows, it was a game that wasn't completed.
From that standpoint, yes. But, if you have to be harsh, I think the selectors, the captain and the coach of the team always have to be very hard on themselves. They have to ask themselves - why did they lose to Pakistan that wasn't really such a good team at the start of the competition, why did we bowl so badly, was our bowling attack good enough to win the Champions Trophy, with the kind of form we saw from RP Singh, Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh in that vital game. Those are the questions that they need to ask themselves. They need to be honest, and say perhaps we weren't a team good enough to reach the final stages of the Champions Trophy; there were far too many players who were out of form and short of confidence. And of course let's not talk about the major players missing.
DP: What do you see as holes in this side? I mean which are the positions that they really need to look at?
SM: In ODI cricket, I think the seam bowling in the obvious weakness. It's great that Ashish Nehra has come back and started bowling so well. But how long will that last? You are not sure. So you've got to, maybe, go to two or three new young seamers. RP Singh seems to be really down on confidence and Ishant Sharma needs a break. Munaf (who is out of action now) is getting back slowly. So on seam bowling front they need to find somebody who will bowl a good line, have control, and perhaps fresh minds coming in to the game. Because, once you are out of form, your confidence is low, and you still keep playing games then you are not doing yourself too much good. You are just hoping that one fine day you will have a good spell and the confidence will come back, and then all the technical deficiencies will be sorted. But that is not happening.
I think in the spin department, Amit Mishra has been good news. He has bowled with a lot of control. There is Harbhajan Singh, but Pragyan Ojha is also somebody that India need to look at and try and get him back in the squad.
On batting front, I don't think there are too many worries. Yuvraj Singh and Virendra Sehwag should be fit shortly, and I think you are okay on the batting front.
DP: Even when the team was winning and doing well, there was still that problem of the death overs. I mean, very few bowlers have mastered the yorker, the change of pace is not there. What we saw from Pakistan today with Umar Gul and Rana Naved, that kind of variety simply isn't there. Is that a specialist skill that we really need to work on?
SM: Well, we never had it. I don't think it has ever been our strength, the death overs. There have been occasions when we have found one bowler who has been very good at the death. Over the years, I think our fast bowlers have generally struggled. Don't take an exception like a Kapil Dev or a Zaheer Khan, in good form. We have always struggled to find two or three seamers, who are are quite happy and in fact enjoy bowling at the death. And that is something that strikes you with Pakistan, you can say Rana Naved enjoys bowling at death because it's challenging for him and he has the ability to bowl at the death. Mohammad Asif, given some time and when he gets into form, will be happy to bowl at death, Umar Gul can do it and even Mohammad Aamer seems to be enjoying it. Compare that with the Indians, and not too many are keen to bowl at death. And it's been a problem that has been there for many years, and not just with this team.
DP: But don't you think that's the skill that you would have developed, especially with all the Twenty20 cricket that is being played today, as the batsmen obviously go after you.
|Harbhajan Singh, in the couple of crunch games, wasn't bowling his offspinners to make things happen, to create wicket-taking opportunities, to change the tide of the match|
SM: Yes, but I think what has happened is that we have had so many seamers playing, and we haven't actually identified our three or four frontline seamers who have mastered all that is needed in ODIs and Test cricket. Zaheer Khan is the only exception. We have Munaf Patel, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, Sreesanth, but they haven't mastered everything. Which means - bowling with the new ball, good control in the middle stage you know bowl the slower delivery and other variations to take wickets, and in the final stages when the pressure is up, bowl the yorkers and basically be difficult to be hit for big shots. I don't think we have found that kind of a bowler.
DP: What kind of lessons have the other major sides learnt from this tournament, especially India and South Africa who came in here threatening to take Australia's No. 1 ranking, but both have failed; in South Africa's case, pretty miserably, in home conditions. What are the lessons that these teams take, even though this is a short tournament?
SM: Perhaps, the simple fact that they need to get better. South Africa's problem was with the fact that all their matches were scheduled at Centurion. If they had three games at the Wanderers, or two games at the Wanderers, then maybe things would have been different. But then South Africa has to look at the fact that on this Centurion pitch they were beaten comprehensively. So what is it that is lacking? Is a little bit of flair needed? Does their bowling attack need more assistance to be competitive? So those are the questions that they need to ask themselves.
Australia at their peak, the surface did not matter. They had success all over the world. The No. 1 Australian team would have still beaten good teams at Centurion. So South Africa has to keep that in mind, if they aspire to be the No. 1 team in the world then they can't be beaten like this, quite easily, at Centurion, in conditions that do not help them.
India with some major stars missing have not looked like a team that you would back to go through to the final round and win the title. And that is something that they need to look at.
Now Australia is also a weakened team, maybe more than India. Some of their legends have retired, and they did not have services of Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin. But there is a good chance that they will go to the finals and win the tournament. So all these are just, sort of, goals set by the teams like Australia and West Indies of the past, that if you've got to be the No. 1 team in the world then you can't be playing like this in the Champions Trophy tournament.
DP: Finally, how encouraging is it to see the Pakistan team doing so well? They have hardly had any home matches in the last two years, almost zero Test cricket and in the next two years it's unlikely that they will have any home games. But they have gone on to win the World Twenty20 and they could conceivably win this as well.
SM: Winning the World Twenty20 is not really the reflection of the health of cricket in that country, because if you have some talented players and you have a good day then you win the match. And if you have two-three good days then you win the title. But 50-overs cricket that they have played here is the real indicator. They haven't been playing too much of cricket at home, and even the international cricket is limited, and yet they have put up a good performance.
So it boils down to the basic skills of the Pakistan team, their love for the game and the natural talent that comes up. And the unofficial cricket system of Pakistan, which is not first-class cricket, but how they start playing cricket in the childhood and how they start playing those competitive soft-ball matches. All that actually makes for a very skilled cricketer, who come up and then are put into more refined first-class system. So that is the recognition of that fact that if you have natural skills and if your childhood is spent enhancing whatever kind of cricket you play then it comes to good use. What you have seen in the Champions Trophy is that their batting has stood up reasonably well, because that was their major weakness. They have been fortunate to play at Centurion, the critical games against India and Australia. Their batting would have been exposed if they had played at Wanderers against a good seam attack. So their big weakness wasn't really exposed, and their bowling was always going to be their strength. They came in to their tournament with one of the best bowling attacks, and everyone acknowledged that.
Everyone though that their batting was a weakness but it wasn't exposed, and Mohammad Yusuf came in some sort of form, Shoaib Malik played that superb innings against India, and everything just fell in place for them.
DP: Finally, looking at the way Saeed Ajmal, the offspinner, has bowled, do you think there is a lesson for Indian spinners. He certainly hasn't bowled defensively in any of the games.
SM: Again, it's to do with the attitude; you just have to look at Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal when they are bowling. On occasions you might see that Ajmal is little tense, but now he has grown in confidence, he is an established spinner, people are talking about him, and so he is starting to feel good about himself. Afridi's growth as a legspinner in the last two-three years has been phenomenal. But most importantly, I think, both of them want to make things happen, and that's why they are out there. Looking to bowl ten overs and make things happen. Maybe Harbhajan Singh, in the couple of crunch games, wasn't bowling his offspinners to make things happen, to create wicket-taking opportunities, to change the tide of the match. I don't think he was really looking to do that and that, perhaps, is the lesson for our spinners.
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