March 10, 2008

Rotation comes round again

Having more or less separate teams for Tests and ODIs is working well for India - but not for too many other teams, oddly enough

Dhoni and Tendulkar are the only two players in India's top seven who play in both Test and ODI teams © AFP

Australia have lost another CB Series final and their captain is talking of player exhaustion. Somewhere, Steve Waugh is chuckling. About eight years ago, when player workload was not quite the hot topic it is today, Waugh copped flak for his "rotation policy" under which those who were part of Australia's Test side didn't play all ODIs. The middle order comprised specialists such as Andrew Symonds, Ian Harvey and Shane Lee.

Just when it seemed like yet another of Waugh's revolutionary ideas, South Africa and New Zealand arrived for a tri-series in early 2002. The more Australia rotated players, the more they lost to New Zealand. For the first time in six years, Australia didn't make the final. It marked the end of Waugh's ODI career, and since then, Australia under Ricky Ponting have preferred to be more circumspect about rotation as well. Apart from Nathan Bracken and James Hopes, the nine other Australians who played in the second CB Series final this year were part of the Test team as well. Brad Haddin, a pure ODI player till now, is set for a dual role in the wake of Adam Gilchrist's retirement.

The trend is probably related to Test cricket's heightened pace, which allows one-day batsmen to thrive at the Test level. Pitches have veered towards batsmen, run-rates have soared, and even those with susceptible techniques have found a way to dominate Test attacks.

Australia aren't alone. Daniel Vettori now captains New Zealand in both forms and the core of his side doesn't change much between the two. South Africa drafted in a few specialists for the one-dayers against Bangladesh, but come the big games, Graeme Smith still has to depend on AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Dale Steyn, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini and himself to do well in both forms.

Mahela Jayawardene and Shoaib Malik face similar predicaments, Chris Gayle doesn't have too many options rotation-wise, and Bangladesh's core remains the same for both formats. Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood split the captaincy in England, but there again the core doesn't change: Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Collingwood are integral members, while Alastair Cook and Ryan Sidebottom have cemented their spots as well. In fact, in the recent Hamilton Test, Sidebottom outdid England's Test specialists, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Monty Panesar.

It's a curious situation. With Twenty20 spreading its wings, the time is ripe for rotation. Bits-and-pieces players have a chance to create a niche for themselves, while the more gritty, stodgy variety can concentrate on Tests. While there's a place for Michael Vandort and Ashwell Prince, there's also opportunity for Dimitri Mascarenhas and Dwayne Smith.

It's even more mystifying considering how serious a factor burnout is today. Since the start of 2007, Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden (all regulars in Australia's Test line-up) have played 124 ODIs between them. In fact, seven of the top ten players who've played the most ODIs in this period have been integral members of their sides' Test teams as well.

India buck the trend
Which brings us to India. The three-month-long tour of Australia has taken its toll - four of their players could miss the Tests against South Africa - but the bench is currently in rude health. Not only do they have separate captains but, either by accident or design, each side has a totally different nucleus.

In the top seven, only Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni play both forms. The meat of the Test batting line-up includes Wasim Jaffer, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, and Rahul Dravid (apart from Tendulkar). Anil Kumble, the captain and spearhead, gets a good rest between Test series too.

With Twenty20 spreading its wings, the time is ripe for rotation. Bits-and-pieces players have a chance to create a niche for themselves, while the more gritty, stodgy variety can concentrate on Tests

India's CB Series win might have marked the end of three one-day careers (Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman) but it could also have extended their Test ambitions by a good year. The fact that Virender Sehwag isn't a permanent part of the ODI squad, or Yuvraj of the Test side, could be a blessing in disguise, allowing them more time to recoup.

There is a bit of overlap in the pace-bowling department but India are currently well placed to rotate even there. At full strength India's one-day options read: Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar. All except Praveen have shown they can step it up in Tests. The two Singhs, VRV and Pankaj, wait in the wings, while Pradeep Sangwan, the Under-19 World Cup-winning left-armer, and Sudeep Tyagi, a tall medium-pacer from Uttar Pradesh, have had impressive debut seasons. Amid such riches is L Balaji set to return.

India even have wicketkeeping bench-strength, unlike in the past. Dhoni, who has been on the road since May last year, will no doubt need a break at some point and Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel are stand-in options for him.

India now have about 25 players to choose from, a rare luxury. The team's schedule continues to be a hectic one - the Test series against South Africa is followed by the IPL, a tri-series in Bangladesh, the Asia Cup, and a tour of Sri Lanka. That both the Test and ODI sides have achieved some impressive successes lately should only prompt a more serious push towards a formalised rotation policy.

With the kind of money the IPL is dishing out, one could soon reach a dangerous situation where players are tempted to choose franchise over country. India, in particular, need to beware of such a situation, considering the gruelling schedules the players have to put up with. Since January last year, Dhoni has gone 11 Tests, 47 ODIs and a World Twenty20 Championship without a break. Few cricketers will have passed through so many airports without picking up a serious injury; now that he's still standing, it's time for a rest.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • laxman on March 13, 2008, 9:29 GMT

    As the senior troika opted out of T20 by default our selectors chose a raw and fresh team for T20. As Dravid and Sachin were reluctant to lead the side again by default Kumble was brought in to lead. It was blessing in disguise. Imagine, if these defaults had not occured ..... Success of T20 should be credited to the combo of Lalchand Rajput and MS Dhoni who generated amazing team spirit. And the success laid the stepping stone for the revival. I am a great admirer of Kumble since his early days with K'tka and what a captain he turned out to be! He must have taken a leaf out of Dhoni's mantra in T20 and just followed to knit the team with that amazing team spirit. Overnight, from the ashes Vengsarkar became a hero, though he should be credited to the masterstrokes of selecting Rajput as coach and Kumble as captain though pressure was on to install Dhoni. The conbo continued to do well and Vengsarkar had no choice but listen and heed to Dhoni's demands.

  • Coolest on March 12, 2008, 12:01 GMT

    FYI : BOWLERS are the ones that are wining the matches not the batsmen they were all struggling while bowlers were wining the matches for India and Australia. It is about time someone needs to give them the credit. If it was not for the bowlers India would not have won even one match in the past Tests and ODI's........

    As far as I see it ... Dhoni needs rest right now, I mean he should not be playing any tests with South Africa. He was already struggling in the past ODI's as you all saw, he was not even collecting the ball from the fielders insted other young players like Uthappa were doing his job. D. Karthik is the perfect man for the Indian team, since he can also open the batting unlike Dhoni. So he should be the one playing all the tests with S.A.

  • Ravi on March 12, 2008, 1:48 GMT

    India did this by default not by design as a result of not qualifying in the 2007 World Cup.If the World Cup had been a success the same team would aave been retained by and large for some more time.This initiative got enhanced by the Twenty 20 success given the fact BCCI is the only Board to have opposed a world Cup in the Twenty 20 format.Secondly Rahul.Sourav and Sachin opting out of the Twenty 20 also opened the gates Like all things in life Success brings with it Hype,Hijack and hypocrisy. However if one views it objectively Greg Chapeel is the real architect odf the change and of course vengsarkar and his co selectors too.

  • Ryan on March 11, 2008, 21:33 GMT

    I do not know how much of Australia's problem is player exhaustion, but rather AGE catching up. The Australian side is getting old. Even when they mention "NEW" players they are all in their 30's. Shane Warne mentioned 2 spinners who could succeed him - MacGill if he recovers from Injury (in his late 30's) and some other guy that no one outside of Aus has heard of who is 36.

    Aus havent toured as much as other countries of late. The only notable tours they have been on in the last 3 years is England (Ashes 2005) and RSA. While all other countries have travelled extensively. RSA have been to India (and now again) in that time, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Aus, West Indies and WC, have hosted India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand(twice), West Indies. And this same senario is true of most other sides except for AUS and ENG - the 2 sides complaining the most!

    Aus also are "tired" because for the first time they lost the Mind GAmes to India - this put a big strain on them.

  • George on March 11, 2008, 13:21 GMT

    Players play far more test cricket than in previous years. Compare some of the figures of the players who played consecutive tests. Border's record of 153 consecutive tests took 15 years. Sobers on the other hand played in 85 consecutive tests, but over a period of 17 years. Compare two great West Indies batsman who both played 61 consecutive tests, Rohan Kanhai and Viv Richards. Kanhai's tests took 11 years and 9 months compared to 7 years and 7 months for Richards. Playing virtually all of their cricket at the highest level must take its toll. It's time that the governing bodies of world cricket did something about this. The top players no longer have the privilege of going able to down a level to "rest". There are more and more back-to-back test matches played. After the test series, there is then a ODI series. Enough is enough - stop chasing filthy lucre and bring some sanity back.

  • Prasanth on March 11, 2008, 10:42 GMT

    I think the Australian policy of blaming hectic international schedule (remember 2005 Bangla tour) is not new. The fact of the matter remains that Australia remains one of the LEAST TOURING teams in the last ten years, and this year, having started their schedule as late as September after almost 6 month break, they have toured just SA. while the Indians have been touring non stop from WC, WI, Ban, Ire, Eng, SA, Aus. And they've come off better in each of these tours, except the WC of course.

    L Balaji set to return? Wee!

  • Allan on March 11, 2008, 6:19 GMT

    I have a feeling that for the forseeable future the Indian team will have a better (i.e. winning) record overseas than at home. This may seem like an outrageous statement but hear me out. Overseas (except probably Sri Lanka & Pakistan) our deep bowing bench will find better conditions that will allow them to take 20 wickets on a regular basis, an absolute prerequisit for winning any test match. At home our dead pitches will negate the advantage India currently has over many other countries in it's deep bowling bench. Therefore I strongly believe ground curators & BCCI need to start making more bowler friendly pitched in India. If they do we will start seeing India winning more matches at home. This is my analysis. I wonder what others think?

  • Allan on March 11, 2008, 3:48 GMT

    To all the naysayers I say WAKE UP! Test & ODI cricker are completely different animals and they need different type of players. Or rather I should say they need different type of BATSMEN. Bowlers can be interchanged between the 2 formats without much difficulty as long as they are fit and good. Which is exactly why having 2 different teams has worked for India this time. IT'S BECAUSE FOR THE FIRST TIME WE HAVE BOWLING BENCH STRENGTH!! It's a fact that winning test matches is more dependent on good bowling. Look at Pakistan's record in the past when they had great bowling. It's much better than India, eventhough we had better batting. Another example is Australia. They have essentially the same strength in the batting but without McGrath and Warne they are an ordinary team because, barring Brett Lee, they have an extremly ordinary bowling line-up. And the same applies for ODIs as well!!

  • daniel on March 10, 2008, 23:41 GMT

    Im sitting on the fence of player workloads i dont think players PLAY more than players of yesteryear (look at the first class records of players 50 years ago) but i think they TRAVEL more which can shorten careers. Im all for player rotation as long as teams dont give caps to second rate players just because the top players are too knackered to play, its be an insult to players of the past who had to fight tooth and nail for a spot.

  • Sean on March 10, 2008, 19:41 GMT

    I think verinda sewag should play in both odi and test and i mean all games a not get drop , other than sachin he is the best batsman they have . He can come alive at anytime during an innings a lot of team are scared of him , so why drop him , also where did Ganguly failed he made runs in every innings so he should play and captain the team after beeings the most successfull captain in india . The young guys are not ready for the game . Canada is doing the same thing playing too many young guys they keep playing the same guys over and over again and they keep failing everytime , Dont people seeing this canada has a lot of good cricketers who is capable of competing against big teams but the selectors keep picking the wrong teams all the time . Stats dont mean anything in the domestic season , because there is alot of guys who perform over the season but dont get pick the selectors pick only who they like

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