August 23, 2011

A few urgent repairs

India need to take a long, hard look at themselves, starting with the bowling

India have suffered a thrashing at the hands of England and Indian cricket is currently in crisis mode - at least the fans and media are. What mode its management and the BCCI get into after the series is finished will be interesting to see, and obviously, critical to the team's future.

This is not the first time India have been embarrassed like this in international cricket, but it is the first in recent times, and that worries me a little. I'm concerned this defeat may be brushed off with "It happens sometimes", "You can't be winning all the time" and "How can the No. 1 side suddenly become a bad team over four weeks?" If that happens, there may not be any significant action taken after the tour, and with the three-Test West Indies home series coming up next, matters will be "resolved" automatically.

It is essential for the long-term healthy growth of Indian cricket that a question be raised: Did this Indian team have an off series in England, or are they going to find it increasingly difficult to take on the tougher challenges in Test cricket?

This series against England was grade A Test cricket, and the one that follows is grade B. India clearly should look to excel at the former, and that is how they will also be able to get their No. 1 status back.

Let me make it clear that we are talking specifically about Test cricket here, for we tend to make the common mistake of not looking at the three different brands of the international game differently. It is a trap even the selectors are guilty of falling into. Think of the differences between Rahul Dravid and Suresh Raina when you need to remind yourself of the difference between Test and limited-overs cricket.

My answer to that question, whether this Indian team has only stumbled and will quickly bounce back, is no. India's soft underbelly has been exposed in England - specifically, their reliance on one man to form a decent bowling attack to complement the batting.

India needs to declare an emergency as far as their bowling is concerned. They have to start by first accepting the hard fact that Zaheer Khan coming back to spearhead the bowling attack for any length of time seems unlikely now. If, like Dravid and Tendulkar, he gets a second wind, that will be a huge bonus, but to move forward without counting on that would be the sensible thing to do.

Praveen Kumar has been nothing short of a revelation, but to have a 70mph bowler with two months' Test cricket experience leading the attack in England showed the world how inadequate India's bowling was.

The only other bowler who seems to have the potential to take over from Zaheer is Ishant Sharma, but Ishant at this stage of his career needs someone like an Imran Khan to teach him how to put more balls in the areas where batsmen don't like them. For all his ability and attitude, Ishant is just not probing enough consistently enough to be a world-class seamer and leader of India's attack. Currently, though, he is the only one who seems to give India that hope, and that is why they need to take good care of him - though this is easier said than done.

I have been very disappointed with Sreesanth. After his performance during the South Africa tour I thought India had found a world-class bowler to complement Zaheer, but once again Sreesanth has shown that he can only provide occasional flashes of brilliance amid a lot of mediocre bowling. Maybe that mediocrity has a lot to do with his overall fitness. India cannot place faith in such players.

Munaf Patel belongs in the same category - of those not having enough promise for India to invest time in. It's time to look beyond these players, and while doing so, the think tank needs to give preference to bowlers who have some athleticism; that sort of bowler doesn't break down all that easily.

Did this Indian team have an off series in England, or are they just not good enough anymore to take on the tougher challenges in Test cricket?

The time has also come to prepare for life after Harbhajan Singh, and the West Indies series is a great opportunity to do just that. Play R Ashwin in all three Tests. Don't give him the feeling that he is only coming in for one game before the senior stalwart returns and takes his rightful place. That never gets the best out of a young talent.

Ashwin is considered a limited-overs specialist and many think he may not look as impressive in the longer form. To them I say: I have seen Ashwin trouble batsmen in limited-overs cricket when they are looking only to defend against him. Also, let's not forget that a few years ago we thought Virender Sehwag was a one-day specialist. It was the same with Praveen Kumar too.

If Ashwin fails to impress, Harbhajan can be brought back for the Australia tour, in which case he will hopefully be fired up, stung by being left out. A similar snub before an Australia tour worked wonders with Sehwag; maybe it will with Bhajji too.

Tackling the batting is more difficult. They have had a rare failure as a unit, so this one is a little complex. There is, however, one thing that you don't get to see well on television, and that is the overall energy of the team in the field. Even in defeat a No. 1 team has to look the part. Think Australia here. Having all these veterans in the field doesn't quite help India when the chips are down. VVS Laxman's lack of athleticism has been taunted, albeit discreetly, here in England. At some stage Indian cricket will have to set fitness standards in the field, and when they decide to do that people like Laxman, for all the value he brings with the bat, may find it difficult to carry on playing for India with just one skill.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 26, 2011, 22:17 GMT

    Also BCCI should start allowing its contracted and non contracted players to play in county. Without such experience it is impossible to win in England. Else Raina, Kohli et al will never learn to deal with swing and keep on failing. We have quite a few young pacers like U Yadav, Unadkat, Vinaykumar, Aron etc. and they need plenty of league experience in England like conditions. Even before A team tours let them play in leagues so that there will be good cricketing habits and culture within. Another observation is now days journey is from T20 to ODI to Test matches. Why can't we have A grade matches to Test journey? Look at case of Badri, selectors waisted his talent by trying him in ODIs. Just like any other profession Cricket as well is practice oriented profession and simple solution here is to let them practice more is foreign conditions, so that there will be more good Cricketers not superstars. Well an opinion from a fan else many talented and political people are there for this.

  • Richard on August 26, 2011, 12:23 GMT

    It is ridiculous to think of dropping Laxman because he had one bad series. I guess it is easy for some people to forget that the reason India managed to stay on top for so long was because they never lost a series before England for around 2-3 years. Who was instrumental in maintaining that record? Laxman! For those with memory loss like Mr.Sanjay Manjrekar, he was the guy who won the test for us against Australia in India, scored many a match saving hundreds in third and fourth innings against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. I am sorry I would rather see a "non-athlete" Laxman score match saving fifties and hundreds than a "fit athlete" Raina save 5 runs in the field, because Raina for all money is not going to contribute with bat anywhere outside the sub continent.

  • SANGEETH on August 26, 2011, 7:36 GMT

    isn't it funny dear sanjay that you suddenly are talking about laxman's fitness and form? weren't you aware of his lack of so called athletisism when he was continuously saving and winning matches for indian since 2002?laxman is not a great athlet ,but he is the safest slip fielder india ever had.except from raina ,tell me one name from the test tem who can be termed as a good fielder.and what about dhoni's performance as the wicket keeper batsman? has he done enough to justify his captaincy? what about bringing a parthiv patel or dinesh karthik as his replacement? why you are not considering this fact?

  • Srinivas on August 25, 2011, 12:58 GMT

    Yes, I knew this was coming. One bad series and VVS has to be slaughtered. And what's that thing with Dravid & Raina vis-a-vis Tests & ODIs? Utter tosh! When you think of Dravid, you just don't think of Tests alone. You think of Tests, ODIs and T20s; the most versatile, rarest of rare genius plus unmatched discipline, hardwork and skills in the most selfless batsman India has ever produced, you think of wicket-keeping and specialist slip fielder; all kinds of players rolled into one. When you think of Raina on the other hand, you don't even think of ODIs. You think of T20s alone. Enough of your thingy like Dravid and the art of defence and trying to stereotype him. Guys like you do a lot of disservice to Indian Cricket while playing and while commenting as well. Nuff said....

  • Amit on August 25, 2011, 7:34 GMT

    First of all welcome for every cricket lover.this is my first comment. now everybody talking about india and england after loosing india 4-0.still i belived that neither india is diserve to stay as no.1 team in test nor england is great team. when you seriously watched both team record in past 2 years both team won home series only except 3-1 ashes sries.when you comapare to late W.I. team and australian team both team are far behind and i dont think that any team will achived that result.look at australian team record 2 times 16 win in row,hold no1 ranking for more than 7 year. can both england and india do? never will do. so we just think that india now worse and england great team.its only time factor that its happen and still belive that india,australia,england,africa,srilnaka both all are same caliber team non are great and neither can compare with late W.I. and austrlia.finally 2 teams are only great in cricket history that W.I. nad australia.neither team can match up them.never.

  • sam on August 25, 2011, 0:36 GMT

    Why praveen kumar is ok to bowl with his speed and Irfan Pathan not. They both ball at the same speed... Both are swing bowlers. Irfan Pathan has taken test had trick in first over and has good record when playing outside India...why is everybody given a chance but not him.. ? Why was rp singh chosen ? Why not irfan Pathan? He should have been persisted with and should have been given good run and confidence. His presence will solve the all rounder problem India always had. Perhaps IP has pressed a wrong nerve with dhoni and Shrikant. Irfan Pathan s career is being destroyed...when he is a person who can replace Zaheer khan when time comes... We cannot expect a miracle to get a bowler bowling at 150km/hr.

  • Dummy4 on August 24, 2011, 23:28 GMT

    Poor Sanjay.... Why u r crying on Laxman...??? U r hilighting Laxman's athleticism after losing to England...?? Why u didnot asked about Laxman's athleticism after Srilanka or Australians test series last year....???

    What about Sehwag and Ghambir's athleticism...?

    I think u r trying to cover Sachin...!!!

  • Ashok on August 24, 2011, 19:33 GMT

    Even a #1 team can look like Minnows when they are caught on the wrong foot at the wrong place. India lost Zaheer, Yuvraj, Harbhajan & Kumar due to injuries and Sehwag, Gambhir & Ishant were playing injured. When 7 out of their best players are unfit, how can you win. To be fair India lost their top 3 bowlers from an already an average bowling side. But the worst blow was loss of the opening pair Sehwag & Gambhir which put the batting in disarray. India only need to get their players in peak physical shape by physio & conditioning. In addition India need to replace Bhaiji with Ashwin. If the new fast bowler Aaron can be trained in length & direction then we have Ishant, Kumar & Aaron in pace + Ashwin , Mishra & ojha in Spin. A number of talented young batsmen & bowlers are also knocking at the door. So India has a good pool of young players.This loss to England has caused unnecessary panic. But if India had its full strength injury free team, they would have won this England series.

  • Prashant on August 24, 2011, 19:09 GMT

    VVS not being athletic is a known thing. So was Ganguly. But VVS' presence makes an intangible difference. In any case, he is a slip fielder who doesn't need athleticism as much as quick reflexes. I'm not saying that we condone such lack of athleticism, but just that VVS' inclusion is justified due to other valid reasons. True he did bad this series, but he'll come good soon. And I'm sure if he is on the plane to Australia, he WILL deliver there. I'm confident. We'll soon be talking about him like how we are now about Dravid. My only worry is Dhoni. He is clearly a class act. Maybe the poor guy is just emotionally drained. He needs a break. I hope he gets to sit out of the CLT20. i don't know if it's in his hands to decide that, but for his sake I hope he can skip the CLT20. I'm a CSK fan and I'm more than satisfied with their performances. Now I want to see retribution! I want India to maul the hosts next time they visit England.

  • Prashant on August 24, 2011, 19:01 GMT

    Yep I agree with a commenter below. You either drop a player and wait for him to show some performances before including him again, or you press on with him and hope he will come good sooner rather than later. What's the point in just dropping for 1 series and bringing him back on especially if you publicize it like this? He will just use that time to go on a vacation and turn up even worse for the next tour. If Bhajji needs to be dropped, then he must not be included until he shows credible performances that make for a compelling case to be included again. Give Ashwin and Ojha more chances. Give Mishra some more chances. Now is the best time to make some radical team changes because we've already hit rock bottom and a few failed experiments will not raise any more eyebrows. On the other hand, a few positives that may emerge will only serve to help the cause of building a good Test team.

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