February 11, 2012

Does rotation work for India?

Why the idea of having those in the top order take turns at playing is flawed

Of late, Indian cricket seems to have completely wrapped itself around the idea of the rotation policy. A good time to ask exactly what this policy is.

The concept took form when Australian cricket reached its crescendo in the early 2000s. Those were times when not only were they indomitable both home and away, the manner in which they destroyed oppositions gave them an aura of invincibility. Teams seemed to turn up against them merely to participate, not compete; the winner was usually decided before the first ball was bowled. Australia's record of winning World Cups without dropping a single match on their way to the title epitomised their dominance. They had got to a stage where the only way to improve was to compete with themselves. They needed to find ways to raise the already high bar further.

That's when they introduced a rotation policy for their in-form cricketers - essentially as a means to further boost their unequalled eminence. It meant a player would be rested after a few games, regardless of his sterling performances, in order to give an opportunity to his peers. The idea was to keep each of them on their toes, and more importantly to maintain their form.

Does this policy hold any relevance for India - especially now, when the team is under fire? We have been told that the three senior players at the top of the order will not all play at the same time. The rationale for this rotation is to give the youngsters an extended run, allowing them a cushion to fail in the middle order without worrying too much about getting the sack.

Noble thought, one would say, but isn't a fundamental principle of a rotation policy - alternating in-form players - being inverted completely in this case? Ironically, India are rotating the players who are already struggling for form, which means they are almost resigned to losing an early wicket each time. That is a concern in itself, but the bigger concern is that a player will end up being rested after a solitary botched outing, thereby depriving him of the opportunity to play enough to rediscover form. It's easier for an in-form player to find his feet after a break than for one who is not among the runs.

If India still want to continue rotating players, they must give a few more opportunities to a player before dropping him for the next in line, rather than "resting" him after only a couple of failures

Principally the policy is both pragmatic and persuasive, but its use in India has been quite inappropriate. They had a golden opportunity to employ it in the Test series against West Indies at home. India should have decided to play only two of the three pillars in the middle order in any given match, which would have allowed both Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to play all three matches in the series. They could also have allowed Ajinkya Rahane to open in at least a couple of Test matches by rotating the openers. They could have done all that because West Indies weren't that big a threat, and a little tinkering with the batting line-up wouldn't have cost India a match, playing at home as they were. Had they tried these men then, as part of the rotation policy, perhaps they could have fielded them in Australia too.

Applying the policy at the top has also sent a wrong message to the middle order. They are most likely to think that regardless of the errors they commit, they are guaranteed a place in the starting XI. Is that acceptable? While I understand there is a need to prepare for the future, does it have to be at the cost of sacrificing the present?

If India need to rotate players, they must do it with players who are in form and have earned a break. And if there's anyone in the current line-up who is in prime form, and hence can be rotated, it is Kohli, and we are told that his place in the side is sacrosanct.

If India still want to continue rotating players, they must give a few more opportunities to a player before dropping him for the next in line, rather than "resting" him after only a couple of failures. It makes little sense to rotate players after just one or two outings. There should be a method to this madness.

Also, if the idea is to placate the fans, who have been quite vocal in criticising the senior players for the Test debacle, by resting those seniors, it is a short-term solution. If India don't get back to winning ways, the fans will criticise not just the cricketers but also the unfathomable strategies employed by the team.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on February 14, 2012, 13:35 GMT

    @VK10 "Had Dravid & VVS performed like him over the last year, they would have been kicked out. Time to kick SRT out of at least ODI's now." ----- Really?? Tendulkar's ODI loss of form is exactly 2 matches old... He scored 48 in the first game of this series and the last time he played an ODI prior to that was in the world cup where he was the 2nd highest scorer at 982 (18 behind Dilshan), with 2 centuries and 2 fifties. I'm not saying he merits a place because of what he did in the WC, but your comment reeks of so much bias that I just HAD to call it out.

  • V on February 13, 2012, 20:28 GMT

    SRT, and the lobby behind him, is the only reason why this farce exists. Gambhir is only 30 yrs old and Sehwag 33 yrs old. They both have a shot at playing the 2014 WC in Oz-NZ and should therefore play the whole tri-series now. SRT is almost 39 yrs old, has no shot at the 2014 WC, and has been rank ordinary for a year now. Had Dravid & VVS performed like him over the last year, they would have been kicked out. Time to kick SRT out of at least ODI's now. He should focus on tests only, which is a better test for the true art of batting anyway.

  • Sudhi on February 13, 2012, 13:28 GMT

    If BCCI is serious about India's cericket future then it should make mandatory for players to go through rotation policy for IPL matches and not ODIs.

  • Arif on February 13, 2012, 6:39 GMT

    Well there is always that thin line when to drop when to give the player another chance. overall this is a just another gamble. it pays off the captain is good it doesn't the captain has to be in the line of fire.

  • Satyajit on February 13, 2012, 6:36 GMT

    The roration policy, just like most of the other things has it's merit and demerits. On the Pro side, Rohit and Raina get an extended run irrespective or their failures which would give them the sense of security and they won't get desperate with one/two failures. On the cons side, the team may not always be the best 11 as you are experimenting. Also Rohit and Raina (and even Jadeja) may not put the extra effort knowing their position is safe. @LillianThomson, do little more study before you put your comments. Lara actually has a worse 4th inning record (close to 35), Kallis has slightly better (around 42) but not spectacular record. Ponting has very good career 4th inning record (@53) but if you choose last five years (not a short period) this drops interestingly to 38.5! My theory on this is that players in better teams get a more achievable 4th innings target which they often surpass and remain not out pushing up the avg. Same player when playing for a weaker team start failing.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 5:57 GMT

    I think Sehwag has to go. He needs to go back to basics when he is playing on bouncy tracks. He is a phenomenal cricketer on low bounce tracks, but he is powerless on such tracks. We need him for the next Australia tour (WorldCup) and to do that he has to go back to drawing board and revamp his strategy. That takes some time.

  • Ravi Kumar on February 13, 2012, 5:18 GMT

    It is good to give an extended run for people like Raina and Rohit so that they get used to playing. Virat was persisted with in the test series and it has yeilded results and the same logic holds good for the others.

    Also keeping in mind that the next world cup is in AUs this is a good move and so far has yeilded results. May instead of rotating the seniors drop Sehwag as he is terrible.

  • Karthi Keyan on February 13, 2012, 4:16 GMT

    The truth of the matter is this: the player who most deserves to be dropped under rotation policy is the Captain himself and the second most deserving is the Vice-Captain. And yet they will find excuses for dropping Sachin. If not for the fact that these players represent India, I would have wished them the worst. One thought that Mohinder Amarnath as a Selector would show more courage and intelligence. So far, no good...

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 2:48 GMT

    Don't you get it?? India has never been too keen in rotation policy.. The problem is certain sachin tendulkar who is not ready to let go. And all three openers are out of form but have too high stature to kick them out of the team. Previously India has played them all with gauti batting at no. 3 but playing all the three togather is not intelligent any more not to give youngsters a chance but becoz it'd be stupid to play 3 out of form openers. Hence the excuse of rotation policy. Once the so-called god retires 10-20 yrs later, the rotation policy wud be scrapped. Btw how can you even think about resting the only in form player virat?

  • Reuben on February 13, 2012, 0:15 GMT

    rotation policy is good when all three players are playing well. but in this case, sehwag is just waste. I would say just drop him out of the series and let him watch how others play. Sehwag has got enough time to get acquainted with the australian conditions and bowlers, he must sit out and rethink his technique.

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