Friday, April 18, 2008

Bangalore-Kolkata thoughts

Well, what is there to say, except that there is something very very wrong with Brendon McCullum?

Actually, perhaps a few other things to say, at least briefly, as follows:

1. The abjectness of Bangalore’s defeat apart, what a tremendous advertisement this was for 20/20 cricket.

2. Much as I feel for Bangalore and Rahul Dravid, you have to say that they got it wrong from the get-go. They made some very poor bids. Sure, the likes of Dravid and Kallis (and Chanderpaul, who didn’t play today) are good batsmen in the short form of the game. But while 20/20 cricket isn’t just about slogging, it isn’t just about good batsmanship either. I think that every 20/20 team needs batsmen who don’t care about losing their wickets. The likes of Dravid and Kallis just care about their wickets too much – that caring is ingrained into the type of batsmen they are, and that is what makes them so successful in the Test arena. Of course, Bangalore were severely depleted by the absence of Misbah-ul-Haq and Dale Steyn for this game, and they will be a far stronger team once these two are available. But I’m not sure how much difference one or two players will make to the overall fortunes of the team.

3. The team selection for this game also reflects a weakness of Dravid as a captain, which was evident when he was captain of India as well, especially relative to Ganguly. And that is that Dravid values loyalty more than anything else. He values players who are loyal, but he also values his own loyalty to players. Ganguly was certainly responsible for sticking by some players; but basically, he is looking for players who can win him games. As long as a player is winning him games, he sticks by him; if he stops winning him games, he looks for someone who can. Dravid’s loyalty to his players is the only explanation for him playing someone like Sunil Joshi, who is on the verge of retirement. It is a nice gesture to Joshi, a hardworking journeyman cricketer – but does it help his team win? Why couldn’t he have used this occasion to try out a youngster like K.P. Appanna?

4. Another stupid move on Dravid’s part was to open with himself and Jaffer – again an indication of loyalty to Jaffer which is touching, but not borne out by Jaffer’s batting style or his likelihood of success in this format. The sensible thing to have done, to have had any chance of success, would have been to open with Praveen Kumar, who is no Brendon McCullum, but who can hit the ball with manic force. I am surprised that with Martin Crowe as consultant, Bangalore showed such conservatism. What were they thinking?

5. From Kolkata’s perspective, the notable aspect was Ajit Agarkar getting amongst the wickets. I had pinned Agarkar as being the weak link, but I wonder whether in 20/20 he mightn’t actually be more of a factor than bargained for. In the 20/20 format, wickets count for much more than in 50/50, both because of the pressure of a dot ball and because a new batsman (unless he is McCullum) needs a few balls to play himself in, which usually leads to more dot balls. Unlike in 50/50, there isn’t time to recover from that. Agarkar is the sort of bowler who bowls wicket-taking balls. His weakness is not that he is a bad bowler – in fact, he is a rather good one. His weakness is that he struggles to string together 10 good overs, making him a liability (or at least a huge risk) in 50/50. But he is certainly capable on his day of stringing together 4 good overs, with a number of wicket-taking balls in them. So he could be a factor in this Kolkata team, which will only make them an even more fearsome prospect.

Watch out for the Punjab-Chennai game tomorrow. Watching Lee bowl to Hayden will be a terrific sight, but even that won’t match up to watching Murali bowl to Sangakkara. One has to admit, without IPL such match-ups would be inconceivable. In the Delhi-Rajasthan game, Rajasthan’s real strength will come at the end – the likes of Dmitri Mascerenhas and Shane Watson will be worth their weight in gold in overs 18-20. For Delhi, I am very interested in seeing a couple of players perform. Pradeep Sangwan was outstanding in the under-19 World Cup, and is certainly a prospect. And Shikhar Dhawan, who was Robin Uthappa’s contemporary in the under-19 side, is a fine batsman, but someone who has for some reason never come into serious contention for India. He is certainly a good enough batsman to be an India prospect, and I would be curious to monitor his progress.


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