After what seemed to be another disaster in the making at the half way stage, some sheer brilliance and grit ensured that we witnessed what was possibly the best ever ODI run chase we may ever see in our lifetime. In a sense, it was befitting that such a disastrous tour should end on a disastrous note; and indeed the stage was set for a disaster. After winning the toss and rightly fielding first, what ensued in the Sri Lankan innings was the last thing India had hoped for. A mammoth 320, two brilliant hundreds from two class players and India’s chances of winning with a bonus point evaporated. Then something inexplicable happened.
India got a good opening stand courtesy Sehwag and Sachin (this in itself was a tremendous achievement for the team in the context of the tournament), Gauti showed all his grit and determination yet again and played a crucial innings, Virat Kohli batted like a man possessed and showed such tremendous aggression and character that he turned everyone on the field, including the bowlers and fielders, into mere dumbfounded spectators. Suresh Raina finally played an innings of some substance in Australia and showed glimpses of why he is so highly rated. It was a humungous effort from the team, an exhilarating run-chase, a memory of a lifetime. It has so far been the only bright spot in an otherwise calamitous tour.
|Virat after reaching his 100 against SL|
Two guys though deserve a special mention over here. These two have been a formidable partnership for some time now and have been solid as rocks in almost all India’s ODI victories in recent times. Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli have been phenomenal for the past 18 months or so, as individuals and as a partnership. Gambhir has played a crucial role in almost all India’s significant victories in all formats since the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007. The home series against Australia, away series in South Africa and New Zealand, Asia Cup 2010, World Cup Finals 2011 and the vital innings he played in this last game are a few noticeable instances. In my book, I think he is highly under rated and probably gets over-shadowed on numerous occasions. You take out his contribution from almost all of India’s significant wins and the victory starts to look improbable. Kohli has been prodigious right from the word go. After leading India to under-19 World Cup Glory in 2008 and making his ODI debut in the same year against Sri Lanka, he has never looked back. Allow me to indulge in a bit of number crunching here. Kohli is the 4th fastest (in terms of number of innings) in history of ODI cricket to reach 3000 runs. Considering that the 3 guys ahead of him, just by a small margin, are Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Gary Kirsten, he is certainly in elite company. He already has 9 one day hundreds to his name, out of which 8 have come in a winning cause. More pertinently, 6 out of the 9 have come in a run chase and his average jumps to a masterly 55 in the second innings which means that he is your go-to man in pressure situations. As a partnership, Gambhir and Kohli are the most successful second innings partnership in ODI cricket in terms of averages. In 20 innings together, they average over 75 per innings as a partnership with a best of 224. So the next time India are chasing any sort of total and you see Gambhir and Kohli at the crease, rest assured the fortunes of Team India are in very safe and very capable hands.
|A dejected Sehwag takes the long walk back|
What this effort should not do though, is erase the bitter memories that we have been subjected to since 26th December 2011, when this tour started. It has been a horrendous tour, with one setback after another, on and off the field, with the team management sticking to non-performing players in both formats, inability to put up any fight and a sequence of meek surrenders. The first thing that the team needs is a “team-first, everything else is secondary” attitude. Sehwag, Dravid and Laxman played all the tests without one significant innings, while Rohit warmed the bench for all test matches. Sehwag (again), Raina (apart from the last 40*) and to an extent Ravindra Jadeja played through the CB series without any significant contributions and this time it was Manoj Tiwary’s turn to be a mere tourist in the squad. A few heads were sure to roll if the team had come up with another spineless performance in the last game and the Asia cup squad would have been very interesting had that happened. Instead we were treated to a near miracle on the field and the selectors went down the expected path. Apart from “resting” Sehwag, no other major decision was taken. If indeed Sehwag is injured and hence been rested, it is a pity because he deserved to be dropped. For someone who himself said that Ricky Ponting’s sack was justified because he did not perform for 6 to 7 games in a row, Sehwag has had more than his fair share of chances. True, he is an impact player. True, he is a game-changer. But also true is the fact that he has been changing the game more in the opposition’s favor lately than in our favor. Some of his shot selection throughout the tour has been ghastly. He is far too talented to simply throw his wicket away time and again. He needs some time away from the game to come back with a clear mind and clear focus. The “rest” might actually do him some good. Allegations are abound that Raina and Jadeja are captain Dhoni’s men and hence find favor with the team management. Although this conjecture is open to debate, Raina has not been able to prove himself away from sub-continental conditions for a number of years now. In Asian conditions, he is an out and out match winner, but sadly he is not able to replicate it away from home. It is time the selectors send a clear message that he will play only when the conditions favor him and not in unfriendly conditions unless he goes back, works hard on his technique to become a player for all conditions. I still feel his selection in the Asia cup is justified as he is a genuine match winner in sub-continent conditions. As for Jadeja, as brilliant a fielder and decent a bowler he may be, he is simply not good enough at no.7 in ODI’s. That position demands a power hitter, a genuine match winner and hence that slot should go to one of the Pathan brothers based on whether the team requires an extra spinner or an extra medium pacer. Both of them are more than capable of clearing any ground against any opposition and on their day, are genuine match winners with bat and ball.
The selectors have played it safe. Yusuf and Dinda though have been deservingly called up. Let’s hope Manoj Tiwary gets his chances this time around, Rohit gets back amongst the runs to justify his talent (which he is yet to do consistently at the highest level) and all the action happens only on the field. Virat has been elevated to the vice captaincy which is a sign of looking at the future and one must say well deserved. Although what is important is the communication the selectors had with Gautam Gambhir in this matter. He is bound to feel hard done by and a quite word of assurance and confidence from the selectors is certain to do a lot of good. But whether it has happened, I have serious doubts. That is one area where we have seriously lacked: effective communication with players who are in or out of the team. Getting this facet right can be a key to solving a lot of problems that ensue amongst the players, selectors, the board and the media.
A tour filled with mediocrity to the core has seen a flash of brilliance towards the end. It is not the end of problems. Not even close to it actually. It is no redemption for the below-par performances we have seen so far. It was a mere saving grace for a few players, the board and the selectors in an otherwise highly substandard tour.