Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Under Duncan 'team's football skills have improved; not cricketing skills' - spake Gavaskar


A forgettable Test Series is over ~ India lost at home 1-2 – that has set everyone writing on the dismal performance and quite naturally. Those who basked in glory after the wins, should take the flak too….. the first head that should roll is that of the highest paid coach Duncan Fletcher ~ ‘under him, India’s football skills have got better than cricket skills’ – is the straight drive of a famous person who opened for India for long with success.  The strongest point in favour of Fletcher was that ‘he knew England so well’ and against England, India with him at helm has done miserably.

In some ways, this Series is somewhat akin to the one at home in 1984-85.  Then India won the First Test at Mumbai by 8 wickets – England made 195 in the first essay – Laxman Sivaramakrishnan made his debut in Nov 1984. India lost the 2nd Test at Delhi by an identical margin and Kapil was banished for one singular shot, though he scored runs in the 1st innings.  The Third Test at Calcutta was drawn; in the 4th Test at Chennai, a Pongal special at that, India lost to England by 9 wickets as England scored 652 /7 in their first innings.  The 5th Test at Kanpur was drawn and England won that Test Series 2-1, coming back strongly after losing the First Test.  Cook’s men have emulated the feat in a similar fashion, starting as underdogs.

The 4th Test at Nagpur in the present Series meandered to a draw with Trott and Bell making centuries in the 4th. You cannot blame England for the slow play – this Test may not linger in memory but the Series result sure will.  England battled to a plan, to shut India out largely through a 208-run stand between Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, who both scored hundreds.

This Series has exposed  significant weaknesses and problems that need to be addressed, but it has been England's excellence over the last three games that has exposed those shortcomings. On the last day in Nagpur it was two batsmen earning redemption for relatively lean years that prevented any late nerves and added to the complete team nature of the performance.  The decline of the Indian team is not sudden but has been happening over a period of time, failures which have been camouflaged occasional spells of success, against teams like New Zealand and West Indies.  Recall that the Team never aspired to win in the Roseau Test against West Indies. Needing 180 to win off 47 overs, India didn't show any urgency to go for the target and clinch the three-Test series 2-0.  The  Test was abandoned, with as many as 15 overs  remaining to make only 86 and any team used to playing T20 would have laughed at such a target. India did not blink.
 
In the recent past, India has been supreme at home but that 8 year spell has been ended with the 1-2 defeat to England now. The last series defeat India suffered was against Australia in 2004.  England have now won six of their last eight Tests against India. When a Team does badly, it is natural that some hard decisions are made. Indian bowlers have performed rather poorly. Zaheer looked nothing closer to what he was; Ashwin had just one good innings with the ball; and Pragyan Ojha too appeared sorted out in the end. Sachin Tendulkar finished with 112 runs in six innings in the series. The average of 18.66 is his worst in a series of four or more Tests. In 18 innings since the start of the Perth Test, Tendulkar has scored 236 runs at 18.15 with one half-century.

One must admire Alastair Cook for leading from the front - from a crushing defeat in Ahmedabad which was in tune with their earlier fortune at Sharjah and elsewhere but  Cook has now set  a high marker for his captaincy career.

When dozens of headlines gleamed punchlines on the dismal show ~ Sunil Gavaskar, the little Master and skilled opening batsman in his characteristic style wrote “Under Fletcher, India’s football skills have got better than cricket skills”. In his syndicated column for TOI, Gavaskar wrote -  England’s greater resolve and determination ensured there were no twists and turns on the final day of the series and they did not let India into the game at all by keeping them on the field for the entire last day. It was like rubbing salt into the wounds, for Indian supporters were hoping that the bowlers would be able to get a few early wickets and give India an outside chance to win the Test and thus level the series. Unfortunately, the approach and work ethic was once again lamentable as the players went through the motions in the training session before the game began and thereafter, as soon as Trott and Bell batted the first hour, the shoulders dropped and England knew they were through.

Modern day training methods mean that the players play a sport that is different and then get down to practising the cricketing skills, but because the team actually enters the ground barely 45 minutes before the first ball is bowled and then play football, there is not much time left for practising the cricketing skills so essential to the game that follows. Under the present coach and support staff, it does look as if the football skills of the players have got better, but that cannot be said of the cricketing skills. The fact that the coach is unable to crack the whip and get the players to get to the ground early is a sign that he has little control over them. All that is asked of the players is to give it that little bit extra on the five days of the Test match, but if they are not able or willing to do so, then there has to be some action taken, else Indian cricket supporters will continue to be disappointed like they were in this series.

In that 1984-85 Series,  Indian Team had no coach but only a Manager – Sunil Gavaskar was the Captain.  In that Series better remembered for Azhar’s debut and 3 centuries on the trot, Azhar finished with 439 runs @ 109.75; Kirmani, Mohinder Amarnath, Shastri, Kapil, Vengsarkar – all finished above Gavaskar’s aggregate of 140 @ 17.5 in 5 matches and 8 innings.  The flamboyant Krish Srikkanth played in 2 tests (4 innings) scored 141 with the highest of 84. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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