Wednesday, March 5, 2008

AUSSIES WEEDED OUT; BE CAREFUL DHONI


Team ‘Indiabulls’ has done it! It has shown the world who the real “obnoxious little weeds” are and how they are to be weeded out. The Indians have faced the worst type of MAO instigated behaviour for months and have emerged victorious. Harbhajan Singh has had the last laugh!

In an earlier post, Team Indiabulls beyond 20K, I had written that Greg Chappell was the best coach that Australia ever had. He did perhaps more for the Australian team as the Indian coach than the great Buchanan did for them as their coach. Chappell’s systematic destruction of Team India had ensured not only its hasty exit from the World Cup but also eliminated any possibility of an India-Australia clash in the tournament, which the Australians may well have lost as subsequent clashes show!

Team India’s winning of the T20 World Cup, its almost winning of the Test series against Australia in Australia, but for many dubious umpiring decisions, and now its 2-0 win in the One Day Triseries tournament has confirmed what Greg Chappell and the Aussies always knew: The Indians are as good as, possibly better than, the World Champions.

The credit for setting the stage for this outstanding performance by the Indians goes to a great extent to the always unsung Anil Kumble who as the Test captain showed a rare dignity, steely resolve and strength under immense pressure, to fire up the team. He had taken off symbolically from where Sourav Ganguly had left the team before the fatal Chappell-Dravid combo almost destroyed all the gains. After the Test series, MS Dhoni inherited a fighting unit which was raring to teach the Australians the lesson that no on had been able to teach them in over a decade and a half.

When Ganguly and Dravid were dropped from the One Day squad, I had written that Dhoni seemed to have learnt all the wrong lessons from Chappell and was, like Chappell, selecting his personal team rather than the Indian team, by choosing untried youngsters over India's best players in great nick.

Has this magnificent victory proved me wrong? Not at all!

Let’s recollect some basic facts. Dhoni dropped two great batsmen in favour of two promising rookies, Uthappa and Rohit Sharma. He did not drop any bowler. The new bowlers like Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar found a place primarily because of injuries to Zaheer Khan and RP Singh.

Who won the tournament for the team? Was it the young batsmen that Dhoni had preferred over the still-going-great greats? Of course not! It is really the bowlers who got the team the trophy, despite the batsmen almost never doing enough right through. And who was the batsman, but for whom the result would have been a dejected flight back 0-2? The old war horse Sachin Tendulkar who scored a century and 91 in the two matches, adequately covering up the failure of the rest of the chosen batsmen.

Why did Dhoni opt for five bowlers in the last stages of the tournament? He will never admit it, ego, but he realized that he just did not have the firepower with the bat to win matches for him. No batsman, except Sachin and, to some extent Gautam Gambhir, looked good enough to play big match winning innings through the tournament. That is precisely why Dhoni himself had to start playing like the Rahul Dravid he had dropped! The explosive bull had to become the plodding ox to plug this weakness that nearly cost us some matches. In the process, India had lost the genuine match winner that it had earlier found in Dhoni.

Praveen Kumar was initially picked by Dhoni more for his batting skills than his abilities as a strike bowler capable of running through the opposition, given his military medium pace. This was one more unstated admission of the fact that quality batsmen were not available; victory would have to be got by the bowlers, a possibility that looked consistently real particularly because of the way Ishant Sharma exploded on the scene as the genuinely fast strike bowler that India has never had.

That Praveen unexpectedly produced two magical spells in both the finals to tear apart the Australian top order to win the tournament for India was the bonus that nobody, including Dhoni, was expecting. Unfortunately, the victory has everybody writing the epitaph of Ganguly and Dravid when actually their absence has palpably exposed the inadequacies of the batting line up.

I had earlier written that Yuvraj Singh may look brilliant when he gets going but he has serious limitations. That is why even after having played over 200 matches, consistency eludes him. This is not likely to change in the future. The other youngsters like Uthappa, Rohit Sharma and Raina have a long way to go before they can, if at all, be worthy replacements to the great veterans.

Dhoni, justifying the picking of these youngsters, had said that he wanted to pick players who would have played 80 odd matches before the next World Cup! What is the guarantee that this lot of players will last that long in the team? Dhoni may well find himself looking for new guys just before the World Cup, if he stays captain! But for the bowlers, these youngsters would have actually lost the Triseries tournament for India. That would not most probably have been the case had Ganguly and Dravid been around.

Throughout the tournament, Dhoni could not find the right guy to open with Sachin Tendulkar. What was the need to disturb the best opening pair that India has? Similarly, he could not find a replacement for “The Wall” and was forced to destroy his own explosive role to become one.

Napoleon Bonaparte always gave predominant importance to one factor while selecting a General to lead a campaign. Notwithstanding outstanding professional credentials, before making the final choice he wanted to know if the General was “lucky”, and picked the one who was. Dhoni is blessed with luck, and in abundance. Almost every trick he tries works magically for him. That has helped cover his serious tactical blunders and placed victory at his feet so far.

Luck is a strange companion. It makes you feel as if you are doing everything right even the exact opposite is true. That makes you arrogant and even stubborn, something which Dhoni also is in abundance.

Be careful Dhoni. Remember that Lady Luck also has the strange habit of deserting you, if you ride it too often, at a devastatingly critical moment. Team India deserves better.