India’s hot-air balloon, rising dramatically over the last few months, has been popped by none other than the Windies. As we come crashing down to the ground, it’s time to reflect on what went wrong. I think we’ve basically forgotten the lessons that turned our ODI performances around in the first place. It’s time to get back to the basics.
1) Fielding: When Chappell first came on, that was one of the biggest improvements you noticed on the field rightaway. Players were making great stops, return throws were spot on and they were hitting the stumps 4 times out of 5 when they had a shy at the stumps. All of them, not just one or two players. Compare that to the dismal display in this series. Today, from 30 feet away with all stumps visible, Raina tried to knock down the stumps and missed. That’s fine. What was not was that he bounced the ball, and it went right over the stumps. When you bounce the ball, it has to travel more distance, and is slowed down quite a bit when it bounces. A non-professional like me knows that, so I’m surprised that Raina, one of the better fielders in the team, did that. What I am afraid of though is that nobody might have caught it, and they’ll keep on continuing to do that. Another aspect of fielding is fitness. After the initial efforts when Chappell came on board, it seems not much has been done in this area. Players need to be pushed beyond their current fitness levels.
2) Extras: We need to get them under control. Spinners bowling wides is not acceptable. Same thing for no balls. We have to try and minimize them. We did that against other teams earlier in the season. Bowlers need to regain that control.
3) Run-outs: Losing crucial wickets to run outs, especially when the player is just not alert, or being lazy, or trying to avoid being hit by the ball, is inexcusable. Get it right.
4) Tactics: Innovation, like in the real world, can go a long way in the sport. We certainly have the room to play, what with all the new rules. Experimentation shouldn’t end at playing with batting order. When defending a small target, try not taking the last powerplay until the 45th over. This could also be very effective when defending huge totals. In a game that’s obviously being won, send in Agarkar or Harbhajan to practice some biffing. Signalling to the wicket-keeper if you’re about to bowl a slower ball or down leg-side (suggested by Dean Jones) is a great idea. Make the tail-enders take their batting seriously, and have them practice slogging. During the early overs, it’s okay to go over the top. In fact, you want to. That’s the whole bloody point. Forget about trying to thread the needle. Sehwag is especially culpable because he understands this concept, and likes to hit in the air, but he hits it at a slightly above-head height. That’s catchable, and he’s often gotten out that way. Also, if you’re hitting it in the air, put a little extra effort into it. Convert those fours that land within two feet of the rope to sixes. Those runs addup. Sehwag can easily do this if only he gives it a little more loft.
If we can do these things, and pick the best team (that means no Powar), there’s nothing in the world that can stop us.
Did I miss any problems?