Yet again, there are many doctors for the postmortem. Some are paid by newspapers, some by websites and some by TV channels. I went through their reports and most doctors were more or less citing the same causes. Figures of speech apart, I am talking about the critics who opined on the reasons for Indian cricket team’s T20 WC failure. I find something fundamental missing in the analyses or commentators and ex-cricketers. They always take a dig at the bigger picture, but miss out certain finer aspects.
The critics went on blaming various bodies for the failure. Some blamed the IPL, some just the parties, some the BCCI; and most of them who wanted to shoo the blame away from the bodies, blamed the players. But let me point out one finer aspect which led to India’s failure. This fine aspect has let down India time and gain, be it in one-dayers or T20s, the reason being the same set of players represent India in both formats. Thankfully, the test team is far wiser, and that has reflected in their ranking!
The fine aspect I am talking about is shot making. India’s biggest strength has always been batting. Bowling has been our genetic weakness and ours is a team which has learnt to win with average bowling. So when we lose, let’s leave alone the bowling. I would blame the bowling only if they concede 200 plus in each T20 match. Let’s focus on batting for the time being.
Shot making or shot selection is the art of dealing with a ball bowled. It’s your answer to a ball. How quickly you sight the ball, what calculation your brain does on seeing the ball, and how you get into position to play the best shot for the ball. Again, best shot doesn’t mean the most powerful shot, it means the shot which fetches you the most runs with the minimum risk. It is a combination of factors such as timing, placement and trajectory. For most, this comes by natural instinct; yet there are many who work hard on them to get there.
Take the example of the now famous short-rising-ball. If the ball is medium fast, then you can as well play a pull shot off your front foot. If it is slightly faster, then you need to rock back on to your back foot to pull it ?or hook it. However, if it is real fast, like those the Australians, Dale Steyns and Fiedel Edwards bowl, then the pull or hook will hurry you up and if you are not in position fast, like a Ricky Ponting, then invariably the ball will sky high or provide some chin music or top edge behind the keeper. The worst part is, which way the ball heads is not at all in your control and this is when batting becomes betting (or gambling).
So how do the better equipped handle these balls? It is not that the Dravids and Laxmans were born heroic against the short ball – they have failed too – but they learnt from it and then re-accessed themselves and come across a solution based on their strengths and weaknesses. Tendulkar being short and having that extra time, opts for the upper cut – the safest shot yielding the best fruit, sometimes even the maximum; Dravid opts to duck, yet keeps his eyes on the ball till the last moment ensuring the bat and the body is away from the ball. His safe approaches perhaps lost him his place in the shorter format of the game, but today when you look back his methods seem better! Laxman, rolls his wrists to keep the ball down and plays a grounded pull shot – a shot that often leaves Brett Lee gaping. Pieterson, being tall, uses his height to the best effect. He climbs on his toes and lofts the ball above the infield – but into the gap.
Clearly, the best in the game have developed their own have developed their own ways to tackle their weaknesses and convert them into strengths. In the IPL, even Dravid was consistently scoring 50s off 30s in his own sweet way. But the current Indian team for the shorter versions are far away from it. They just get clueless when they see the rising ball. Their feet get stuck, neither forward nor backward, they swing their bat like a mace, connect with their edges and perish like number 11 batsmen of school teams. Their shot making is poor. If the ball is pitched up near the bat, whack they go out of the park. But if the pitch offers swing or bounce or spin – the ball goes higher, but no farther than 22 yards. It’s almost like the batsmen’s brains retard when the ball is not in their zone.
Let’s now look at the culprits’ list. Roll no 1 – Suresh Raina – once upon a time recognized by Wisden as the talent for the next decade – no matter what the format or the situation, a couple of dot balls and the adrenaline rushes. Plays a slog sweep across the wicket – doesn’t matter if the bowler is a pacer or a spinner – shot will be the same and he perishes. When India was cruising along chasing Australia’s 350 few months back, Raina threw his wicket and let Sachin alone to work out the rest. Similarly, in this T20 WC, he threw his wicket against West Indies, just when he himself scored 17 in the previous over! He gets out the same way time and again – there is no determination what so ever to improve. We made him the hero of the IPL final, but let’s not forget those dropped catches!
Roll no 2- Yusuf Pathan – He seems unable to deal with anything other than a pull pitched delivery and his story has not changed from past 2 yrs.
Roll no 3- Rohit Sharma – he’s the “married lion” of the Indian team. This analogy comes from a recently read joke which said that at a lion’s wedding a rat was found to be dancing happily and when asked the reason for his happiness, said that before his marriage he too was a lion. Rohit’s case is similar – a lion in the local circuit and a rat in the international circus! OK – now don’t point towards the 79 he made against Australia – that innings was after India had virtually lost, when no one was watching – there was no pressure on him at all. He played a similar innings against Pakistan in the warm up match before the ’09 T20 WC. But what after that? When it was needed most?
Roll no 4- Gautam Gambhir – He is the only batsman who seems to intentionally edge the ball to the keeper. A batsman with one of the finest techniques and temperaments finds the same way to get out time and again. A fine trickle to the third man which at most earns an extra run has cost him his wicket and perhaps India the game, umpteen times. Yet, the horror continues
One of the biggest problem with the Indian T20 generation is lack of application and understanding. The Indian pitches and grounds have made them believe that 6s (and not even 4s) are the only way to score in modern cricket. For all of them the release shot – the shot played to release the pressure of a couple of dot balls – is always the six. It was OK, if they could judge the ball well or make adjustments to play the ball to their strength. While hitting a six, Inzy always dances down the track, reaches close to the pitch of the ball and then bangs it hard- much safer. But the current Indian lot stay where they are – like trees with roots beneath and thoughtlessly heave the bat. They do not believe in the ability of a well placed four or a safely lofted shot or a deft late cut which can get them 2 or 3 but can still keep their wickets intact. Remember that 2 consecutive 2s equal a boundary and a dot ball, glamour apart. But generation T20 doesn’t believe in math; and neither do their selectors!