A Busy Week in Indian Cricket
For those of us who are interested in Cricket, this has been an interesting week. India are playing Pakistan, South Africa are hosting New Zealand and the Australians are hosting Sri Lanka. The old rivalry is a bit muted this time around, largely because India seem to play Pakistan very often. South Africa v New Zealand is one of the more interesting series in Cricket - both sides play a very similar brand of cricket. The difference in this series is that both sides have a quality spinner. Australia have just rattled up 550 against the Sri Lankans on a flat pitch at Brisbane, handing Murali his worst mauling in living memory. India's pacemen continue their woeful form. This time the beneficiary is Pakistan. Since India won the Test series in England, India's pacemen have built up the following record:
Zaheer Khan - 15 games, 14 wickets at 53.21, econ. 5.47
R P Singh - 12 games, 16 wickets at 34.75, econ. 5.58
Sreesanth - 4 matches, 9 wickets at 27.11, econ. 6.77
Irfan Pathan - 9 matches, 9 wickets at 42.22, econ. 5.29
Ajit Agarkar - 6 matches, 9 wickets at 40.77, econ. 6.92
Munaf Patel - 3 matches, 6 wickets at 23.83, econ. 6.50
Of the 17 games played, India have won 7. This inspite the fact that the batsmen have done really well including Uthappa and Gambhir - two newcomers. Will someone please ask Venkatesh Prasad what's going on?
Anil Kumble has been named Test captain. He's clearly the second choice. Tendulkar was the first choice. His refusal was expected, except by the Vengsarkar-Tendulkar-Mumbai Lobby conspiracy theorists. We have a strange situation right now - 4 persons have refused/quit the top posts in Indian Cricket this year. Chappell quit, Dravid quit, Tendulkar and Ford refused. Many more candidates whom we know nothing about have probably refused as well. So we end up with a 38 year old leg spinner with another year or so of cricket in him at the most as Test captain, and a young wicketkeeper-batsman with nothing to lose as the ODI captain. This may even bring great success. I just wonder however - why is it that so many top people think it isn't worth their while to captain or coach India?
Kumble also becomes India's first bowler captain in 31 years. This in itself will bring with it many firsts and many interesting issues for those who are interested in them. Spin bowler captains are rare - Benaud, Illingworth, Inthikab Alam, Bishen Bedi, Venkatraghavan and Daniel Vettori come to mind. There hasn't been a single one in World Cricket between Venkatraghavan and Vettori, except for stray games where spin-bowlers have been stand-in skippers. Kumble's appointment marks a milestone in the spin revival led by his generation of spin bowlers after the barren 80's. He has been a great bowler, and has the experience of over a hundred tests. He's probably one of the most respected cricketers in the world at the moment. It will be interesting to see how he handles his side in the field in a Test match. I also wonder whether Kumble will still do the nightwatchman's role if it is required. He may just tell the batsmen to deal with the music themselves!
I only wish that he hadn't been given the captaincy after Tendulkar had publicly refused it. Not because it will cause any trouble within the team - it won't, but because he will always be viewed as the second choice. BCCI might have been more tactful - Tendulkar himself might have kept his position to himself until BCCI made the announcement. What makes things even worse was Tendulkar's comment about the suitability of looking for a younger captain.
Coming back to the ongoing ODI series, we can expect more of the same from India - good batting, rubbish bowling, ordinary fielding. That the selectors have named an unchanged side for ODI's 3 and 4 suggests the futility of naming a side for just 2 ODI's in the first place, and also the lack of pace bowling options (since that would be the area where a change would be warranted). India currently possess a group of 6 or 7 pace bowlers who are all equally unpredictable, and are all just short of being good enough to command a regular place in a top international cricket team. If anything, matters have taken a turn for the worse under Venkatesh Prasad - everybody seems to be uniformly inconsistent now, and no single bowler seems to be in good form in any game. I don't remember the last time an Indian paceman was difficult to score off in an ODI.
All in all, there has been a flurry of activity this week, just like there is in the Civil Service bureaucracy. One should expect a similar maintenance of the status quo as well.