Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Maestro Roars again

PERFECT PARTNER: Sachin Tendulkar (right) guided Yuvraj Singh all along during their match-winning partnership.
Sachin showed why he is God of cricket. Why he is worshipped in India.
It turned out to be one of the best Test matches Chennai has ever seen. The tied Test against Australia might be the most memorable because of the rare result but this encounter will be remembered for the fantastic run chase and brilliant performances by the Indian heroes.
For Sachin Tendulkar, this match was a final answer to his persistent critics who have always insisted that he gets cold feet in the fourth innings. In the Chennai Test, he played not just as an anchor but also as a mentor. Holding the innings together at one end, he was also a calming influence on Yuvraj Singh. The Test also witnessed a powerful statement from Yuvraj whose suitability for the five-day version was doubted by almost everyone. With Tendulkar’s calm and restraining influence, Yuvraj refused to be baited by Andrew Flintoff in the second innings.
By doing this, Yuvraj showed his maturity as a player and his ability to learn from his earlier error. Their partnership made the almost impossible run chase a reality, especially after Virender Sehwag set it up so brilliantly.If the thrilling run chase made the match exciting, the abysmal spin bowling made me cringe. While it augurs well that the Indian pace attack looks in good health, it is alarming to find that the spinners are unable to make the necessary adjustments. Harbhajan Singh looked lost without Anil Kumble to support him at the other end. He needs to realise that it is up to him now as a senior player to guide novices like Amit Mishra. The Indian spinners were unable to even extract as much spin as Greame Swann.
The biggest mistake Harbhajan committed was in trying to bowl quicker through the air. The batsmen were able to take advantage of the pace, and simply guided the ball through the gaps for runs. Harbhajan was not willing to flight the ball much either. Main weapons
When India was bowling in the second innings, the spinners also failed to take advantage of the foot marks. By doing this, they negated the two main weapons a spinner has in his arsenal —deceiving a batsman through flight and bamboozling him with spin. The Indian spinners need to understand that as the wicket slows down, the length needs to be fuller to compensate for the slowness of the wicket. A little retrospection is always good even after such a historic win. What we take away from the field after a game is sometimes more important than what happened on it. Our strengths have to be applauded and weaknesses analysed. Only through this can we build a team that will win consistently

What went wrong for the Englishmen?
Dejection swept through the English ranks even as Chepauk erupted in joy. Kevin Pietersen’s men had come up short at the crunch. England did not believe it could actually win a Test from a position of dominance. The side lacked the ruthlessness that teams familiar with winning possess. It was an ordinary Test for Pietersen as captain. Tactically, he was found wanting. England neither attacked, nor did it strangulate. After Virender Sehwag’s blitzkrieg on Sunday, England had to bowl India out on the last day to clinch the first Test. Logically, if the Indian innings prolonged, the host was bound to win at some point after tea.
What went wrong with the English strategy?
In fact, little went right for the side after the third day. The team dug a hole for itself.
Winning is often about sending a strong message to the adversary. In the last session on day three, Andrew Strauss collected his runs with typical efficiency and Paul Collingwood was refreshingly positive against the spinners. At that point, India was down for the count on a brown, dusty pitch with dark patches on either side.Too defensive
Ideally, England should have forced the pace when play resumed. Instead, Strauss and Collingwood blocked and blocked. Was this a side striving to go 1-0 up in a two-Test series?
Watching the proceedings, one would have assumed that here was a team seeking to draw the Test. Then, after a lengthy and rather aimless exercise in batting, England lost a cluster of wickets in quick time.England had lost the mental edge. This was the beginning of the turnaround.
What followed was worse. England had got its strategy dead right against Virender Sehwag in the first innings. The pacemen bowled very close to the off-stump and got the ball to move from a straight-line. Cramped for room, Sehwag perished early.In the circumstances, it was incomprehensible why Sehwag was provided so much width by the pacemen — Steve Harmison in particular — in the second innings. The plan to nail Sehwag on his strength was a flawed one since the punishing batsman grows in confidence with every stroke. Then, Pietersen asked his premier spinner Monty Panesar — the spearhead in these conditions — to bowl a negative outside-the-leg-stump line from over-the-wicket. From a psychological perspective, the ploy hurt England. The move suggested the hunter was becoming the hunted.Aiding the spinners
The pitch did not deteriorate into a minefield, but there was definite assistance for the spinners at Chepauk. On a surface of this kind, a left-arm spinner bowling round-the-wicket can be a dangerous proposition. He can spin the ball away or make it come in with the arm at the right-hander. Ironically, Pietersen himself had been consumed by an arm-ball from occasional left-arm spinner Yuvraj in the second innings.

Mentally, Panesar had to switch from an attacking mode to one of containment. He was never the same bowler again. Panesar was told to adopt similar tactics against Sachin Tendulkar on the decisive final day; this diminished the spinner further. Spin bowlers need to settle into a rhythm and they have to be backed by their captain. In the event, Panesar bowled poorly.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann operated with greater purpose at the other end — he got the ball to spin sharply from the rough — but Panesar’s uninspired bowling undermined him as well.
On surfaces of this kind, the spinners work in tandem. In other words, pressure has to be created from either end.
Pietersen’s field placements were disappointing as well. The deep set field meant the singles were being conceded too easily. Had the singles been blocked, the batsmen might have been forced to drive the fuller length balls off the front-foot. On a pitch where the ball was not quite coming on to the bat, there was every chance of a drive being miscued into the inner cordon.
Perhaps, Yuvraj Singh could have been tested by short-pitched deliveries from the pacemen at the beginning of his innings. Yuvraj is not the best players of spin, but then a left-handed batsman generally copes well with a left-arm spinner. Swann from one end and Andrew Flintoff from the other early on against Yuvraj might have worked for England.


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