Opening loss a wake-up call for Team India

One of the joys of watching T20 unfold is the realisation that wickets count. Eighteen months ago you wouldn’t have dreamt of hearing a captain say that keeping wickets in hand is important.....

Written by Harsha Bhogle | Published:February 27, 2009 11:31 pm

One of the joys of watching T20 unfold is the realisation that wickets count. Eighteen months ago you wouldn’t have dreamt of hearing a captain say that keeping wickets in hand is important. But there you are,the game evolves and with it our knowledge! That is also the reason why numbers five and six are becoming critical in a T20 line up. Solid players there allow the first three the option of taking the odd liberty with the bowling aware that there will not be a slide that sees the team six down with eight overs to play. And yet five and six must also be able to produce the big shots in the end. From that point of view alone it made sense to send Rohit Sharma at number four allowing two inventive players in Yuvraj and Dhoni to man the crucial positions. If,on another day,the top three have batted through to over number ten,these two can move one number up.

Unfortunately though,Rohit Sharma,a wonderful talent,seems to have lost his way a bit these days. It is nothing that a now-indulgent now-stern elder brother cannot fix for sometimes a kick up the back side is the best present you can receive. He is a very gifted young man but sometimes possession of such gifts in abundance can be a hindrance. Irfan Pathan,meanwhile,occupies a slightly different position on the spectrum. He is a very resourceful cricketer but his resources are drying up alarmingly. Swing and nip,his building blocks,are deserting him. He will continue to have his days because he is a thinking cricketer but I suspect captains would be happier having him in a six bowler regime rather than as one of five alone.

This will be a wake-up call for India and I will be very surprised if New Zealand aren’t up against a slightly different Indian team; not in terms of personnel but approach. I hope though that the ground authorities in Wellington reduce the temptation to bring the boundaries in. It is,and will always be,the greatest obstacle to the spectacle of T20 cricket. A bowler has to be able to bowl to a deep set field and challenge the batsman to go over the top. The moment we get into a six-on-demand situation,we are in trouble because it means one of the facets of the game,bowling,is being undermined. The ball and the bat must have an equal chance.

That is why the Test match at Karachi was such a shame. At the end of Day Four,no more than twelve wickets had fallen and that cannot be good for the game. Ironically,while the Test match was on,the men who control the game were debating how to preserve Test cricket. The need to protect and promote Test cricket was agreed upon,signed and delivered. Done. Onto the next item! I think we undervalue the quality of the contest in Test cricket if we need to protect and promote it. Instead if we took care of the one key component,the pitches,most other things would take care of themselves. Test cricket is a beautiful,drawn-out contest between bat and ball that brings into its fold so many variables,not the least character and adaptability,but at its heart it is a contest. If the ball or bat is rendered impotent,Test cricket loses its identity,its core. At Karachi,Test cricket was denied that contest and a lot of people would have been told that it is no more than a wasteful exercise; which it really was.

There is a simple solution. History tells us that every time there are stringent deterrents,crime is reduced. Why look at the drastic fall in the number of no-balls in T20 cricket. If staging associations are heavily fined everytime they produce a pitch that numbs the contest between bat and ball,maybe a hundred thousand dollars,I have no doubt that we will see a significant drop in the number of spurious pitches. Maybe that money can go into a promotion pool or into a localised charity so that the sins of a city are used to benefit other parts of it!

Meanwhile we await Wellington.

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