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India needs three-dimensional players

By Bob Woolmer
April 20, 2005 16:38 IST
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One of the great things about cricket is that it stimulates debate. It is the sort of game where no one really knows if they are right or wrong when they assess teams or individuals. After conceding the lead in the Test series against Pakistan, and then again losing their way against a Pakistan team in the One-day Internationals, naturally pundits, critics, coaches will ask the question: why, to India.

Indeed, my guess is that it was caused by a multitude of factors, one being that Pakistan played as a team and all contributed, and that the side seemed to have a better game plan.

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Of course, this is pure speculation, as I do not sit with the Indian team and discuss these things. I am only able to comment from our perspective as the opposition.

I am often asked what I think of the Indian team. In fact, someone asked me the other day, can India win the 2007 World Cup? So much can, and will, take place between now and the World Cup that the only answer is that India have the same chance as most other teams in the competition.

India's performance in the last World Cup in South Africa was interesting. They were unheralded before the tournament started, for reasons I am unable to explain. They have on paper a batting line up that rivals Australia's, both in ability and talent. Yet, following their World Cup performance, they have been unable to sustain that momentum and, probably, as I write, have regressed slightly.

With a batting line-up boasting of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, most of us would agree that they would never be short of runs. Apart from the Delhi chase, on a pitch not fit for One-Day International cricket, they stacked up the runs heavily against us in the just-concluded series. So why did they fall from a 2-0 lead to concede the series?

My opinion is this: most modern day limited-overs sides have at least five frontline bowlers, usually six. South Africa, in the 90s, they had seven. This allows for flexibility in strategy and tactics. They also have an interesting problem that they have three very fine left-arm bowlers, but like right arm bowlers bowling over the wicket the ball ends up going wide of the off stump and the modern one-day player will latch onto any width.

I thought Ajit Agarkar's inclusion and his ability to cramp the right-hander with reverse swing gave India more options. Interestingly, Laxmipathy Balaji to me is a Test match bowler, not a one-day bowler, as he also tends to give too much room outside the off stump.

Another area where India will have to look at the make-up of the team will be in the fielding department; Mohammed Kaif stands out, but it looks pretty pedestrian apart from Tendulkar, who is a great all-round cricketer.

The batting I do not think is a problem as the ability to score heavily is always there.

One thing that really struck me though was a lot depended on Dravid to do the donkey work in the middle, taking the ones and twos. It seemed that the individual roles were blurred. I hasten to add here that I am not privy to their meetings but I guess the instructions are pretty much play your natural game; Rahul you bat through; Kaif you pressurise them later with running between the wickets etc. All teams have that.

However, if either Tendulkar or Sehwag were to bat through the innings instead of blasting together then India would have a great advantage. Yuvraj Singh is a fine player whose form has not come to the fore in this series. He has not had that much opportunity to bat for long periods, but it is these strategic areas that India were unable to put together, or that is how it seemed to me!

In the Test match arena it is similar -- runs are very rarely the problem, but it is containing and pressurising the opposition with a balanced attack.

Whether they like it or not, the side needs to find an all-rounder with the capabilities of an Andrew Flintoff, Shaun Pollock or Jacques Kallis. I suspect that most sides would crave that. I have always believed that in order to win One-Day Internationals it is important to have three-dimensional cricketers in the team, but not bits and pieces players.

I suspect that with the depth they have, India can put together many combinations. Despite V V S Laxman being not included in the one-day side, batting was never a problem. I was very impressed by S Sriram at Hyderabad as he is a quick singles and twos man, hits the ball hard and is a brilliant fielder, completely three-dimensional.

Irfan Pathan looks like he can bat. He might be encouraged to be used at seven with a specific role. In M S Dhoni India have found a good all-round cricketer and as he improves he will be a very important part of their One-day side.

Yes, I think India can win the World Cup but I also think Pakistan can! I suspect Australia think they can too! Don't forget the other teams as well!

The most important part of any debate is concrete facts not hypothesis. As I said, cricket is just the sort of sport where no one will ever be one hundred per cent correct. But it is fun to speculate and hope that your team plays better on the day than the opposition!

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Bob Woolmer
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