Monday, February 28, 2011

India versus England - gripping, yet flawed

As narratives go, the tie at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore between India and England was as compelling as any. The sides scored 338 runs each in a match that remained on tenterhooks for much of its duration – especially in the final over in which England needed 14 runs to secure victory – and gave this World Cup its first thriller. But let’s not get carried away in the resonance of the tale – by calling it a great game – and ignore the teams’ respective deficiencies that was, in the first place, responsible for providing the game with the grip that enraptured the viewers. No doubt, the batting from both sides made for a fantastic sight – but the plaudits must be tempered in light of the poor quality of bowling and fielding that was on display.

We watch sport for a variety of reasons and a riveting story is often what we search for. In that sense, this game fulfilled our needs – constantly remaining on a knife-edge. But when you cut through the brilliance – admittedly there was a lot of that, especially from the two centurions, Sachin Tendulkar and Andrew Strauss – you are left to grapple with lots of dismal performances in the field. Easy catches were dropped, misfields were aplenty, the lines from the bowlers – barring Tim Bresnan – were wayward and the captaincy and the field settings from both M.S. Dhoni and Strauss lacked verve and imagination. All of this, while contributing heavily to the narrative, certainly did not make for pretty viewing. So to say that the contest was ‘a perfect advertisement’ for the one-day game – which it may well be, considering the general obsession with runs – veils the quality that both teams lacked.

On current form, regardless of their batting prowess, it looks unlikely that either India or England will be in contention towards the end of the tournament. Unlike test-matches, one-day games can, no doubt, be won on the strength, purely, of a team’s batting. But World Cups tend to be different – might in a single department has never been sufficient to lift the trophy. At least England was missing Stuart Broad, who is easily its best limited overs bowler. India had no such excuses. Its bowling – barring a brief yet stirring spell from Zaheer Khan – was uninspired and consistently poor, outdone in its sloppiness only by the fielding. India must, therefore, consider the option of playing five bowlers, a buffer that is necessary on sub-continental pitches for teams lacking sufficient bowling quality – an option that is particularly viable in India’s case, considering the strength of its batting. This would, of course, mean that one of Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir or Yusuf Pathan would have to be excluded; not an easy decision by any means. But the exigency of the situation calls for a bold move and in view of the form of Kohli (not to mention his fielding skills), Yuvraj’s usefulness with the ball and Pathan’s undeniable match-winning abilities, it may well have to be Gambhir who makes way.

Gambhir is a fine one-day batsman, whose worth to the team is undeniable. Yet, in a squad filled with as many batting stars as India’s is, it is inevitable that one of them will have to miss out. India could learn from Spain’s football team, which for much of the 2010 World Cup, started without Cesc Fabregas, favouring the more defence minded Sergio Busquets in the interests of team-balance. Winning a World Cup is no easy feat. And it certainly won’t be possible if sentiment is preferred over pragmatism.

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