Kumble’s Swansong . Nice to read the accolades from all over the world for Anil Kumble on his retirement. More than any other Indian player, except Rahul Dravid, Kumble played for the team rather than himself and he did it with class. Perhaps his finest hour came last year during the Australian tour when he handled himself with dignity. His understated response after the Sydney Test ( “Only one team played in the spirit of the game”) struck exactly the right note and was more effective than any amount of bluster. No other Indian player could have done what he did. Perhaps his retirement could have come a little earlier. If he called it quits after the Australian tour, he could have gone out on a high note rather than suffer through the debacle in SriLanka and this last forgettable series. But who can blame him for wanting to hang in there for one last hurrah ? It is very difficult to walk away from a game that one loves – see Lance Armstrong’ s comeback plans, Michael Jordan’s repeated unretirements – and which has been one’s whole life for so long. Here’s wishing him all success in his post retirement life.
A tame draw in the third Test at Kotla. So much for the groundsman’s pre-match boast that the wicket he had prepared would be a farewell present for Kumble. Apparently, it did turn a little bit on the last day but not enough for the depleted Aussie attack to bowl India out. I remember how , thirty years ago, Kotla used to be a featherbed of a pitch which almost guaranteed a draw . Apparently, it has reverted to it’s old form. There might have been a brief glimmer of hope for India if Ishant Sharma had managed to hang on to a chance from Michael Clark when he was on 27 but I doubt that the Indian attack would have been able to bowl Australia out twice even if the fielders had caught everything that came their way.Great performance by Sehwag with the ball. I’d thought of him as the last bowling option in an ODI format ; for him to take 5 wickets was remarkable. Kumble’s delaying the declaration to allow Laxman to complete his double century has come in for some criticism but is that really fair ? I remember a Test match on the Pakistan tour a few years ago when Rahul Dravid declared with Sachin still a few runs short of his doubleton. What a firestorm of criticism there was then !! Rahul was accused of deliberately trying to undercut Sachin to prevent him from breaking some milestone that he ( Rahul) had set and , in general, there were some very nasty comments made . I think if Steve Waugh or Ricky Ponting had to make the decision they would have declared without agonising over it. The Australians have always looked to win matches and personal milestones are not a consideration. We Indians are too sentimental in this respect. In this case, perhaps Kumble could have declared earlier ( In India that would be a very tough call) , never mind Laxman’s feelings. Laxman, though a great batsman, has always been a very selfish player and I’d have no sympathy for him. However, who knows whether it would have altered the result of the Test ( I don’t think so) and one can understand the gentlemanly Kumble’s reluctance to ruffle feathers in what was his last match as captain.
When will India wise up ? The Aussies sledging tactics are aimed at the opposition players who are in form ; either they rattle the opposition or provoke a reaction that will result in a suspension. It’s instuctive that on the tour of Australia, they targeted Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma. In this series, it’s Gautam Gambhir who has been India’s most consistent batsman of late. What the Aussies do so well is to instigate , but never cross the line between what is ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ ; the Indian players lose their cool and foolishly retaliate in a way that invites suspension. I hold no brief for Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan who are a couple of hotheads and deserved what they got ; they should be cautioned by the BCCI ( in Bhaji’s case, for the second time) to tone down their act or else face banishment a la’ Sreesanth. Gambhir, though, was as much sinned against as sinning . The decision by the match referee to suspend him was unavoidable, as was the mere fine awarded to Shane Watson but the Indian team management should forcefully stress to the players where to draw the line when they retaliate to provocations.
When did ‘ defensive’ become a bad word? When Laxman and Mitchell Johnson had an altercation, Johnson was reportedly reacting to Laxman’s statement at a press conference that the Aussies had a defensive mindset. Regardless of whether he was right or wrong, I don’t think these were fighting words. They are more an indication of the Aussies frustration with the way the tour is going.
Who will be the Vice captain now that Dhoni has assumed the captaincy? None of the youngsters, except perhaps Gambhir, has cemented his place in the side yet. If appointing Tendulkar or Dravid V.C, as a stopgap measure, is not an option then it would appear that Virender Sehwag is the likely choice. Not the ideal one ; he has the requisite leadership skills but he shoots off his mouth too much. Too bad Mohammed Kaif didn’t live up to his early promise.
Time to rotate players, particularly the pacemen. If the long term goal is to challenge for the World Cup in 2011, it is time to rest some of the players from time to time, both to prevent them from breaking down AND to build up reserves and the team of the future. Otherwise, the non-stop pace of cricket ( Tests, ODI’s , IPL) is going to take a heavy toll. This is espescially true of the fast bowlers who break down under the pounding that they subject themselves to.Remember what happened to Balaji and R.P.Singh. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are magnificent but they should not be overbowled. It is also doubtful that Zaheer will still be a force in 2011; after all, he’s on the wrong side of thirty already and , even though he takes good care of himself, it is by no means sure that he’ll still be around in 2011. Why not try out some of the youngsters who shone in the IPL or the U-19 World Cup ? Or the ICL, for that matter? Time also to tell Sachin that he is not in the plans for 2011, and turn to the youngsters for his replacement. It is all very well for him to talk about seniors not getting ‘respect’ but what does that mean ? No one has a right to a place in the side no matter what his past accomplishments. It takes time to groom replacements and if seniors don’t see the handwriting on the wall they have to be nudged. In this respect, I admire the Australian approach in which players either voluntarily retire while still close to their peak ( Glen McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilcrist) or are summarily cut loose ( Steve Waugh). It’s ruthless but it’s the only way… if you want to dominate the cricketing world.
How many matches does Dhoni have to win before his detractors admit that he is a good captain , not merely a lucky one ?