Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dhoni's view of India's weaknesses

His comments to the press after India's loss to Australia at Brisbane are stunning. Does M S Dhoni really believe that the reason to not play India's 3 senior batsmen is that they will cost India 20 extra runs in the field? This is remarkably narrow minded. As if runs are only leaked because of bad fielding. Here's more than 20 runs that India would not have conceded had their bowler's not delivered rank long hops. Every bowler will get it wrong occasionally, but the number of runs that India conceded by bowling it short and wide, or merely short, to be square cut or pulled - those are the worst, and most easily avoidable kinds of runs that a side can concede. Basically, those are gifts, free hits - where there is nearly zero risk of dismissal on a good wicket with reasonably predictable bounce and carry. A batsman won't be bowled, won't be LBW, won't be caught at the wicket because the bat is not vertical, unless he's horribly unlucky.

Vinay Kumar and Irfan Pathan are not quick enough to bowl short at the Australian batsmen on these wickets. They also lack Zaheer guile. Zaheer's speed statistics may look similar to Vinay Kumar's, but through out the Test series and even more generally, when he bowls the short ball he really bends his back and the short ball rises to the batsman's throat. It should not be news to India that Vinay Kumar and Irfan Pathan are not quick enough to bowl short pitched stuff!

Commentary from Cricinfo. I'm not even counting the half-volleys that India's bowlers bowled early in the innings, or the length balls that Vinay Kumar bowled in the slog, just the rank long hops:

36.2 Vinay Kumar to MEK Hussey, FOUR, slapped that! Drops it short of a length from round the wicket, sits up nicely for Hussey to bludgeon that in front of square on the on side

36.3 Vinay Kumar to MEK Hussey, FOUR, making good use of the vacant spaces here Hussey, short and wide outside off this time and Hussey rolls his wrists and cuts wide of backward point

10.4 Pathan to Warner, FOUR, banged away. A bit of a sissy start this for Irfan. No pace, no movement, it sits up pleasantly outside off stump and Warner shows it the way to the cover boundary.

40.1 Pathan to Forrest, FOUR, if Irfan drops it short at that pace, he's asking for trouble, Forrest fetches that from the off stump and clubs it over midwicket

22.1 Yadav to Forrest, FOUR, 142.5 kph, not the best of starts, short and wide and Forrest carves it over cover point, looked a touch risky at first

38.1 Yadav to MEK Hussey, FOUR, he's gifted a half volley on the pads and he moves across and clips it down to fine leg, used the pace of the ball there

38.3 Yadav to MEK Hussey, FOUR, 141 kph, too short by Yadav, sits up nicely for Hussey as he swivels and plays the short-arm pull over square leg

4.6 Khan to Warner, FOUR, 85.7 mph, At long last, the first four of the day. Zaheer loses his line and strays down the leg side. Warner is inside the line and just helps it along to fine leg.

29.2 Sharma to MEK Hussey, FOUR, 56.5 mph, short and pulled! Hussey rocks back at the crease and clubs it over midwicket

I think Dhoni is right when he says that India can't afford to use Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Zaheer and Ashwin in the same XI, fielding wise. He's right because this imposes a structural limitation to how well India can do in the field. But by that same count, can India afford to play Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav and Irfan Pathan in the same XI? Aren't the first two known to be erratic? Does that not impose a structural limit to the amount of control India will exert in the field?

The best way to hide Tendulkar at mid-wicket, is to have bowlers who will bowl on one side of the wicket and require the batsman to use some risky improvisation to hit the ball into the leg side. Or, the best way to hide Zaheer Khan at short third man to the off spinner to have an off spinner who rarely (and by that I mean, once in 10 overs) allows the batsman to square cut him!

India's problems, contrary, amazingly, to Dhoni's opinion, do not lie in the fielding. India just won a world cup with a playing XI that included Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Munaf Patel and Zaheer Khan!

If you compare Munaf Patel and Umesh Yadav - the net control that Munaf gives his captain is probably greater than Umesh Yadav. Umesh Yadav is the better fielder, but Munaf makes fewer unforced errors while bowling and have far greater control.

In an ODI side, India should always pick Munaf Patel ahead of an inferior bowler who may fielder better than Munaf. They should do this if they want to concede fewer runs! The problem gets worse on bigger grounds, because a bowler who can't bowl to his field exposes a far greater portion of the field to the batsman than a bowler who can bowl to his field.

Basically, any time you see a batsman pulling (but not hooking) or square cutting, that means that the bowler has made an unforced errors. It is possible to bowl short as an attacking ploy - just look at Hilfenhaus's short deliveries yesterday, they were aimed at the body with venom. But India's bowlers don't have that kind of control.

So as brilliant as M S Dhoni is in the limited overs game, I have to disagree with his emphasis on the fact that the senior batsmen will concede 20 extra runs in the field. His bowlers concede many many more. But then again, maybe he knows that and can't bring himself to say it.


  1. You do realise that we could have pace bowlers with better control & still have the fielding problem, right?

  2. Of course.... no team is perfect. Every team has some short coming somewhere. There's isn't a team in the world whose fast bowlers are all as good as Ambrose or Steyn, whose spinners are as good as Murali or Warne, and whose 10 fielders are as good as Rhodes or Ponting in their prime, while batting as well as Tendulkar at his best.

    The point is about quality of fielding being marginal compared to quality of bowling. If fielding is costing India 20 runs, bad bowling is costing them 60....

  3. Three points:
    1. Dhoni was asked specifically about fielding (I believe) so he talked about the quality of his senior fielders. Is the solution for Dhoni to shoehorn a discussion of the bowlers in to every discuss.
    2. He's stuck with the bowlers he has. He isn't (necessarily) stuck with the fielders.
    3. Finally, you are confusing what Dhoni knows to be true (that his bowling options are limited) and what Dhoni says in a press conference. What he says to the press is messaging-- to the media, to the senior players and to the youngsters on the bench.

  4. Dhoni bhai just think it once....!!!!

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  6. Going back in history. VVS was playing ODIs. He was a good batsman esp starting in the power play (eg Aus 2004), but had the tendency of feast or famine. When he was out for single digits, the team was starting with a negative run count and invariably suffered.

    VVS was just one example. Last Triseries in Aus (2008), India replaced Dravid and Ganguly, & benched Sehwag. They managed victories, with contributions from top order (esp Gambhir, Sachin in finals) and the lower order (Yuvraj, Dhoni, Pathan, etc). In the finals, IIRC scores of around 220 were set and chased. India won the Triseries for the first time!!! (In the previous Triseries - 2004- India had been humiliated in the finals, much the 7th ODI defeat; that too with all the 'legendary' players around. IIRC there were plenty of run-outs, with MO guys were laughably getting stuck -clueless on how to rotate!! - whilst chasing 300+). (Bowling was also terrible - Balaji, Pathan, Agarkar, etc).

    Match in last Asia Cup (v Pak in league stage, when Pak was KO'ed). Pak had a good partnership - perhaps 150/2 in 25 overs- when out of blue Jadeja got a brilliant run out (he was bowling IIRC). Pak struggled to around 260ao. India won a tight and exciting match ending with Harby's six. India won the Asia Cup.

    Sehwag - a run-out king. During his 200+ innings he mindlessly ran-out two set batsmen. Both were looking good on a flat deck. IIRC, it was Sehwag's only good inngs v WI, but 2 guys lost their wickets pre-maturely.

    >> If you want to win matches it is important for the ageing slow guys to come up with very good performances (like VVS's feasts). Otherwise, the team will be murdered. There is always pressure in spite of a good start, ie. no easy chases.

    >> If you want to win finals, the team need a Praveen Kumar special (4-for) and/or other tight or wicket-taking spells. Run-out prove essential when looked back. Also, hope to get the other team out for much less than max of 240- 250.

    >> India won their first Triseries on Australian soil by dumping the ageing, too-big-to-drop batsmen.

    Good read on 7th ODI:

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