Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Blind man's buff

Let me bring it on straight up.

Indian cricket in my view, does not know what it is missing out on when it continues to ignore Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma in the India Test Team.

There. I said it.

If I need to be reached for any feedback on that statement, I am all ready, deep under my cot curled in a fetal pose, protecting my head and family jewels!

But seriously, I kid you not.

Cricket, from a batting perspective, is theoretically standard across all formats of the game - Tests, T20s, One day Internationals; after all, in all three, a batsmen has a bat in his hand, and is expected to clobber a round leathery object hurled at him. What difference then, eh? 

But is it that simple? Really?

What then explains some people playing one format of the game better than others? Cricketing history is littered with innumerable examples where players have been pegged at being better at one format than others. Among them, Michael Beven could be the more starker of examples, having played a mere 18 test matches, vis-a-vis a vastly disproportionate 232 One day matches !

Certain parameters, far too many to be discussed in detail in one page, go towards creating this differential ability. Briefly then, for one, physical ability. Speed between wickets, strength to slog good balls and deposit it in the stands, tend to favor a batsman's case for selection in the shorter formats. For another, one's outlook in life - the 'need for speed' or glamour, vis-a-vis, the pride of a professional : ability to play the 'ultimate game' can play a part. If choices need to be made by the player between one format or the other, that most important parameter of all, money, is no trifling consideration.

Another important distinction which makes some players fitter for one format over others, I suspect, is the mind. Courage and mental fortitude - the guts and gumption to face the barrage of short pitched deliveries which come at you in test matches, the ability to concentrate for seemingly interminable hours, the ability to see the big picture ( for eg. 'allow one hour' to the opposition and encash the rest), the burning desire to be simply, the best in your profession, the ability to keep on learning and improving, especially after the opposition's Kasparov beating computers have sorted you inside-out, including your inner wear preferences possibly, the ability to take a few insults (and dare I say, give back as good?) and indulge in the mind-games and mental disintegration, and such Sun-Tzu worthy terms.

Put it simply, when it comes to test matches (and conversely and equally, for the limited over formats) some people have it, and some don't.  To be perfectly fair and charitable in this free-market and IPL-ised economy, some people want to (and choose), and some people don't. Fair enough, for as they say, judge me not until you have walked in my shoes.  

Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, and VVS Laxman. Three fascinating players. Three elegant players. Three players with ability to play the horizontal bat shots, so important for test matches. Three players with seemingly enough time with them after the bowler has bowled a ball, to pause, contemplate life in flashback, extrapolate its futuristic possibilities, make plans for a pleasant evening, and then almost as an afterthought, decide that it will also be a nice thing to do if they get on to the front foot and wrist the ball pitched outside off, goodbye past square leg. These are supremely talented cricketers, make no mistake.

Let us not now then, at least for now, get into trifling little issues about how many chances these gentlemen have already enjoyed, and such minutiae.

I reproduce below, the batting records of these gentlemen, as of date.

Batting averages

Domestic Cricket
International Cricket

3 / 5 day cricket
5 day cricket

As is evident, the domestic records of these gentlemen indicate batting averages of between 22 to 36 for limited overs cricket. 

22 to 36. For limited overs cricket, if you allow me to repeat. 

The domestic records for these very gentlemen, for the larger format of the game? 52 to 62. Fifty two to sixty two runs per innings batted.

Admittedly, the longer format of the game allows more time to bat, and hence, the possibility for better averages. But any one-day player (especially in domestic matches) averaging from 22 to 36, would by most standards, fall in the category of underperformers. Correspondingly, anyone in the longer format (notwithstanding the deader than dodo Indian pitches) averaging close to 60, could with some merit view himself as a good player, at the very least, in certain conditions.

So what is the message for us here, especially the 22 to 36 range? Could it err, be that these gentlemen have been in the past, very poor players in that particular format, and do not deserve selection at the national level in those formats?

Laxman, bless the selectors souls', was finally recognized for his brilliance in a particular sphere and his limitations in the others (even if such recognition came after 86 ODIs), and consistently chosen for the test side, and test side alone.

Why then do we bracket Rahane and Sharma differently, constantly select them into the T20 and One day teams basis their excellent long-format records, and then duly proceed to fry and crucify them for their indifferent performances; in areas which are not their core competency?  If numbers don't lie, and over a long term, they seldom do, these numbers seem to be screaming out at the top of their lungs, 'Hey, I told you that I don't play ODIs and T20s really good; But tell you what, I play one mean game in the longer format. Friend, I am a Test match special'! 

Why then are we doing ourselves a grave disservice by selecting them for - in my view - blink-and-miss and giggle-and-hit T20s and ODIs?  

It is nobody's case that these gentlemen just have to pad up, and will promptly hit double hundreds in test matches. 

But by ignoring the facts, and not giving them a fair run in tests, why are we choosing to be blind?