Thursday, March 23, 2006

Indian Report Card

Scale Used: A = excellent, B = good, C = average, D = below average, E = bad, F = failure

Anil Kumble: A. He has been a star with both ball and bat for India in this series. If anyone rivalled Flintoff for all-round contribution, it was probably Kumble. What is abundantly clear is just how much India needs this man at his best - an India without Kumble is a frightening prospect for Indian fans.

Munaf Patel: A-. Talk about seizing your opportunity with both hands. There has been talk about Munaf and his sheer pace for a couple of years now. We found out that he doesn't really have the pace that was implied, but what he does have is heart, control, and a potentially devastating inswinging yorker. Shades of Waqar, dare I say it, and as long as he keeps working hard at his game, he can be an ever-present in this Indian attack for years to come. What's more, he's pure entertainment with a bat in hand.

Shantakumaran Sreesanth: A-. Much like Munaf, Sreesanth grabbed his chance and bowled with discipline. He's a little more prone to losing his line and length, but he has a nice little outswinger on him, and obviously has the mental fortitude to fight when the going is tough, as his 29* illustrated. I suspect he'll inherit a lot of the Balaji fans looking for their next happy hero.

Mohammad Kaif: B+. Performed with the bat when under pressure, but was not up to his usual standards in the field, and his technique in the close cordon and under the nose was exposed as somewhat comical. He will no doubt feel hard done by, after doing nothing wrong, but his chance will come, probably at the expense of VVS Laxman, and possibly even at the expense of Yuvraj Singh.

Rahul Dravid: B. As ever, Dravid was a rock with the bat, but he never went on to make the big series defining score, and faltered when his team needed him most in the final effort. Furthermore, he has to take the heat for two decisions which, even though I understand the rationale behind them, I believe were poor. Risking the series by playing a batsman short was one, and then compounding that error by bowling first was the second. The theory behind putting England in at Mohali might have been sound, but when your senior paceman is a 21 year old who bowls at 75mph, and his cohorts are in their debut series, that's asking an awful lot. Of course, it's easy to say this with hindsight.

Wasim Jaffer: B-. England regrouped after his superb return to the side, and came to Mohali and Mumbai with a plan, and his sequence of 81, 100, 31, 17, 11, 10 reflect that pretty clearly. However, an average of 40-odd is not a bad return for a man making a comeback and trying to stake a claim. As I've said before, he will hold onto his spot through the South Africa tour in December, but I'm not putting money on anything beyond that. His strokeplay is classy, and his technique far more solid than it was a few years back, but Pollock and Ntini are sure to put Jaffer to the test.

Irfan Pathan: C-. Yes, he may have done a valuable job with the bat, but he's in the side to bowl, and the lack of quality from Pathan in this series was telling. The only medium pacer on either side who performed worse was Liam Plunkett, and he was worse than Geoffrey Boycott's grandmother. I raised the point before that, apart from the hat-trick in Pakistan, Pathan has only performed with the ball in 4 Test matches, two against Zimbabwe, and two against Bangladesh. Hopefully this series will alert him and his coaches to the fact that there is a lot of work to be done. The talent is there, both technically and mentally, but it needs to be shaped. He's only 21, and I'm optimistic, but a bad series is a bad series, and that's what this one was.

Harbhajan Singh: D. The one positive Harbhajan can take out of this series is his final spell in Mumbai, and that wonderful caught and bowled. There was just a hint there that he might yet rediscover the rhythm of his best days. Other than that, he looked about as penatrative as we all thought Shaun Udal would be. Wrong on both counts, I suppose.

Piyush Chawla: D. His performance was mediocre, but young Chawla also showed glimpses of talent, most notably in his temperament, which is absolutely crucial to long term success as a spin bowler. He's had a taste, and that will hopefully have whetted his appetite - he probably has a couple of years in which to establish himself as the successor to Anil Kumble. God knows India need him to come good.

Yuvraj Singh: E. He reverted to type, after flattering to deceive in Pakistan. He certainly played some exquisite shots, including a stellar straight drive off Jimmy Anderson on the final day of the series, but I'm still not certain if he's got Test match quality stamped on him. He will rightfully start in the Carribbean, but another poor series could see the likes of Kaif and Raina leapfrog him in the pecking order. What he needs to do is figure out how to bring some consistency to his Test match game.

Virender Sehwag: E. England had him completely sorted out as far as his batting was concerned, and he was even slower than usual in the field. Sehwag needs to go back to the drawing board before the Indians go to South Africa at the end of the year - in fact, even on the slow West Indian pitches of late, it looks like Edwards and co. will be challenge enough. Another poor series, and his automatic place will be under serious threat. He escapes the F only because of his 76* at Mohali.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni: E. He was lucky to get the one half-century that he did, and he illustrated at Mumbai why many question his ability to serve India well in the longer form of the game. His keeping standards also fluctuated through the series, and he missed a couple of sitters. Parthiv Patel will probably tour the West Indies as Dhoni's understudy, and I wouldn't be surprised if the roles are reversed by the time the team goes to South Africa in the winter.

Sachin Tendulkar: F. It's intriguing to see Sachin struggle now that he is no longer the sole focus of the team, and is not under immense pressure every time he walks out to the middle. Paradoxical as it sounds, he almost appears to be under even more pressure now that he's not. My speculation is really neither here nor there, but perhaps what we're learning these last couple of years is that the man is in fact human. It's pretty much mandatory for genius to be flawed - just look at Brian Lara. Whether Indian cricket can live with that is another question. I expect that he'll be back, and we'll find out whether it's one last hurrah that culminates in a great tour of South Africa and a big World Cup, or whether it goes on as this Indian side rebuilds for the future.

VVS Laxman: F. A little harsh perhaps, given that he faced but one delivery in the series, but then again, it's only his own fault that he didn't face more. One wonders where his career will go from here - he's not a player who has responded well to being in and out of the side, although his skills in the slips alone may ensure that he's on the plane to the Caribbean. If he doesn't perform there however, it is almost certainly the end of the road.

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