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Monday, August 18, 2014

England Tour 2014 - Stop the focus on Dhoni alone!

During the last few tests of the disastrous 2014 test series against England, the Indian team has been facing a lot of criticism - none more than its captain MS Dhoni. Is Dhoni the only person to be blamed? What about the others? Who is to be blamed for the debacle? Let us take a unbiased review of what transpired before and during this series?
  • Let us look at the experience of the Indian team that toured England. The overall experience of the team is shown below - Batting charts of the Indian team shown below (Remember that these are numbers on their entire test career so far, after Oval test)
    Note that these numbers include the performances of the latest test series. Chet Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane stand out in this list with an average of 55+ during their first class career (49+ and 39+ in their test career). Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir average 47+ in their First-class career(39+ and 42+ in tests). There do not exist any other Indian batsmen who can replace them. There were no issues in selecting them - they had performed well in recent tours and tournaments (Gambhir in IPL). Everyone was happy with the team (and so far I have not heard about anyone asking these folks to be removed, Gambhir being the exception). If you look at the tests played by the Indian team overall, 61% of the tests have been played by MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma. Ishant missed two tests and Gambhir three - that means that Dhoni was the lone experienced player in the Indian team. In this team, how many had played tests in England earlier? None other than these!
    Bowling charts 
    The bowling attack is much less experienced compared to the batting. Zaheer Khan was missing from the team after being dropped from the New Zealand squad. Ishant and Ashwin contribute to 89% of the wickets taken by the Indian team overall! Again, Ishant didnt play in two matches while Ashwin missed three. At Southampton, Bhuvi was the most experienced bowler from the Indian team - how many tests has he played? 11 including the 5 tests from this series! 
  • Now, consider the performances during this test series:  How did the Indian players fare?
    Batting charts of the Indian team during the five-test series
    Overall, the team faced a grand 5000 balls during the 5 test series (10 innings to be precise) averaging 500 balls per innings. This means that on average, the team collapsed after the second new ball was picked up. The number is high thanks to the first two tests - the last three tests were what we all know - disastrous. A princely total of 17 scores were made (hundreds and fifties combined) with Dhoni, Vijay, Rahane and Bhuvi being the most impressive. Rahane's form deserted altogether in last two tests! 
    Bowling charts from the Investec Series - Other than Bhuvi and Ishant, no one impressed in this series. Jadeja picked up wickets in four tests but did not match the exploits of Moeen Ali (against supposedly better batsmen of spin). Pankaj Singh and Shami picked up few wickets but their averages and strike rates did not help the Indian team's cause (with Bhuvi at one end).
    Typically, one notices that 2-3 team members have a great series outperforming their colleagues as well as their own overall form. Nothing of that sort happened here other than Bhuvi and Ishant with the ball. What was the end-result? Losses by an innings, 3rd continuous test series lost, Bowled out for 90+, five continuous scores of less than 200. More such statistics can be found here.
  • There was a good announcement of Rahul Dravid being made the batting consultant but that was limited only till the start of the first test match. Why? Dravid had a commitment to do commentary for Star Sports (who are the sponsors for the Indian attire). Could there have been no compromise done to ensure that Dravid could continue being the consultant with the Indian team? Can this arrangement be thought of earlier to the Aussie tour so that there is someone throughout the series? Doubtful!
  • When was the last time India played a five-test series? Long, long ago! It is very harsh to expect the team to play a five test series over the span of 42 days without any break on overseas swinging conditions when they have been playing three test series (or even two-tests) in recent days! Why was such a series planned in the first place? To fill ECB coffers?
  • How many players have experience of English conditions? How many players from the Indian team play county cricket? After Murali Karthik, none! Why? They do not have permission from the Indian board, not only in England but also in any of the other T20 leagues as well. What are the juniors doing when the senior team is away in summer? Why can they not contract to play with English counties and gain experience? Why cant a Murali Vijay get a contract to continue in England after the test series? Will the team have a similar experience during the next tour as well as they would not have any exposure to such conditions for the next 2-3 years? Sachin, Rahul and VVS have gone on record stating the help such county stints helped with their careers. If it helped them, why are the current crop of players not provided such opportunities?
  • Luck also played its part in this series. When the pitch was good for batting (3rd test), Dhoni lost the toss and Cook & Co. made the Indians pay. The 4th test when he had to insert the opposition after winning the toss (or losing the toss so that Cook would have batted), he made the decision to bat. What happened? In the 47th over, India were all out for 152. It was downhill from there. Similarly, in the same test, the Indians could not last the final session on third day and it rained for two days in Manchester. If only the session had been saved, the Indians could have reached Oval even in the series.
  • Catches were dropped in the slip-cordon. A number of dropped chances meant that the bowlers were not getting rewarded for their toils. Remember that the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman used to man this cordon and they are hard to replace overnight. Players have been tried out and shuffled around but very clearly it is not working. Ravindra Jadeja not only helped Anderson focus better with his altercation but also helped Cook recover his batting form (by dropping him in the first hour on a flat track) and guided his team make a remarkable comeback in the series.
  • DRS factor. While the Indian team is against the DRS, it does not justify the umpiring howlers that have been witnessed in this series. It does not mean that if you dont support DRS, you should suffer the injustice from the umpires? Two wrongs is definitely not the answer, right?
  • Dhoni, the batsman. Dhoni was the best batsman on view in terms of runs scored and retaining the team's composure during the series many times. He came to the crease at 112-5 (2nd innings in 3rd test), 8-4 and 61-4 (4th test), 28-4 and 45-4 (5th test). He was not elegant but made his best with his technique and temperament to guide the team to decent, if not respectable scores.
  • Dhoni, the wicket-keeper. Other than couple of chances where MSD did not go for the ball when it went between him and Dhawan at first slip, there was hardly an opportunity that he let go. His keeping was never been remarkable but always effective. Obviously, there is no thought of replacing him as a keeper.
  • Dhoni, the captain. Agreed that there were few areas where Dhoni slipped as a captain. His reluctance to keep a third-man was baffling (though he was not alone - Cook did the same mistake). His captaincy was questionable in terms of selection of bowling attack at critical moments in the test (but just remember the experience of his attack that we described above in this post). Dhoni had an inexperienced team that did not have much experience with conditions (even the ball used was new to the team) - what he could do with the team is what was the final outcome. But, blaming him for the debacle is not right. There were other factors that affected the series as well - not Dhoni alone. MSD also has to be given credit for the victory at Lords when he pushed Ishant to bowl the short balls. Also, he is supportive of his players in public - he keeps repeating the term that the team is learning by its experience and the focus on process continues. Though the scene in dressing room might be different, it is good management skills on MSD to keep the 'bashings' private!
After the last tour, I had written my own post-mortem here. If you read this, the first comment you will have is that nothing much has changed from then to now. I think we will not make any changes now also. What then will happen in Australia later this year? More of the same? Afraid so. Till then, let us stop Dhoni-bashing - I am not a fan of Dhoni but I just wanted to ensure that we take a holistic picture rather than an individual. Give him and his team some time and the performances will start. Hope you agree.
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