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April 8, 1998


Taylor's travails; Dravid's dilemma

send this story to a friend Prem Panicker

Dravid's dilemma

Chairman of the national selectors Kishen Rungta made a rather striking comment while releasing the team for the upcoming Coca Cola Cup in Sharjah.

Actually, he made two. The first concerns the reason for picking Harvinder Singh over Debashish Mohanty. On the flatter tracks of Sharjah, says Rungta, Harvinder will get more pace than Mohanty.

The wisdom of that statement somehow escapes me. I mean, flatter tracks, or so I believed, blunt a bowler's pace. The ball comes on easier to the bat. And therefore the extra yard of pace Harvinder has over Mohanty -- not that there is any empirical evidence of this -- doesn't seem to make a difference. I mean, we are not, here, picking a quick bowler over a medium pacer, merely one medium pacer over another.

On the other hand, when the track is flatter, what matters more is movement, both in the air and off the track. And those who have seen both these bowlers in action will agree that Mohanty with his action has pronounced natural outswing, besides cut off the seam both ways, while Harvinder is more the straight, line and length bowler with minimal movement either in the air or off the wicket.

All of which is why I find the logic of this particular pick rather puzzling -- more so when it is sought to be justified on the "flat tracks" lines.

The other statement refers to Rahul Dravid. "We have told him to improve his method of scoring," says Rungta.

That statement, taking in conjunction with earlier ones to the effect that Dravid is being dropped from the one day squad because, in selectorial judgement, he is found to be too slow, seems to indicate that the selectors in their collective wisdom want Dravid to go slam-bang, in the Tendulkar-Jadeja mould.

Again, I don't propose to argue a case for Dravid's inclusion in the one day squad, here. Not because there are no arguments. But because they have all been made, and far more eloquently than I can manage, by the likes of Ravi Shastri, Sunil Gavaskar, Ian Chappell, and Kapil Dev among others -- who, between them, can be presumed to know a lot more about cricket than I, or the national selectors, do.

One problem appears to be that in the perception of fans and selectors alike, instant cricket is merely a matter of going out there and hitting at everything that comes your way. A sign of the times, I guess. And going by that sign, I wonder, if this lot of selectors were picking the Sri Lankan team, whether they would have had a place in it for Asanka Gurusinghe for the 1996 World Cup, or for Roshan Mahanama now? Neither of those are slam-bam batsmen -- rather, they concentrate on holding an end up, ensuring there is no collapse, and allowing their free-stroking colleagues, Jayasuriya, Aravinda, Ranatunga et al, the luxury of going flat out without worrying about safeguarding their wickets.

But that thinking, today, is seen as old fashioned. We need a succession of guys who can score boundaries at will, seems to be the commonly held notion of one day team composition. So be it.

I do hope, however, that Dravid wasn't listening to Rungta's words of wisdom. And that he has no intention of changing his style of batting -- even if that obduracy means he doesn't play one day cricket again.

Because what this most strongly puts me in mind of is Sanjay Manjrekar. Remember the gent? They called him the classicist. India's best judge of the one to leave outside off. India's best player of pace, since Mohinder Amarnath.

The anchor. The rock.

Words and judgements strangely reminiscent of what they are saying about Dravid today.

Then Sachin Tendulkar happened along. And set the cricketing world ablaze with a brand of strokeplay not seen too often before or since. And suddenly, Manjrekar was not good enough.

He is too slow. What does it matter if he is classically perfect, we need runs in a hurry. He might have every stroke down pat, from the copybook, but what is the use if he keeps finding fielders? He does not innovate enough. And so on...

Again, an eerie echo of what is being said about Dravid today.

The result? Manjrekar changed. Experimented with his stance, making it more open. Experimented with different approaches to deliveries outside off. Where, earlier, he would judge the line and let the awayswinger through, here he began jabbing at it, trying to run it through slips. Where, earlier, he would move into line and with minimal backlift, push smoothly through cover, here he began belting at the ball, trying to blaze it through the field.

That, after all, was what the selectors -- and the fans -- wanted. So Manjrekar tried to give them that.

And began getting out to deliveries he was never in danger from, before. The edge to slip as he tried to guide to third man. The flaring catch to point as he tried to slam through cover. The ballooning catch to mid on, as he tried to clear the field where earlier he would play all along the ground.

'He's lost his technique'. 'He gets out cheaply'. 'He can't force the pace'......

Words, phrases, judgements applied then, to Sanjay Manjrekar.

Words, phrases, judgements that will be applied to Dravid, if he follows the Rungta stylebook.

Because one thing is certain -- Dravid is not the kind of player who can go the slam-bang route without losing his technique, and hence his consistency. He is no Tendulkar -- while on which subject, it seems to have escaped Rungta's attention that no one is.

Tendulkar's forte is utter, complete demolition at electric speeds. Dravid's, is calm, assured batting at one end despite the pyrotechnics at the other. And, Rungta or no Rungta, both styles have a role to play in a good team.

What should not happen is for Dravid to reach for something he is not fitted to do, and in the process lose his own abilities.

We've had one Sanjay Manjrekar in recent history -- we don't need another.

Taylor's travails

First, it was Steve Waugh suggesting that Taylor should accept, as fait accompli, the fact that he no longer figures in Australia's one-day scheme of things.

And now, from Sydney, comes word that Mal Speed, chief executive of the Australian Cricket Board, has pretty much put paid to Taylor's chances of leading even the Test side.

In a media briefing, Speed indicated that the ACB would like one captain for both Tests and one dayers, and would discuss the issue with Steve Waugh on his return.

Earlier, coach Geoff Marsh, now in India with the Australian one day side, had echoed similar sentiments when he said that Taylor's days as a limited overs player were over, and that if there was to be one captain for both forms of the game, then Taylor wasn't it.

Taken together, it seems a strange -- is shabby the word I am looking for? -- way to treat a guy who has, before the shambles of the Indian tour, led his team to eight back to back series wins.

What jumps out at you is the way Taylor is being eased out. Earlier in the year, the ACB makes a to-do about the 1999 World Cup, says it is keen on moulding a side for that event starting now, that in this context it is inclined to the idea of different captains, and different squads, for the two forms of the game.

It is not my intention here to debate the value of having different captains for the Tests and one dayers. England and Australia are going with that format -- on the grounds that Atherton and Taylor respectively do not fit in the one-day scheme of things. Makes you wonder if that perception will be borne out by statistical analysis -- for instance, is Adam Hollioake a demonstrably better one day player than Atherton?

On the other hand, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies, to name a few, have stuck with the format of having one national captain, for both versions. Despite, at least in some instances, a case being possibly made for change. For instance -- which of the two, Ranatunga or Aravinda D'Silva, is the better one day player? If the latter, then will Sri Lanka benefit by giving him the captaincy and freeing Ranatunga's berth for a younger player, with a view to the World Cup? Same question vis a vis Moin Khan and Rashid Latif -- Khan is a competent keeper and holds his place in the ODI squad for his batting as well, Latif is there merely as keeper-captain, can his slot be better filled by either a pure batsman or pure bowler, with Khan keeping? The answer would seem to be yes, but the PCB board has shown no inclination to consider that option.

Point being, a case could be made for either option. Which brings us back to Taylor, and the main question here, which is the manner of his being eased out. First, a decision is made to have one skipper for Tests, another for ODIs.

Fine, if that is how you want to go.

It is further decided that the Test captain, Taylor, is not worth his one day slot.

Again, okay, a selectorial judgement.

Step three: it is then decided that Australia needs one captain for both Tests and one dayers -- thus reversing the earlier decision of seperate captains for seperate forms of the game. Whatever happened, then, to that business of building seperate sides for both versions, which was the ACB's initial mindset?

Has a strange smell, this. You get the feeling that the whole thing is orchestrated to dump Taylor -- easily rated one of the top contemporary captains, and a thorough gentleman. I mean, first you say you need different captains. Just weeks later, you say you need one captain -- and you are not it. On what basis the latter decision?

Is Taylor now not worth a place in the Test side as well? If he is, then has he lost his captaincy skills overnight? Or is Steve Waugh a demonstrably better skipper, in the longer version (we won't, for now, examine his credentials at the shorter form of the game -- as someone argued on cricket chat the other day, maybe there is too little evidence to form a judgement on) than Taylor?

I used to think it was just the Board of Control for Cricket in India that lacked grace when it came to dealing with players. I now realise the malaise is universal.

Somehow, the knowledge doesn't make me feel any better about the whole thing.

Prem Panicker

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