Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cricket: Why Ganguly can no longer be one-day captain

I'd been watching the new one-day cricket rules at work over the last few months when something suddenly clicked into my head: the rules effectively imply that Sourav Ganguly cannot stay on as India's captain, even if he were to regain his form as a batsman!

To understand how I arrive at this conclusion, we need to start with the new substitution rule: each team is allowed to replace one of its eleven players with a pre-designated "super-sub" anytime during the match. I have already commented in the past about the flaws introduced by this rule and how they need to be fixed (delay announcement of the eleven until after the toss) but those turn out not to be relevant for what I am discussing today.

The best way for a team to exploit the substitution rule is to use different batting and fielding XIs, replacing a batsman with a bowler between innings when batting first, and vice versa when batting second. In either case, the key observation is that a player from the batting XI should not be present in the fielding XI.

Now, for the sake of argument, let's assume Ganguly is a fantastic batsman and therefore certainly deserves a place in the batting XI. Who else is going to be in this XI?

First, we've got to have at least four specialist bowlers on it since the whole point of substitution would be to have five specialist bowlers in the fielding XI. [ One could argue that the batting XI should just have three specialist bowlers and the fielding XI can make do with four, but this is a bad strategy for three reasons: (a) the fifth bowler has always been a major point of weakness for India and becomes crucial to have when one bowler has a bad day; (b) eight batsmen in the batting XI is way too many; (c) if the toss goes awry and the team finds itself having to bowl first when having a bowling substitute, they are forced to use the substitute up front and are still left with a poor bowling line-up, instead of having a choice between 4 and 5 bowlers that they can exercise depending on how well the first inning is progressing. ]

Throw in a wicketkeeper (Dhoni) and that leaves five batting spots open besides Ganguly. These spots are taken up by automatic selections Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Kaif and Yuvraj Singh.

Now, which of these eleven can stay out of the fielding line-up? Obviously not the four bowlers or the keeper. Not Tendulkar or Sehwag who are both valuable part-time bowlers; moreover, Tendulkar is India's best boundary fielder while Sehwag is also a competent outfielder as well as a second-slip specialist. Not Dravid, who is a masterful slip fielder and is probably the best strategist on the field as well. Not Yuvraj or Kaif who are the two best fielders in the side. And who does that leave us with? Sourav Ganguly, the worst fielder in the side by a mile.

So, we conclude Ganguly needs to be substituted out when India is bowling. (Or subbed in when batting, depending on which scenario we are looking at.) But what's the point of having a captain who is never on the field? Therefore, it follows logically that Ganguly can no longer be captain even if he deserves his spot in the batting eleven!

Now let's see if the selectors understand this. One can always hope.


Blogger Rajagopal said...

Ganguly obviously has to go from the ODI squad for all the reasons you mentioned and one more. ODI is a young man's game. Teams that win the world cup have a lot of fit, young players capable of doing atleast two of the four essential cricketing things -batting, bowling, fielding and keeping. Right now Ganguly is maybe remotely capable in one of the four.

I would also submit that Laxman no longer deserves a place in the ODI squad. Tendulkar will come to this stage within two years (if the elbow injury has already not made him a less than competent batsman, god forbid). Kumble clearly needs to be kept away from the ODI squad too (his record in ODIs since about 2001 is remarkably bad).

Kaif and Yuvraj retain their place, but have much to prove.

So it is time for Venugopal Rao, JP Yadav, Raina and Dhoni to be given an uniterrupted ru of say 20 ODIs to establish themselves in time for the World Cup.

I cannot emphasise this enough - Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble should no longer be part of our ODI plans. Sad it is for cricketers who have served us well for a long time, it is the best course of action for the Indian team.

One thing that seems obvious is that all 11 players in the team should be capable fielders. It should be a make or break consideration while selecting the ODI team.

10/12/2005 10:22 PM  
Blogger Prasanna said...

One interesting addendum I would throw in is that Laxman might be worthy of inclusion in the 14, especially if the ICC cleans up the substitution rule to allow the XI to be announced after the toss instead of before. In that case, Laxman could play as a "designated batsman" who never fields.

Even in this case, I have some misgivings about Laxman because his batting style -- a mixture of dot balls, boundaries and the occasional slowly run single -- does not fit well in the current line-up. However, he would be a powerful back-up to have to substitute into the team when there is a batting collapse (especially in bowler-friendly conditions).

10/15/2005 1:08 PM  
Blogger Rajagopal said...

I agree, it is fine to have a pure batsman (a one-skill player) in these days of super-subs. As you say, there are misgivings about his style of play that is becoming increasingly unsuitable for ODIs - i.e. he tries to hit a lot of boundaries and, as he ages, he cannot run quickly to get twos and threes. He was not a good runner between the wickets to begin with.

I am happy with the team selected, though it is not a great team - the best available team has been selected, but it is not a great team, atleast yet. The batting will be wobbly for a while, as the newcomers try to find their way around international class bowling.

I have more worries about the bowling though. India hasn't had a goto strike bowler in ODIs for many years now (Srinath was that a while, and Kumble used to be that a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far far away).

Having selected the best possible team, I hope the selectors don't lose their head when the public starts pelting stones at the players' houses after early reverses. Kiran More (one of the selectors) was on TV as the team was announced and he said something about players left out still having a chance and Kaif being left out becase of injured. He also said something about having the world cup in mind, but he was speaking in a mixture of Hindi and English and I got lost.

10/15/2005 7:39 PM  
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