The experts conclusions after the recent cricket exchanges between India and England are that England are a poor ODI team and India are traditionally unbeatable at home. Logically, both the theories are out of place. England are the number one team in Test cricket and also in the T20 version; hence, there is no sane reason to declare why they should be labeled a poor ODI team.
Instead, its time, ECB, selectors and team management do a deep introspection on why they aren’t able to produce a winning combination, despite having the talent worth standing on two number one podiums.
It’s tough to establish why a team with the best pace attack, more genuine allrounders than any other nation, best spinner and a long batting lineup finds themselves short in ODIs. Why, a team of good and great fielders suddenly become a team of “donkeys” (as per Nasser Hussain’s dictionary)? Tough to decipher and maybe the only noticeable flaw is in their three teams, multiple captains, policy.
It’s great in theory to blood every person in the XI as captain – John Buchanan will love it – but once things start going wrong, it surfaces to bite back. Particularly in test matches. Imagine Cook, Strauss, Broad, Swann and Morgan all giving their views during a tough series in the heat of India in 2012; ex-captain KP giggling his way off and waiting to release his autobiography; Anderson and Bell wondering what wrong did they do worth never being considered for long term captaincy!
Have a close look at the tapes of the recently concluded ODI series. There were number of instances, when, even Craig Kieswetter was changing fielders position as the bowler and captain were trying to figure out what their individual roles were. Captain Cook did look clueless, uninspiring and unsure of his long term job objective. Does he need to build an ODI team for the future? Is he the man for it? Or is he a stop gap captain for a fortnight before the T20 captain takes over?
Forget all the sledging between the teams, the English players were frequently seen arguing amongst each other. It’s not without reason that their coach had to give some explanations about the team’s behaviour, and again, it was Andy Flower coming up and talking and not Alistair Cook.
Maybe captaincy is the reason why India have made home territory at par with a fortress – as football teams Manchester United have with Old Trafford or FC Barcelona with Nou Camp. It wasn’t always that way. Even during the era when our golden generation of batsmen and Kumble started hitting highs, our win-loss success rate, from 2000-2007, was a hardly inspiring 55:45.
This number gets further bloated due to a couple of individual series whippings handed out to SL and Eng. During the mentioned eight seasons, Australia conquered India thrice (excluding their Champions Trophy win in 2006); Pakistan have a 7-5 record over us; we lost one series 3-4 to West Indies (yes, West Indies!), drawn one series 3-3 vs England and once scraped through 3-2 vs Zimbabwe (yes, Zimbabwe)!
If you reflect back at the captaincy records of our most successful captain of the 1990s, Mohd Azharuddin, the percentages are around this figure. Hence, safe to say over two decades, chances of India winning a match were around 55%.
This number takes a wild turn when the M S Dhoni era kicks in. MSD got captaincy after the WC 2007 disaster, but in subsequent years ie from 2008 till date, the win loss stands at 80:20 at home (this, despite an instance of yet another 2-4 loss to Australia). Hence it’s only the past four years, that, Australia apart, we are invincible at home.
The MS Dhoni factor is important in that, irrespective of the squad at his disposal (including BCCI gifting caps to IPL wonder boys) and irrespective of external factors, he has done it. At home, MSD never kept room for excuses. Suddenly, the era when a Ganguly or a Dravid would mention dew, toss or pitch condition as prime reason for defeat, seems long gone.
That apart, India’s fittest sportsperson, their Superman, has lead from the front. With a career batting average of 51.15 which rockets up to 78.12 in winning causes, Mahi is head and shoulders above any Indian cricketer when it comes to carrying a team to victory. Mahi gives us the additional cushion and threat down the order in the ODI lineup which Gilchrist once gave to the Australian test batting order.
And he does it all with a supreme sense of calmness. When Mahi is around, you feel assured. The team feels assured. Mahi is right up their in the race for the “the ultimate team man ever”. In a sport, where superstars have all along been extremely protective and vocal about their batting positions, Mahi has resisted all temptations to go for glory.
There was a phase when the experts clamoured that he bat up the order. Mahi could have batted one down, enjoying hammering during powerplay overs with the field up, hit boundaries and over boundaries which the crowd and advertisers love, and got even better records. He could have demanded the batting slot and obtained it with entire public support. But he didn’t.
India’s Batman chose the other way though, the team way. He decided to bat lower down, to guide the juniors in the middle order, to make it easier for greenhorns up the order, to face the old ball, to tackle the spread out fielders, to run for his life for every double, to make his partners sprint the extra run, to take the pressure of every run rate requirements, to finish games personally, to take adversity head on. It’s his presence in the batting lineup which has been the single most difference between India’s 55% home success rate for two decades and the 80% invincible stat the past four years.
So while, England have the No1 ranking in Tests, No.1 ranking in T20s, bragging rights, motor-gaadi, bangla and bank-balance, India can proudly say “hamare pass Mahi hai”… and that’s good enough reason to feel assured that our return to the top isn’t far away.