Semifinal, Ind vs. Pak

The 2nd semifinal prompted me to use my blogspace, precisely 9 months after my last post. What prompted what this little piece of nugget by Wright Thomson on ESPN [link]. The thing that struck me the most was this bit-

Sachin Tendulkar says goodbye and closes his door, while, in every direction, a vast nation sees its hopes and dreams in him, for at least a little while longer. I step into the elevator, then a car, then three flights, then my car, then my house. I return from blind alleys and brightly lit fields, having found my moment of rapture and, at the end, the man who created it. I’ve found both the riddle and the answer, and I wonder what it must cost someone to be both of those things. One part of my conversation with Tendulkar will return to me every time India plays in this World Cup.

His agent told me he’s aware of what he means to people, of the symbolic importance of being both the beginning and end of something. He is a bridge, and it is vital to the psyche of a nation that he remains intact. He gets it. That’s why he never loses focus. Nothing, it turns out, is effortless. In his room, he seems tired, worn out mentally and physically. He needs a break. I ask when was the last time he had 20 days off in a row with nothing to do. No balls to hit or billions to represent.

“I’m waiting for that time to come,” he says.

That Sachin is a batsman par excellence, is beyond doubt. That he’s a great human being, is also beyond a doubt -I don’t know him personally, but nothing that I have read or heard makes me think otherwise. But for him to be aware of the hopes the 1+ billion people of India place on him, add to that his own expectations of himself, the adoration, the adulation, the celebrity status etc, are the reasons he should fail, to be more specific underachieve. That everybody expects him to score 100 international centuries, and for him to bat impervious to that those kinds of pressure-RESPECT.What’s interesting about the ESPN piece is for the first time ever, ESPN has carried cricket as a headline story. Sure, there have been a few sporadic stories about cricket, but never as a headline piece.

Anyways, I didn’t mean to make this post about Sachin. There are much better writers out there, who’ll capture my thoughts about Sachin better than perhaps even I can. I wanted to talk about where we, Indian cricket team goes from here; speculation is abound in Indian media that Sachin will play his last ODI innings in Bombay on Saturday. Looking at the current squad, this means that Gambhir, Sehwag and Kohli form the top order. Yusuf Pathan slots in to the team, also because of lack of options. Yuvraj and Raina are perfect at 5 and 6 positions. This leaves the crucial #4 position, and one candidate for it – MS Dhoni.

Dhoni is perhaps the best captain after Ganguly, I would even stretch to say that tactically he’s by far the best captain India has ever had. His unflappable nature adds to that skill. He does make some odd decisions now and then, but they get papered over whenever Dhoni decides to attack in the field. In this world cup, India’s best bowling performance has come when Dhoni has decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns. He’s been constantly attacking, forcing the batsman to do something different, taking wickets and not allowing easy singles. He’s style permeates through the team as well- sample our fielding performance in the last 2 games. India went from a bad fielding team to a pretty decent one. Since the personnel didn’t change, only attitudes did.

Problem is his batting. What’s difference between Dhoni of 2007 to 2009 and current Dhoni. Heck even compare the Dhoni of 2006. It’s the defensive nature of batting. Clearly Dhoni is at his best, when he attacks. By that I don’t mean that belting every ball out of the ground, but more the mindset. The in form and attacking Dhoni knew which balls he could hit, and which ones he couldn’t. The balls he couldn’t hit, Dhoni would look to take a single or double, and put real pressure on the fielders. Today’s Dhoni pokes, prods and defends, even when he’s not technically capable of it. He’s lost the art of looking for singles. Dhoni poking and prodding against Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi was an eyesore.

To succeed and return to his old form, Dhoni needs to think about how he wants to play. More so after Sachin retires, his will be the position that batting order will revolve around. Another thing that would help is not selecting team on reputation, just on form. For all of Bhajji’s reputation, Ashwin has outplayed him every single time he’s given a chance. Heck Yuvraj has out bowled Bhajji.

Dhoni ball is in your court, starting Saturday in Wankhede!

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