By Sudeep Sonawane | Opening Doorz Editorial | March 24, 2023
BCCI should dismiss Rahul Dravid
India won the four-Test series, 2-1, and lost the 3-match ODI series, 1-2, on Wednesday against Australia. Arguably, the visitors could have won the Test series, 2-1, had skipper Pat Cummins selected the right men for the first two Tests. Australia conceded an advantage to India in the first two Tests with their strange team selection.
India started the Test series with a home advantage. Rohit Sharma’s men had more experience in batting and bowling on spin-friendly pitches. As expected, the pitches in Nagpur, New Delhi, and Indore had spinners from both teams drooling. The inert pitch at Motera, Ahmedabad, bucked this spinning trend. The pitch favoured batsmen with much patience. Small wonder, Usman Khwaja and Virat Kohli batted for many hours. Both narrowly missed their double centuries in the Test best forgotten as a run feast for batters and a nightmare for bowlers.
Lessons from the India-Australia series
What accountability lessons do Indian cricket Board officials, selectors, coaches, and the captain learn from the results of two series? Board President Roger Binny, Vice-President Rajeev Shukla, and Secretary Jay Shah would do well to discuss the outcomes of preparing nasty spinning pitches. This strategy often backfires. Indian batters also struggle on such pitches besides visiting team batsmen.
Barring Axar Patel, Rohit, and Chetashwar Pujara all other batters struggled against off-spinners Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy. India could face adverse reports from International Cricket Council match referees for preparing such nasty turners. Although commentator Sunil Gavaskar often sniggers “hosts have the right to prepare pitches to their liking”, and argues, “England and Australia prepare pace and bounce friendly pitches to visiting teams”.
Lessons from these series for the national selectors is to select players fit for spin-friendly pitches. They need to plan the correct bowling combination of an off-spin, a leg-spin, and a left-arm spinner. Should they select two fast bowlers or just one for such pitches? The success of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav reiterates the importance of selecting a balanced bowling combination.
There are many lessons for Chief Coach Rahul Dravid, batting coach Vikram Rathore and fast bowling coach Paras Mhambrey. For spin bowling coach Sairaj Bahutule, there are no lessons. He has done good work with the Indian spinners. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja picked wickets in heap. Axar, too, bowled well, though he did not take many wickets.
BCCI should dismiss Rahul Dravid
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should consider removing Rahul Dravid, Vikram Rathore, and Paras Mhambrey. All three have repeatedly failed. What tactics did Rathore give the batters on ways to tackle Lyon and Murphy? Let us spare Rathore because Dravid would have the final say in batting matters since he is the famous Test batsman with an impressive resume. The question arises, why did Indian batsmen flounder against Aussie spinners? Why did they use different batting methods to counter the spinners? If Dravid did advise his batters on how to counter the spinners, then his strategy was not obvious. Led by Axar, Pujara, and to a certain extent Rohit, no one stretched fully forward with the bat close to the pad to cancel the prospect of a lbw.
Axar exposes Dravid and Rathore as coaches every inning he bats for India in Tests, ODIs and T20s. After Rohit and Pujara, Axar was the most confident and technically correct batsman against Australian spinners in the Test series. Axar carried his good form in the ODIs, too. He remained not out on 29 as he ran out of partners in the second ODI at Visakhapatnam. He was the only Indian to bat well against fast bowlers Mitchell Starc, Sean Abbott, and Nathan Ellis as Australia routed India for 117.
Mitchell Marsh (66) and Travis Head (51) then hammered Indian bowlers and propelled Australia to a massive 10-wicket victory in 11 overs.
Bharat ahead of Ashwin, Axar?
Axar repeatedly remaining not out in different formats confirms Dravid’s stupidity. In the Delhi Test, he sent novice batter Bharat (6) ahead of Axar (74) and Ashwin (37). Was Dravid trying to be clever or plain stupid? Both senior all-rounders have more experience and better stats than the new lad.
Ashwin has scored five Test centuries, 13 half-centuries, and over 3,000 runs, yet Dravid treats him like a tail-ender. Ashwin regularly rescues India when the top batters fail in Tests either in India or abroad. Axar scored 264 runs in the four-Test series. He was the second-highest scorer behind Virat Kohli (297). His batting average of 88 is the highest, both teams included. Cameroon Green has the next-best average of 67.50.
Axar’s batting technique and footwork against Lyon, Murphy, and Kuhnemann remind me of the 70s and early 80s era. Gavaskar, Viswanath, Vengsarkar, and Amarnath would stretch fully forward, bat and pad close together and counter spinners such as Lance Gibbs (309 Test wickets), Derek Underwood (297), Abdul Qadir (236), and Iqbal Qasim (171) to name a few.
Dravid’s questionable decisions
Dravid’s questionable decisions go beyond controversial batting order; persisting with an out-of-form K L Rahul (at least in Tests, he scored 38 runs in two Tests averaging 12.66) is amusing. He broke his own rule of giving players a fair run by including Suryakumar Yadav in the second Test and dropping him in the third and fourth Tests.
Team selections are often like a lottery. If the selected player performs well, the coach appears a genius, and a dud if the player fails. So let us spare Dravid on this point. However, he would have done well to include left-handed Ishan Kishan, at least in the third and fourth Tests, learning from Axar and Jadeja’s success against off-spinners who become leg-spinners for left-handed batsmen. A ball spinning from the leg stump across the off stump of a left-handed batter lessens the chance of lbw. Dravid missed this trick too.
Mohammed Kaif slams Rahul Dravid
Former Test batsman Mohammad Kaif criticised Dravid after he needlessly tinkered with the batting order in the third ODI in Chennai. Speaking to crictoday Kaif said, “It is easy to bat up the order. A player like Suryakumar Yadav can’t bat at No. 7. (Dravid sent Axar, Hardik, and Jadeja ahead of Surya). You can only find form by batting at the top and not coming down. Horrible decision; you do not prepare for the World Cup like that. India has star players, but they must be handled properly. I’m not happy with Dravid and he has much to answer.”
Dravid is guilty of horrendous final XI selections. He had the cheek to drop wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav in the second Test against Bangladesh last December. Kuldeep took his career-best figures of five for 40 and overall, eight wickets plus scored 40 runs in the first Test. Former spinner Harbhajan Singh roasted Dravid for this bizarre decision. The ‘genius’ coach repeated his mad act by dropping Shami and including Umesh Yadav for the third Test in Indore. Yadav did well by taking three wickets for just 12 runs in the first innings.
Dropping Shami, the best paceman both teams included, was stupid. Dravid should have dropped Siraj.
What is Paras Mhambrey’s contribution?
What has fast bowling coach Mhambrey done? Shami, Umesh, and Siraj do not need him to teach them how to bowl. They are accomplished fast bowlers. What then has he done with young fast bowlers like Arshdeep Singh, Shardul Thakur, and Umran Mallik? Arshdeep consistently bowls one extra over in T20s thanks to his wides and no-balls.
With Dravid at the helm, Malik will learn enough hospitality skills, serving refreshments as a reserve player! Perhaps, Dravid wants Malik to turn 30 to play him regularly. Indian selectors and coaches have always treated good fast bowlers with contempt. History shows it: From Subroto Guha, Abdul Ismail, T A Sekhar, Yograj Singh, Raju Kulkarni, Rajinder Ghai, Vivek Razdan, Salil Ankola, Abey Kuruvilla to Mallik.
Rahul Dravid and his bizarre decisions
While we are roasting Dravid, I take back readers 19 years to March 28, 2004, when he made his first horrifying decision in the India-Pakistan Test played in Multan. Dravid declared the innings with India cruising at 675 for five and left Sachin Tendulkar stranded on 194. One more over and six runs scored by Tendulkar would not have marred India’s chance of winning the Test. India won the Test in four days.
Indeed, Dravid has a history of poor and bizarre decisions. He and his assistant coaches have many questions to answer for their failures. The sooner BCCI reviews their performance, the better it would be for Indian cricket.
(Sudeep Sonawane, an India-based journalist, has worked in five countries in the Middle East and Asia).