“Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties” is a mantra repeated umpteen times by cricket commentators. These uncertainties of the game have grown manifold and have invaded the minds of the followers of the game and a cricket connoisseur’s tussle to solve these intricacies has dragged the game into excel spreadsheets and statistical calculations. The statistics involving cricket has grown into such a huge volume which can now be glorified to be among the biggest statistical data pertaining to a sport in the world. These statistics can not only be used to glorify some average cricketers but also be used to cast doubts on the credentials of some established ones. This article raises question marks on the two established stars of Indian cricket not only based on statistics but also on the commonly applied yardsticks in international cricket.
International cricket is all about matches in various parts of the world and the stalwarts of the game are those who prove their worth irrespective of the playing conditions in various parts of the world. Test cricket is always considered as the ultimate test of character and ability for any cricketer and a match winning performance away from home conditions always draws the biggest accolades from cricket aficionados. Rating the real worth of a cricketer’s performance has become a task nowadays and adulated coverage by the media complicates it further.
Inconsistent selection policies plagued by nepotism and incompetence have made the career of Indian cricketers vulnerable to public opinion which are most often devoid of sound statistics and influenced mainly by the first impression created. Indian selection has plummeted to such a level that for a player to bloom, he should be selected at the right time and this right time is always his luck factor.
What is this luck factor in Indian cricket? It is undoubtedly a series of matches in the subcontinent for a batsman or a spinner and a series of matches outside the subcontinent for a fast bowler. A new player is always under scanner, more in Test matches than in ODIs and a few good performances in ODIs seem to protect this player from the scanner and there lies the folly. Vijay and Abhinav Mukund lost their places in Test team due to them not playing ODIs and Suresh Raina and Yuvraj got an extended run in Tests due to their ODI performances. This luck factor is something which is prevalent in any career and it has been globally accepted that the luck always favors the brave. But this luck factor is proving to be a bane in Indian cricket and the careers of two stars of the current team will reveal how this luck factor enabled them escape the initial expert scrutiny.
A Test opener’s technique is an important point of debate and scrutiny for former openers turned commentators like Gavaskar, Boycott and Arun lal during any overseas tour. S. S. Das, Vikram Rathore, S. Ramesh, Aakash Chopra and W. Jaffer were some of the players who failed to live up to the standards set for a test opener by these gentlemen. Despite all these standards, the search for a Test opening pair for India ended in two unconventional batsmen viz. Sehwag and Gambhir. How did Gambhir cement his place as an opener when some conventional openers like Chopra and Jaffer failed? Here is where statistics come handy. The answer is simple, the timing of their entry into international cricket.
Jaffer played 31 Test matches between 2000 and 2008 and 18 of them were outside the subcontinent and 5 of his first 10 tests were in West Indies and England. Don’t forget that West Indies had a better attack in 2002. Aakash Chopra played only 10 Test matches but 4 out of them were in Australia and 2 in Pakistan. He did well in Australia but went out of favor due to his slow batting. Gambhir has played 44 Test matches so far but has played only 10 matches outside the subcontinent. Out of his first 10 Test matches only 2 were outside the subcontinent and that too in Zimbabwe. And to add to these statistics, he was the only player who played ODIs continuously for India. His attacking batting combined with better understanding with his Delhi team mate Sehwag was an added advantage. Though Gambhir has played a lot of Test matches, he is yet to prove his credentials in trying conditions outside the subcontinent. He still continues to be in the team despite not scoring a century in 29 innings in 16 Tests since January 2010. Abhinav Mukund who was tried in West Indies and England has now been discarded despite his decent show and now with Ajinkya Rahane in the team, he is set to become another opener who made his entry at the wrong time. Why different yardsticks for different players?
After Nayan Mongia became a dubious character in Indian cricket, the selectors search for a wicket keeper batsman ended with M. S. Dhoni. Vijay Dahiya, Sameer Dighe, M. S. K. Prasad, Deep Das Gupta, Ajay Ratra, Parthiv Patel and D. Karthik were dropped either due to their poor keeping or poor batting or some unknown reasons. It was Kumble’s bowling more than their poor keeping that led to the downfall of Parthiv and Karthik as keeping to Kumble in Indian conditions was a tough task for a new comer. Dhoni did better and was persisted more because of the frustration of the selectors in not finding a better solution than Dhoni’s ability. Dhoni’s attacking batting in ODIs helped him escape the scrutiny of the so called experts behind the microphone. Dhoni too has fumbled with gloves like the others and his batting outside the subcontinent in Test matches is still unproved. The partisan attitude towards Dhoni is evident even in commentary when the BCCI sponsored commentators say “He almost fumbled” when Parthiv clutches on to a catch by his fingers, but keep quiet when Dhoni does the same. None of the above keepers got a continued run in ODIs like Dhoni. Dhoni has played 23 of his 64 Tests outside the subcontinent and is yet to score a Test century. All his 5 Test centuries have come in the subcontinent. If the same yardsticks applied to the other keepers were applied to Dhoni, I doubt whether he would have continued in the Test team.
Statistics clearly prove that Indian selectors apply different yardsticks while persisting with players for key positions in the Test team. Test cricket needs specialist players and ODIs should not become the gateway for the players to Test cricket.