Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Exit interview with the Indian team

If I were the coach of the Indian team and I had to conduct exit interviews with some of the Indian players in the aftermath of the Test series, this is what I would have said to them.

Gautam Gambhir:  Sometimes, it is better to let yourself heal completely at the expense of some cash on the table.  If the BCCI is putting pressure on you to play the IPL with an injury, then you need to think about your priorities.  Right now you are like Shane Watson used to be at the start of his career - full of potential but getting injured more frequently than a pincushion in a needle factory.

And oh, do not field at forward short-leg in the near future.  Handling concussions is an inexact science and one, I am sure, the trainers have not had much experience with.  Have them check out the NFL's policy on concussions.  It is serious stuff.  Really.

To wit, here's an excerpt:
"The player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant."

Virender Sehwag:  A couple of years ago, I had warned you that the casual way in which you were treating the form of your life in New Zealand would someday come back to haunt you.  It is blindingly obvious that you have not totally recovered from the injury that you have been carrying for a long time.  Go away.  Get fit.  Your place is secure.  In my squad a starter does not lose his place because of an absence due to injury.

Oh, and don't even think about retiring from Tests to concentrate on ODIs and T20s.  You reputation as an all-time great will be secured only in the long form.

Rahul Dravid:  Loved the fight you showed in the series.  But there are still some things you could learn.  Like catching in the slips.  For a fellow with such a stellar record, you dropped way too many clangers in this series. I am not even talking about the ones you reacted late to.  I am talking about the ones that hit you flush on the hands at catchable height.  What's with that?  You know that our bowlers are struggling to take 10 wickets.  Don't make it harder by forcing to take more than that to bowl out a side.

Also, I know you are an honest man and forthright and all that jazz.  But when only your "gut instinct" tells you that you have nicked a ball and you are not totally sure, keep it to yourself.  If you knew for sure that you nicked it, that would be one thing.  But, seriously, Jammy, you thought you nicked it?

VVS Laxman:  I like you, VVS.  I really do.  But do you really have to go about giving others ammunition to shoot you down?  You are still a great batsman (this series notwithstanding) and there is no one among the young turks who can threaten your spot just yet.  But you cannot last too long  on the basis of just one skill.  You are still the best 2nd slip fielder in the team (probably the best India has ever had) and with two more catches you will be 9th on the all-time list of catches by a fielder (a number you are likely to retire at).  But the rest of your fielding is atrocious.  You move slowly, react late, and you are a liability in both the infield and the outfield. You do not lack stamina, so it must be something else.  If your knees are too wobbly, try something different (swimming?) but lose some of the rigidity in your body and try to move around a little better.  You might even be able to convert to those twos into twos, and threes into threes again.

But if you do not score runs in the next series against the West Indies, I don't think I will be able to stop the knives from carving you out of the Indian team for good.

Sachin Tendulkar:  I am sure your handlers told you that not playing the Test series in the West Indies was a great idea.  The thought of scoring your 100th international century at Lord's in the 2000th Test match played seemed so Bollywoodishly perfect, didn't it?  I bet you regret not touring the Windies and getting that monkey off your back.  You would been battle-tested and ready for the bigger series against England, too.

Instead, you will now score your 100th century in a meaningless ODI.  As soon as you do that, they will start talking about your 50th ODI century...just you wait.

But my most serious concern is this - your propensity to go into a defensive shell any time a Test match needs to be batted out for a draw is approaching ridiculous proportions.  What the heck?!!!!!  At Lord's, you adopted such a go-slow it dragged the entire team down with you.  You may be an all-time great, but you are an utter doofus to think that you can dead-bat your way to a draw.  Leave that to the Tavare's or the Boycott's of the world.  I blame YOU for us not drawing the Lord's Test match.  It is a cross you will have to bear till you are done playing.  Sheesh.

Suresh Raina:  Suresh, Suresh, Suresh...did you forget how well you played in the second inning at Lord's?  You did not do that by defending your way out of it.  You did it by taking on the bowlers and hitting them when they needed to be hit.  If it was an ODI would you have made an 29 ball duck?  No way, no how.  Then why did you bat so diffidently in the last Test match?

Also, in the Windies, you were content to duck under the bouncers and let them go by harmlessly.  Why are you suddenly trying to hit them?  Are the English fielders goading you to do so from behind the wicket?

You are still a great hope for the future but unfortunately, you opened the door wide open for your competition to walk through.  Be prepared to spend some time in the wilderness while Yuvraj, Kohli, Sharma, and Pujara step ahead of you in the line.

MS Dhoni:  Take a look at the way you batted in the 3rd Test and contrast that with the way you batted in the other 3.  You will know what to do.

Also, for heaven's sake, don't play the ODIs and T20s if you are tired.  Get some rest.  And when I say rest, I mean complete rest.  Earlier this year I hurt my fingers taking a catch.  Three months later it still hurts when someone shakes my hand.  You have very similar injuries (the way you tape your gloves and the way your strokes lack their old zing tells me that) and I cannot imagine how the constant hits your body takes is good for it.

Get.  Some. Rest.

And don't read any newspapers (or blogs) for a few months.  Or a few years.

Harbhajan Singh:  Turn back the clock.  Go back to being the Turbanator.  Lose the skills you picked up in transforming into Economy Singh.

And, yes, if you insist on bowling the lines that you currently do, always bowl with a leg slip and forward short-leg in place.  Who knows, you may get lucky and pick up some wickets, too.

Psst...if you could also forget the doosra for the rest of your career, it would not hurt too much, either.

Ishant Sharma:  Pitch the ball up a little further.  Learn from Stuart Broad.  There's only so many times I can watch you bowl short and wide outside the off-stump while the batsman shoulders the ball.

And what's with those gigantic wides down the leg-side?  Get it right or work on it off the field but don't bring that junk to a Test match, please.

Praveen Kumar:  When the ball stops swinging, the praises will stop, too.  Keep working on your skills and wait for the Indian team to tour Australia again.

Sreesanth:  If you want to behave like Chad Ochocinco, at least back it up with your on-field actions.  Otherwise you will forever be known for your antics and relegated to the role of a clown.  The seam position when you release the ball is to die for but your grey matter needs plenty of re-calibration.

Also, can you not throw your wicket away when you come to bat?  Watching you flail away like a beached whale while a more accomplished batsman (Rahul Dravid, for example) is at the other end is a disservice not only to your teammate but your team as well.  Careers have been truncated for less serious transgressions than that.

Pragyan Ojha:  I will tell you the same thing I (wished I had) told Laxman many years ago - migrate to another country like England or New Zealand where your talents will be better appreciated.  As long as Economy Singh and batting phenom Amit Mishra are ahead of you in the pecking order, you will not have a shot at playing.  If you don't believe me, just talk to Murali Karthik.

Playing for Surrey in the County championships is a great sign.  Thank you for doing that.

Zaheer Khan:  It is crunch time for you.  These are the last few opportunities for you to cement your status as a modern-day legend.  Look at James Anderson.  You have 273 wickets in 79 Tests.  He has 240 wickets in 63 tests.  But he is getting a lot of the press that you should be getting.  And that's because he looks fit, is among the best fielders in the world, and puts a premium on his wicket when he bats.

The rest of the Indian bowling attack looks lost without you.  Come back, ZAK. 

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