Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Tendulkar batting at #4 is the key to India winning the World Cup!!

The banner headline of the group stages in the WC has been the failure of the Indian middle order. Despite 4 centuries from their top 3 batsmen, the famed Indian batting lineup has failed to fire and capitulated in consecutive matches against even a semblance of a decent bowling. The symptoms are clear, what exactly is the root cause? As you'd expect, the answer is manifold, some of which is even beyond the realm of contemplation for the die-hard Indian fan:

1. Dhoni needs to steer the middle order: He needs to get in at #5 and guide the middle innings

2. Change the script - introduce an element of surprise in the pinch hitter: The Indian middle order plays too scripted. Pathan is a weapon no longer secret, so use him with an element of surprise. Dhoni has to promote Bhajji for that shock and awe effect of the pinch-hitter when the opposition least expects - like during the South African game instead of sending in Pathan so predictably every time.

3. Gambhir's a misfit at #3 - Kohli's the new Dravid: Gambhir's can't find the rhythm and upsets the rhythm of the entire lineup at #3. (A) He can't match the pace set by Sachin and Sehwag and plays like a headless chicken and (B) him playing at #3 doesn't give Kohli a chance to settle in and play a long knock. Kohli's the sheet anchor for the top order and fits perfectly at #3

4. Powerplay blues - take it when you're on top: This is just strategy 101 gone wrong. Dhoni seems to wait for things to go down and use the powerplay to lift up the innings. The results are pedestrian and cannot be overlooked. I say, instead use the powerplay at the height of your power and send the innings into stratosphere!!

5. Too much firepower at the top - as much pressure on yourself as the opposition: The game against SA exposed an interesting problem. The rest of the Indian batting seems to feel as much pressure when Sachin and Sehwag both click as they do when they both fail. Not surprising. There's practically very few batsmen in the world (if any) who can sustain the kind of blitzkrieg and havoc that S&S wrought on SA. When the opening pair scores at 9 an over in the first 20 overs, one or both of their wickets can shift the momentum dramatically to the opposition. Imagine when they both fail....and the law of probability is stacked against India on that front. Spread the ammunition.

I'm joining the millions of Indians who are telling Dhoni what to do - except that I believe mine's the best suggestion (again as a million other Indians think).

If you're insistent on playing Gambhir, let him open the innings with Sehwag. There's lesser pressure on him when he plays the new ball, doesn't have to force the pace so much and the runs will automatically come if he stays at the crease and plays second fiddle to Sehwag. This pair can easily score at 6 runs an over. We don't necessarily need 9 an over in every game. It's a safe start, Gambhir's in better territory and you also protect against the risk of 2 wicked beauties getting rid of both Sachin and Sehwag early. This automatically puts Kohli into his sweet spot at #3 where he has a good 10-15 overs to lay the foundation as he did against B'desh and play sheet anchor.
That means Sachin comes in at #4. The world's best batsman is the best bet to adapt and succeed in any position and Sachin can still play at will at #4. If there ever is a top order collapse, who better to steady the innings and play till the end. If Kohli is settled at #3, it still gives Sachin a chance to free his arms.

Following Sachin at #4, you now have Dhoni, Yuvraj, Pathan/Raina. The sight of that dressing room in the 25th over with Sachin in the middle will give the runs to the opposition even before India scores them. For those critics who call this a defensive strategy, think again. This is playing to your strength and the ultimate flexing of your batting muscles.

On your best day (like in the game against SA), choosing this strategy might mean 30-40 runs lesser in the first 15 overs but it guarantees India a score of 300 plus every time they go out in the middle and using this strategy, it's next to impossible to have a middle order collapse like the ones we've had in this tournament.

Think about it Dhoni...I'm sure you won't use this for the game against Australia but I sure do hope we live to fight another day and I'd never have to say "I told you so...". But I will, coz this is the ticket to that elusive WC win. The existing batting order may be the best on paper and can click on it's day, but if it has collapsed repeatedly in this tournament, do you want to wait for it to click in the knockout or take a safer strategy? Sachin batting at #4 may not necessarily the best, but is definitely a more reliable and safer strategy- which is what Indian batting needs at this point.

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