Transcript: Short Jabs Episode 1

Short Jabs Cricket Podcast: Episode 1 (Download here)

Guests: Michael Wagener, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, Shrikant “Homer” Subramanian

Welcome to the Short Jabs Cricket Podcast. In this inaugural episode, Cricket blogger Michael Wagener stops by to talk about New Zealand’s disastrous series in South Africa in the “Opening Spell”, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan opines on the recent Indian selectoral choices in the second segment we call “Six Minutes with Sidvee” and Homer tells us all about the lack of Indian slip cordon in the segment “What’s bothering ‘em now?“

Opening Spell

Subash Jayaraman (SJ): Welcome to the show, Michael!

Michael Wagner (MW): Thank you.

SJ: You’ve been in South Africa, following the NZ-SA Test series…

MW: Well, that wasn’t the best life decision ever! “The six day Test series”. The trip has been fantastic. I’ve enjoyed everything except the cricket. Some of the cricket has been rather painful to watch. One of the South African cricket writers commented that, “Each of the Tests has been – especially the first Test – like a bad one-day game. In the first 10 overs, you knew what was going to happen and it was a case of watching to see how it unfolded”.

SJ: Even before a ball was bowled in the series, you had all these back room issues between New Zealand Cricket and Ross Taylor. What did you make of all that?

MW: I think it is really easy to get upset with people about this issue, and it’s really easy to be critical, but there are at least six or seven people at fault for this rather than just one person.

The first thing that happened was that Mike Hesson went to Ross Taylor and said, “I’m going to put forward that you lose your role as captain”. Now, they were talking about the one-day game, but I have no doubt that Hesson meant it for all three formats of the game. It is understandable why he wanted Taylor to be replaced as the one-day captain. When Taylor took over the squad, NZ were ranked #2 in the world (in ODIs). Thirty eight games later, we are ranked #9 in the world, behind Bangladesh. It is really hard looking that, and say we don’t need change. We were not a team that just competed, but we were generally a team that won, in ODIs.

There were certain things that made you question Taylor’s captaincy – quite often, the captaincy decisions. He got the count wrong (for overs remaining per bowler) and had to bowl part-timer in the last over of the game and we lost the game by couple of runs. Changing fields when he shouldn’t have of instead of putting pressure on the batsmen, and things like that. So, his captaincy in ODIs was certainly questionable and you can see why Hesson did that. Hesson though, “I have to make the recommendation to the board (to replace Taylor) before the end of the tour to Sri Lanka, and so I will tell Taylor of it before he comes to know of it from someone else”. You can understand that, and that’s probably good, but the way he did it wasn’t. The way [Hesson) went about it made Taylor feel completely disenfranchised.

However, lots of people have been fired as captains and went on to play for their team as just players. They haven’t gone on to sulk about it or haven’t thrown their toys and refused to play for their team anymore. In fact, I did look through it. Every Test playing nation has an ex-captain in their team. So, it’s not like Taylor was the only guy that had captaincy stripped off him and now having to play without being captain. This is something that has happened to every single team but he is the only one that has acted like this. So, you have to ask the question, “Perhaps, Mike Hesson was on to something?” Because, if Ross Taylor was really a team man, would he have chosen to stay home and let his team play without their best batsman?

SJ: Looks like things might be getting better, and Taylor might be back playing for NZ sooner than later. However, at the beginning of the SA series, in addition to Taylor staying back home, NZ didn’t have the services of Jesse Ryder and Dan Vettori, and also lost Tim Southee to injury. SO, pretty much, coming in to the series, if you were a dispassionate follower of NZ cricket, you’d have seen that NZ didn’t have much of a chance playing South Africa in South Africa.

MW: Even if you were a passionate follower of NZ cricket, and I think I’m the most optimistic person about NZ cricket after Brendon McCullum – he thinks NZ are the best team in the world! If you lined up the two teams, and wondered whether there are any NZ players that if added to the SA team would make SA stronger, you might see that Ross Taylor and Ryder would fit in there somewhere. Daniel Vettori is definitely a better option than Robin Peterson, and I’d go with Tim Southee over Morne Morkel! That’s great, but none of them were playing. So it was a complete mismatch the whole way across the field. Throw in to that, [NZ) decided to drop Rob Nicol in favor of Peter Fulton – who had been the form opener in domestic cricket in NZ – and he got injured too. James Franklin, while he is not necessarily a popular figure, was one of the two experienced players in the squad. His experience was vital and he got injured during the series as well. So, it wasn’t a great run for NZ in terms of personnel.

SJ: You mentioned how McCullum was pumped up and was optimistic about NZ’s chances… what was the mood around the team with the kind of defeats – 2 innings defeats, and especially the capitulation in Cape Town where NZ were bowled out for 45?

MW: They seemed to be pretty quiet, generally. I didn’t get to interact with them much as I was staying in a different hotel, so I didn’t get to see them much away from the cricket field. I went along to one of the training sessions to see Colin Munro, and he seemed to be up. The rest of the players were very quiet, and they were working very hard. But doing work in the nets tends to help you 6 months down the track. It doesn’t help you (all that much) in the next game. Sometimes it does but it seems to me, it’s a delayed thing. There were some things that were better in the 2nd Test but not much.

SJ: NZ, coming in to this series vs SA, had drawn a series away, 1-1 in Sri Lanka. But now, they have this disastrous result. So, where does NZ, especially as a Test team, go from here?

MW: If you look at that game against Sri Lanka, there were 4 standout players: Ross Taylor, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and probably Todd Astle. Taylor, Southee and Astle weren’t there for this series. Boult has done traditionally well – both in domestic and international cricket, when has had Southee at the other end, and like wise with Southee. Southee’s international average is 39 without Boult and when Trent Boult’s there, it is 21. It’s a phenomenal difference from having two bowlers who do different things while putting pressure on the batsmen. When you don’t have pressure from the other end, it is a lot harder to bowl a team out. We need to make sure we get Southee back. Ross Taylor – yeah, we have got to have Taylor back, but I got laughed at by the media manager when I said Southee was the biggest loss. I think he is the best player in NZ cricket at the moment. He is our best cricketer. To lose him, was big. Not only does he do well for himself, he does things for others as well.

SJ: As a team, this could be the rock bottom for NZ, and once you hit that, the only way to go, is up, and that’s probably the attitude the team as well as the fans have to take, yeah?

MW: Well, I hope so. Certainly in one-day cricket, I don’t want to say anything like that about our Test cricket. We could climb up again in the ranking much quicker (in ODIs). We are a much better team than (#9 in ODI rankings).

The addition of Kyle Mills is going to make a big difference in the ODI team. Even though he is a bit grumpy, and emotional, and plays his own game rather than fitting in with the team’s patterns, his game is so good, he makes up for it. He’s been in the Top 5 of world’s ODI bowlers every year in the last 7 or 8 years, and in ODI cricket, he’s been an absolute machine. It’s going to be good to have him back and someone that McCullum could throw the ball to and know that he’ll do a fantastic job for the team, and that’s helpful.

SJ: I hope things pan out for you and the NZ team, Michael. Thanks a lot for coming on the show.

MW: Alright, Thank you.

Six Minutes with SidVee

SJ: Hello, Sid! How are you doing?

SidVee: Hi, Subash! Good to be back.

SJ: First off, Sachin Tendulkar retired last month and his long term ODI opening partner Sehwag was dropped from the squad for the last match against Pakistan, and now he isn’t in the squad against England. Do you think that is a selectoral choice made with an eye on the 2015 world cup? Could this mean the end of Sehwag’s career?

SV: Yeah, I mean when Tendulkar retired he himself said in a statement that the team needs to prepare for the 2015 world cup. That was one of the reasons he gave for his retirement, and I think it is fair to say you can read into that and say that the selectors were probably looking to build a side for that tournament. I think the Sehwag bit was a fair call. His form has definitely been suspect recently—of course he has the ability to score big–his double hundred, 219, is an indication of that—but the team needs to decide whether they could to go with four or five failures before that big innings, or whether to drop him at this point. Again, thinking of the world cup, Sehwag is no doubt an extremely explosive player on his day, but neither in the 2011 world cup nor… I mean in the 2007 world cup of course he had a big innings against Bermuda, but other than that he hasn’t really had too much of an impact on big games of late, so I think it was a fair call. And yes, I think it could be the end of his one-day career. I don’t really see any way… unless there is an injury or unless one of these batsmen plays really badly, I don’t see a way back. Although of course it is India cricket and we never know!

SJ: (Laughs) Talking about the future of India’s batting, Cheteshwar Pujara on the back of some excellent form was included for the series against England. Of course based on the players that are already in the squad and on the rules change, etc., it was inconceivable that Pujara would get a spot in the starting eleven if not for an injury. So what is the whole point of picking him now?

SV: My first thought when I saw him picked was I thought maybe because of the new rules, the new balls from both ends, and because the England pacers had done really well in the Test series maybe it’s a kind of insurance to get him in at number 3 or maybe even open so he can weather off the new ball if the conditions are good. But yes, looking at the larger scheme of things, given the Ranji semifinals are on, and Australia series is coming up, Pujara would have definitely benefited from the longer form in case he was not going to play. Now, the team management is left in a situation where he is on the bench, he’s not playing Ranji, so it’s almost like they are being pushed in a corner to play him and that might not be something they want to do, so it’s really a Catch-22 that everyone finds themselves in.

SJ: I’m sure it’s frustrating for the player, and it’s frustrating for the fans too because you bring in someone in form, and then make them ride the pine. You brought in [Manoj] Tiwary, you’d had Rohit Sharma when he was in Ranji form, and you have basically made players lose form by sitting on the bench.

SV: Yeah, I think it’s definitely frustrating. It would be frustrating for him, it’s definitely frustrating for Saurashtra I guess (laughs). It’s frustrating to everyone all around! It’s frustrating for the team because you have a guy who is in form but is probably not part of the team plan they have, and so it doesn’t do anyone any real benefit.

SJ: I mentioned Rohit Sharma—what do you make of his continued selection in the ODI squad?

SV: I’m beginning to be totally convinced that India needs two selection committees: one for the shorter forms, and one for Test cricket. Increasingly over the last year or so, there’s been a real case of players being picked for one format based on form in another or potential in another. Rohit Sharma has had a really long rope in one-day cricket, and not had a rope at all in Test cricket, which is really unfortunate because I think he is probably suited to Test cricket a little bit more. In Australia he got really close to playing a Test, didn’t play a Test, and then got dropped. It’s reached a point where he’s getting a long rope in one format and he’s probably not playing the format he wants to play. One thing they should definitely think about is to have a common chairman and have two different selection committees, because that could lead to more prioritizing as to who to pick and who to not [pick].

SJ: Alright, moving on from batsmen, what do you make of the choice of bowlers the selectors have made, with Dinda, Bhuvnesh, and Shami Ahmed?

SV: It’s definitely surprising. A few of the selections are surprising. Shami not being picked after having a good time against Pakistan, and then Dinda coming in, and Awana, who looked like he had a lot of potential not being there. But, in this case I am willing to give the selectors the benefit of the doubt because India’s bowling is definitely a cause for worry, and in case they are trying to use this series or another series to sort of find out who needs to be in the mix, who needs to not, what can this guy do, what can that guy do, then I’m fine with it. Because, come on, at the end of the day this England series is important today and important for a week or so, but nobody… it’s not like it’s the most important tournament. It’s one-day cricket. It’s one-day cricket without too much of context, really, so I am fine if they’re experimenting with it for the long term. But again, if they continue to do this for the next few months through all of these tournaments and keep mixing and matching, then it is going to be a problem.

SJ: Fair enough! Thanks for coming on the show, Sid.

SV: No problem, Subash. Keep it up, Subash.

SJ: (Laughs) Thanks.

What’s bothering ‘em now?

SJ: Welcome to the show, Homer!

Homer: Hi Subash, how are you doing?

SJ: Doing well. What seems to be bothering you now?

Homer: What seems to be bothering me now is India’s slip cordon, or lack thereof, in the sense that we seem to be playing a game of musical chairs as to who is going to be manning the slip cordon at any point in time, from the time we had a reassuring slip cordon in Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, and on occasion Sachin Tendulkar. We have now become where pretty much anyone and everyone can be slip fielders without considering ability or form or both.

SJ: You would think slip cordon is a specialized fielding position!

Homer: I would have thought so too! But apparently the current regime thinks that anyone can do any job without any consideration to ability. The problem is not just this regime—this has been a problem for some time now. I mean, we know that we had a very stable slip cordon in Dravid, VVS, and Sehwag, but we also knew these guys were going to retire at some point in time or the other. We never made an attempt to replace them or to build a new cordon, which would substitute them as and when they faded away.

SJ: Then what do you say of the Indian team’s attempt to have anyone from Yusuf Pathan to now Ashwin standing in slip?

Homer: What I say is this; you are a team in transition. You are going to lose more than you are going to win, and if you’re going to augment those losses by shooting yourself in the foot by not having a stable slip cordon, you are going to be in the dumps for much longer than you thought you would possible be. Look, we have never been a spectacular fielding side. India has never ever been one of the cutting edge fielding units, but what we have always been is a safe catching side. So when you take away that safety net, which is our catching, you are basically exposing our bowlers and for a team in transition it becomes a lot worse.

There are two ways of looking at it. You have an efficient bowling attack, which will generate chances, and you need to have people who will pouch those chances. On the other hand you have an inefficient bowling attack which will not generate as many chances, and so what you need in that case is a superior fielding attack which will supplement the bowling attack and therefore keep you in the game. Right now we are basically an inefficient bowling attack supplemented by an ordinary close-catching cordon, and what is happening then is it is basically making things a lot worse than it should be. If you’re going to drop an Alastair Cook on 17 and he goes on to make 159, its pretty much the ball game right there! Unless we learn to address this problem and make a concerted effort to narrow down the persons who are going to be our slip cordon, it is going to be a lot worse before it gets better.

SJ: Do you have choices for that slip cordon?

Homer: Right now the way I see it is pretty much everyone has auditioned for that role. I don’t know how many of these people who have auditioned for that role actually do the same job for their domestic sides. But for mine, the way I see it is you have a core that you are building. You have to pick from that core and develop that core to be your close-in catchers.

SJ: Okay! Thank you, Homer!

Homer: Thank you, Subash!

That concludes this episode of Short Jabs. Before we go, here is this week’s blog recommendation. This week’s “opening spell” guest Michael had written a post on his site (Cricket Geek) on a possible new structure for international first class cricket. He talks about expanding the international cricket scene to 16 teams and having 4 divisions. Give it a read.

Thank you all for listening. Do spread the word, or Marlon Samuels will throw his bat at you.