Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chennai winning the IPL was well deserved. MI not reaching the final was poor captaincy.....

Even though I feel vindicated at my prediction of a CSK win, I feel really upset at the way MI did themselves in. Had it been any other captain than Tendulkar, MI would have had a better chance of being in the finals. That CSK would still have won is a different matter; at least there would have been some sort of a logical conclusion to the tournament.

Today’s TOI does in fact talk about the mistakes Tendu has made as a captain. The most inexplicable of them all being the one to bat second in the Eliminator against RCB two days back. Now my logic is a little different from the one that the TOI has mentioned. Of course, there was the heavy weight of statistics against the decision to bat second – after all, 6 out of 7 times, the team batting first had won at Chidambaram stadium in Chennai. Why take chances? But my argument is based on a different point. My point is that when you have wild beast like Gayle as an opponent.....and you know that once you have him, you have the entire RCB on its knees.....then your strategy should be designed to get Gayle out cheap. Now, everyone knows this – most batsmen bat more freely when they are playing first. When they bat second, there is the pressure of a run rate that weighs on their heads. Take Adam Gilchrist’s King’s XI Punjab – they made some 220 odd at Dharamshala when they were batting first against RCB and Gayle misfired batting second. Likewise, King’s XI couldn’t chase the huge total against DC while batting second.. Tendu should have realized that if there was any hope of keeping Gayle under pressure, it was by making sure he batted in the 2nd innings under pressure......rather than in the first innings. That’s what Dhoni did in the finals.....and as we saw, once Gayle was under pressure, he couldn’t perform.

Besides, Tendu should have known that MI is a bad chasing side. Of course they can be a bad target-setting and target-defending side as well.....but their best chances are when they set a target and then hope that Malinga delivers the goods. In fact, MI’s run-chasing is as poor as the entire Indian team’s run-chasing record is. Even in the 2003 ODI world cup, when Saurav Ganguli decided to let Australia bat first, I had said that the match had ended with that decision. Tendu should have known how badly MI struggled to go past Kolkata’s modest 147 in the Eliminator – that too after getting off to a blistering start with Blizzard.

There were other mistakes that Tendu has made thru the tournament. He hasn’t been able to get Bhajji to perform. Bhajji has hardly remained a spinner now. He’s more of an armour bowler and in the T-20 format, when bowling slow flighted balls is an advantage, Bhajji has failed. After 16 games, he’s taken only 14 wickets and is ranked 12th in the bowler’s rankings....hardly expected of a top notch bowler. Likewise, why Tendu had so much faith in Pollard’s bowling is inexplicable. He’s very pedestrian.....on the dead Indian tracks, a ball bowled at a very gentle pace from a great height and is a great ball to hit. The additional lift that the height provides actually makes it a very juicy delivery to whack. In Australia or England, where the ball rises a lot, Pollard may be dangerous.....on the placid Indian wickets, he was easy prey. No wonder then that his Economy Rate was as high as 8.52....way higher than other wicket takers from MI like Bhajji (6.98), Malinga (5.95), Munaf Patel (6.59) and even inexperienced Dhaval Kulkarni (7.45). Almost every batsman has had a go at Pollard. Tendu goofed up again. He shouldn’t have used Pollard so much as a bowler.

In total contrast to Tendu’s captaincy flaws, Dhoni has yet again shown how smart a captain he is. When he was asked if he gave instructions to his team members when they went out to bat, he said “They don’t need instructions. They are experienced players. They know what to do. If they make mistakes, there is always a chance later to talk to them”. This in my mind is a clear sign of great captaincy. A captain who is giving fresh instructions after every over or two believes that the rest of the team is made up of rookies. Giving feedback is important, but timing is even more critical. It’s the exact same in the corporate world as well. A CEO has to give feedback.....but timing is critical.

Today, people are commending Dhoni on his persistence with Murali Vijay in spite of his bad form thru the tournament. For me, it’s not this one example alone which shows the way Dhoni thinks. In the World cup finals, when Dhoni played Sreesanth, the entire country thought it was a wrong decision. I had written even then that I thought it was a gamble Dhoni had taken. Because Sreesanth is one of the few bowlers who can get the ball to swing away even under Indian conditions. Just one good over could have got a key wicket and that’s all it often takes in an ODI match. The decision to include Sreesanth tells us how Dhoni thinks. Sometimes tactically, sometimes strategically.

RCB did well to reach the finals. But honestly, it didn’t deserve to be in the finals. A team which depends totally on one single player doesn’t deserve to be in the finals. Mumbai or Kolkata or later King’s XI were better teams overall than RCB.....

The real truth is that I feel extremely proud of having predicted the winner of the IPL-4! (I know this sounds a bit like the TOI saying “in our report published on xyz, we said so”!). But on a more serious note, it shows that prediction – even in an unpredictable game like cricket – can be done. Provided one knows how to pick the key “drivers”. For the last three games, I had said that the key drivers would be four foreigners – Malinga, Pollard, Gayle and Bollinger. The first two failed to perform in the Eliminator, while the third did.....taking RCB to the final. The same third (Gayle) didn’t perform in the finals and CSK won. The fourth, Bollinger, wasn’t really tested. The results are not so much about Murali Vijay and Ashwin performing in the themselves, they couldn’t have ensured a win. It was really about these four foreigners either performing or not performing at critical times that decided the eventual winners. Understanding the drivers is key to predicting. In cricket. As well as in politics!

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