Life after Wright - A look at Chappell and Team India after one test season
When Greg Chappell had joined as coach of the Indian team, I had decided that a good time-period for judging his impact would be a full season, somewhere around the end of the English series. So, here goes. And do remember, this is strictly based on the test match performances and results. I would do a separate one for ODIs at the end of the series. And yes, I specifically wanted to analyse test and ODI separately, not the least because of the vast gap in the team results in the two formats.
1) Team performance :
Played 3 against SL - Average batting by top order batsmen - Dravid missed a match, got a fifty in another, Sehwag missed a match, failed in other two, Sachin got a 100, Laxman another, Yuvraj did ok in couple of matches, Saurav failed to build, Pathan showed good batting form, Kumble and Pathan bowled well. In general the batting momentum never buit up. We won the series by sheer mediocrity of the opposition.
Played 3 against Pak: On pitches where admittedly even the great English bowling lineup struggled against the average Pak batting, Indian bowling display was way below average. Batting did well, as it should have on those pitches. Still Dhoni and Pathan were needed to rescue them once. Dravid was good, Laxman ok in one outing, Sachin bad. Then came Karachi - bowling failed to capitalise on top order collapse, and was very ordinary second time around. Pathan fluctuated between unplayable and pathetic. Batting did bad twice, although due to some good Pakistani bowling. Sachin got out to an ordinary ball first time around, while Laxman and Dravid got beauties twice. Yuvraj played a good knock in second innings, Saurav once again failed to capitalise on the start. And for once, neither Pathan nor Dhoni rescued India.
Played 3 against England: batting once again failed to gain collective momentum throughout the series. Batsmen did not build on each other's momentum, and there were disjointed individual performances from Dhoni, Dravid, Jaffer, Pathan, Kaif and Kumble. Yuvraj didn't capitalise on his start even once. Bowling was good, mainly due to the five bowler strategy (which worked excellently in Mumbai) but Pathan's performance was at times ordinary. So was Bhajji, at times. Kumble was good throughout. Fielding was good, close catching very very bad. Specialist slippers and bat-padders were not trained. Sehwag and Sachin's combined repeated failure probably hurt India the most, although Sehwag played a decent knock in Mohali to hit the winning runs. Sachin looked in good touch, but failed to play a big innings in Mumbai.
All in all, the team performance itself has not improved from the decline in batting it showed in the Pak home series. The batting lineup as a whole is not clicking, but each player has had individual good knocks. Five batsman strategy is not bad, its the top five (four, minus Dravid) who are not doing well consistently enough. Dhoni and Pathan are making up for the sixth batsman.
Bowling has looked better since the day when we were unable to bowl out Pakistan in Mohali, but this transformation is only recent, and against an English batting lineup which we know is not very good. In Pakistan 5 bowlers were also not very effective in Faisalabad, although on a flat track.
Sehwag has been in terrible form, with a few sparks in between. Sachin ditto. Come to think of it, Laxman and Yuvraj ditto. The only management step for improvement in this direction has been that Yuvraj has been given more responsibility and a permanent slot. It's early to see how he lives up to it, but he hasn't translated his spectacular ODI form to tests completely. While the argument can be that a replacement needs time to mature, in his case he's been included above a not-in-terrible-form batsman (Laxman) and expectation of immediate results was not really misplaced.
Only Dravid has looked to fight on, whether in form or not. And that, probably, is what is costing the team dearly. Not all 5/6 players are in form all the time, but all of them should be ready to grit it out and a couple are going to scrape through.
The sixth batsman (Dhoni+Pathan) has been in as good a form as Dravid - unless you expect India to play a sixth batsman and Pathan as a bowler. That looks even less likely at home now that Pathan is not giving enough to be included as a fourth bowler (remember, this analysis is for home conditions only). So the strategy can be called a step forward. But that is somewhat offset by the fluctuation in the bowling form of Pathan, even during matches where he starts off well.
Bowling of Harbhajan has been ordinary at times, yet he looks to be coming back. Probably a bad patch he is now overcoming. But he has certainly moved down a few notches below Kumble as our primary test spinner.
Kumble is as good as ever, and Santh, Munaf are certainly a few notches above Pathan in home conditions. Giving enough chances to new pace bowlers is another step forward by the team management.
Verdict: If one analyzes deeply, there are some advances, a few steps back and some status-quoes. But looking at the complete picture, test Team India looks to be standing at pretty much the same station where Wright disembarked a season ago.
Now lets remember this for the West Indies tour, irrespective of what happens in the ODI series.