Still scope for improvement

K. SRIKKANTH

The one-day series in New Zealand should provide the Indians with an ideal opportunity to experiment. The World Cup being just around the corner, the Indians do have to try out various combinations.

We should have a re-look at Rahul Dravid's position as a wicket-keeper batsman. He is a top-flight batsman, and I personally feel the task of 'keeping wickets is a bit too much for him, says the author.

Despite India's fine performances in the ODI competitions last year, there is still scope for improvement, as the series against the West Indies revealed.

And we should be willing to take some hard decisions, since it may not be possible to set matters right during the World Cup. We have to be pro-active.

There has been a tendency in the Indian team-management over the years to let things drift, and I must say that the time has come for us to sit and assess the situation.

There are several changes that I would like to see in our approach and strategy during the ODI series against New Zealand. To start with, we should have a re-look at Rahul Dravid's position as a wicket-keeper batsman.

He is a top-flight batsman, and I personally feel the task of 'keeping wickets is a bit too much for him. He has performed the job without complaining till now, however, in the World Cup, where his batting would be so crucial on seaming pitches, Dravid should be allowed to concentrate on what comes to him best.

The sheer demands of being a frontline batsman and a 'keeper could leave him exhausted by the time the World Cup arrives, or worse, during the World Cup, which would mean that India had not got the best out of a valuable performer.

India would be advised to try out the young Parthiv Patel during the ODI series. He is a fine talent as a 'keeper, and from what we saw in the series against the West Indies, he is a no mean batsman.

He does have sound basics, apart from seeming to possess big match temperament, and there is no harm in giving him the job during the ODI series against New Zealand and, if he performs well, take him to the World Cup.

I am one of the few who don't quite believe that the extra batsman is so essential for India. If the batting is so strong as it is made out to be, then the top six should be able to get the job done. Where then is the need for the seventh batsman?

I think this is more in the mind than in anything else. A line-up that has Sehwag, Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid does not require a seventh batsman.

We should also experiment with the different opening combinations during the seven-match series. Sehwag has performed remarkably well as an opener, but India could switch his partners. For instance, Ganguly could walk out with him in one game, and Tendulkar, the next.

The opening pair could be flexible taking into account the different situations and conditions. In certain instances, it might actually suit the Indians to have these changes in combinations.

Sanjay Bangar is coming along well as an all-rounder, and it may not be a bad idea to give him longer spells against the Kiwis, to keep him mentally prepared for the bigger challenge that awaits him and the team in South Africa.

Here is a cricketer who could improve with confidence, and Bangar could indeed be an useful bowler in seaming conditions, since he bowls stump to stump and doesn't strive for too much.

In the past, it has often been seen that he does not receive more than five overs, and unless he gets used to bowling longer spells, and is prepared for the task mentally, he may not really be ready to perform a crucial role in South Africa.

The point I am trying to make is, if Bangar can bowl seven to eight overs, then he could also play the role of the additional batsman and this could enable India to field a specialist 'keeper.

I am not attempting to take anything away from Dravid, who is doing a whole-hearted job behind the wicket. However, he is not a regular 'keeper, and God forbid, if he puts down a crucial catch in a knock-out game, it could send India out of the tournament.

We need to have a long-term view and not look for quick-fix solutions, like the decision to ask Dravid to keep the wicket. The Indians should realise that a mega-event like the World Cup is no place to take risks.

We could also get non-regular but useful bowlers like Ganguly, Sehwag and Tendulkar to share around 15 overs among them in the one-dayers in New Zealand, so that we have more options available during the World Cup, just in case things go a little wrong. Ganguly, in particular, can be extremely effective in South Africa, and I would like to see the skipper bring himself on more often.

There are quite a few things to sort out in the Indian bowling. We have to see whether Zaheer Khan has recovered fully from his knee injury. It is so important from India's point of view to have Zaheer firing at the opposition.

It would only help the Indian attack, if Javagal Srinath returns for the one-day series.

He is a quality performer and can bring with him so much experience, which the current Indian attack lacks.

Srinath will only add to the Indian attack in New Zealand and South Africa and if the selectors do not recall him, they will be making a huge mistake.

We have to be realistic about the depth in our pace attack, and learn to respect a quality performer that Srinath surely is.

Spinners Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik, who were impressive against the West Indies, may have a role to play in New Zealand too, and the team-management should look at making the best use of their talent, including bringing them on at the different stages of an innings.

During the games against the Kiwis, we have to get our fielding right. Too often in the past, the Indian fielding — and catching too — has wilted under pressure. This should not be allowed to happen in the future.