Sunday, October 19, 2008

Amit's noble feat, and its undesirable but certain fallout

I have not seen much of Amit Mishra except in the IPL matches. An inevitable comparison comes up with that other young hope of Indian leg spin bowling, Piyush Chawla. Based on the IPL show (which was hard-fought, top class competitive event), at this stage I rate Amit to be a little ahead of Piyush Chawla. Chawla is talented and can bowl genuine wicket taking deliveries but he can also be profligate. Amit Mishra seems to possess all of Chawla's skills but also gives away very little.

To replace a legendary bowler-cum-skipper like Anil Kumble in a debut Test match must be pressure enough. To do it against Australia would be even more difficult. His teammates did well to compensate for those burdens on the young shoulders by batting first, putting up a good score and then, vitally, knocking of early Australian wickets (including Hayden) before Amit came in for his first spell. But credit goes to him and only him for bowling as well as he has done in the Ist innings and earning 5 wickets from good batsmen using classic leg spinner's guile. The feat shows a wealth of potential lurking beneath his unassuming persona. How about having Lalit Modi to divert some of his time from ICL-beating and ensuring that the boy plays for Rajasthan in the next next season to gain some more knowledge of his trade under the tutelage of Shane Warne?

I can see one fallout of Amit's feat that is as certain as it is unfortunate for him. His 5 wicket spell will be used by the Indian sports media to put more pressure on Anil Kumble when Anil needs it the least - in the middle of a tough series, perhaps the toughest in world cricket today. Kumble is 37, injured, coming from a poor last series and went wicketless for the first time on Indian soil in the series opener. Amit is 25, fit, has played for Kumble and took 5 wickets in his very first innings.

Poor chap Kumble - if I were him I would have nausea today even at the thought of the possible contents in tomorrow's sports coverage in media. And our selectors - how will they react when they select the team for the last 2 Tests?? While they have every reason for resting Kumble and continuing with Amit in the 3rd match, the selectors can also jump the gun and end up sending Kumble out of the team he was leading a match ago.While that is a little unlikely, I would not exactly be stunned if Anil Kumble is deselected, feels humiliated by his non-selection in the last 2 Tests and ends up declaring that he has played his last Test.

Brings another such occasion to my mind. Waugh Jr averaged under 28 in the 10 tests preceding the Australian away series against NZ in March 2000. The last series before that was against Indian visitors. Among middle order batsmen, Ponting was in best form against India. However he got injured (as far as I recall) and had to be replaced by Damien Martyn who (unbelievably) used to the bench those days. Martyn topped the middle order averages in the NZ series while Mark Waugh was the least impressive. While Mark Waugh did quite well to still average 47, many of us from the sub-continent suspected that he was likely to lose his place when Ponting returned. Nothing of that sort happened though. When Australia played their next Test against West Indies they went back to the same middle order that played the last match against India before the Tests in NZ. Martyn went back to the benches.

Mark Waugh was also past 35 & struggling a little at that time. However the selectors thought that Mark still had enough cricket left in him to be considered ahead of a peaking, younger Martyn. And Waugh proved his selectors right by doing well for better part of the next 2 years till he finally lost his touch and quit for good.

Of course Mark's retention in 2000 was helped by the fact that the next Test match against West Indies, which saw Ponting's return, was played 6 months later! How Kumble would have loved his shoulder injury to have deferred itself till the Nagpur Test.

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