Gambhir’s views on the rotation policy — with an implicit-finger pointing towards Sachin Tendulkar — and about MS Dhoni’s run-chasing methods raised unnecessary controversies. Arunabha Sengupta writes that while most of the claims were wrong from a statistical as well as ethical point of view, they may have been unintentional.
Speaking from the statistical, historical, ethical as well as deferential point of view, Gautam Gambhir’s statements after the Adelaide One-Day International had as much grace and correctness as his batting against the rising balls during the recently-concluded Test series. He fended the questions in the most incorrect, ungainly manner and ultimately played into the multiple waiting hands that lurked nearby.
Indeed there were quite a few among those present waiting to fling themselves and grasp such gifts. The Australian media, starting with the Herald Sun, has raised pointed questions using Gambhir’s comments in an expected laddering act. They have not only targeted the rotation policy — which made the greatest batsman of the world sit out for a match. Their focus has also been turned on skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s ploy of leaving things till the last possible moment on two successive days — the other topic the Indian opening batsman was unnecessarily critical about after the captain’s last over heroics at Adelaide.
Even if Gambhir had not intended the unfortunate consequences, and the words that the world heard were not exactly how he had wanted them to come out, he has stirred the hornet’s nest with the same aplomb with which he has scored the two consecutive 90s in the last two games.
Why Gambhir’s comments are historically and statistically baseless?
The first part of the post-match interview dealt with Dhoni’s extraordinary enterprise at the very end. The opener voiced his doubts about the captain’s approach. Gambhir went on to say — and one can be pardoned for using the alternative verb ‘brag’ out here — that left to him, he would have tried to do things differently and would not have left the issue unsettled till the last over of the match.
Well, while he is indeed entitled to his opinions, if we consider the subject of finishing matches, Dhoni knows a thing or two about it. He has, after all, close to 3,000 runs at 52 while batting second, and 1993 of them at a stratospheric average of 104.89 in successful chases. That is head and shoulders above the best of the rest — the averages of Michael Clarke, Michael Bevan and Mike Hussey, who follow him in terms of this feat, all hover in the late 80s. In other words, Dhoni, by some distance, is the very best in the world at wrapping up an ODI, safe, secure and with style.
Yet, strangely, perhaps drunk on his 90 odd runs, Gambhir gave the indication of being unusually irreverent of performers who have earned the mantle of being the best in business.
Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction to sensitive questions on rotation, or perhaps grievance about a strange system which is structured to keep him out of the middle in a third of the matches, but Gambhir’s reactions on being asked about the policy sounded like a direct extract from the most irrational fan forums — where statistical ignorance is unknowingly flaunted like medallions.
Comment that’s tasteless, insensitive & lacking in statistical truth
His assertions that names did not count and it was the best eleven who believed that they could win — while a statement tailor-made to win a lot of raucous cheers from the rabble — is strangely lacking in either edification, respect or a semblance of historical and statistical awareness.
Prior to the Adelaide thriller, India had upset the Australians in their backyard only five times in the last 20 years — once apiece in 1991 and 2004, and three times during their last visit in 2008. In these five matches, Tendulkar had notched up 117 not out, 91, 86, a top-scoring 44 and a very important 36. His two highest scores had come in the VB series four years earlier, when he had won both the finals for India almost on his own.
And, very recently, while he did miss out in the World Cup final, the champion batsman scored two centuries and two fifties in the lead up to the historic game at the Wankhede.
If he had really intended to accuse Tendulkar of not thinking in winning terms, Gambhir may be guilty of sleeping through 231 matches of a stupendous career in which the master scores at 57.01 with a strike-rate in the 90s. Just as Dhoni knows something about chasing down targets, Tendulkar probably knows more than any other cricket playing soul — dead or alive — about winning matches.
Calculating or callous?
Which leads to the question: How much thought actually went into answering the questions?
In the euphoria of ending up on the positive side of a nail biting cliff-hanger, a cricketer may not be in the ideal state of mind to answer complicated questions.
It may have been plain irritation on hearing the same questions repeated again and again even after a memorable victory. It may have been that the words came out the wrong way. It may also have been that like quite a few in the cricketing world, Gambhir believes Tendulkar should not play the one-day game any longer, and his opinions somehow seeped through the frenzy of after-match activities in words stronger than he intended.
It may be that he was still thinking about the game, savouring the success while still vexed at the forward prods of his skipper when a resounding biff seemed more to order, and thus ended up questioning Dhoni’s approach while praising the playing eleven. His active cricketer’s mind may have been freewheeling through the exhilarating moments, not really realising that he was making front page news.
Although it should be very, very apparent to anyone in the national team, especially someone as experienced as Gambhir, that every phrase in a press conference should be weighed and worded with greatest discretion; what we tend to forget is that the men constantly under the scanner are cricketers and not diplomats.
It would perhaps be the best to give him the benefit of the doubt. It is perhaps best to look away, not even dignifying the comments with an analysis. However, the world of modern media is not that simple. The Australian, as well as some Indian, channels, papers and websites have already catapulted this into the limelight. Controversies surrounding rotation policy and the captain’s chasing methods have received significant shots in the arm.
It may be a growing trend to get away with controversial statements by claiming to speak one’s mind. However, if the Indian management is intent on a variant of the rotation policy in their strange scheme of pushing different players to face press conferences, they need to make a serious effort to groom them through a specific set of dos and don’ts to avoid such faux pas in future.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)