ICC Displays Poor Organizing Skills
Champions Trophy Languishing In Mediocrity
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The ongoing ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka has come as a big disappointment to all the cricket lovers for it is a perfect example of mismanagement of affairs on the part of the apex governing body of the game. Mired in one controversy or the other right since its inception, it has raised some very fundamental questions about the relevance of such tournaments and their contribution in real terms.

This particular tournament is no exception, for there have been umpteen examples where the organizers have bungled. But on each of these occasions the quality of the game bailed the organizers out. The standard of cricket had been pathetically low for the most part of the championship and it is precisely this reason that has made all the glaring errors extremely conspicuous and apparent.

We have had nine games so far of which only two were keenly contested, where the spectators got their money's worth. We can of course argue that it is none of ICC's business if New Zealand ends up being thrashed by 164 runs and Pakistan could not escape a rout at the hands of Sri Lanka. Honestly speaking how many of us would have queued up to see Australia take on Bangladesh and South Africa take on Kenya. Not only the result but the manner of the ensuing defeats were a foregone conclusion.

The ICC has a compulsion to popularize the game and that is why it has to invite teams like Holland, despite being fully aware that they cannot be expected to make a match of it. To put it plainly it is trivialization and not popularization of the game, no matter what Messrs Gray and Dalmiya call it. It is me and you who are getting fooled, not only duped but out rightly robbed, because in the final analysis, we are the only ones who pay for it.

The biggest casualty of the entire episode is the element of expectation and suspense, which is vital for an event of this magnitude. After the first four games, half the picture was clear. Out of the next eight games, there were only two matches, which had the potential to have any affect whatsoever on the final outcome of the tournament.

The format of the tournament was such that in every group, the team winning the lone crucial tie was assured of a place in the semifinal. This in effect reduced the other two games of the pool to a farce and nothing else, Pool 2 featuring India, England and Zimbabwe being the only exception. How can one reconcile to the fact that the ICC Champions Trophy showcases the best of all that cricket has to offer when sixty-six percent of the games at the league stage are a big sham. What kind of popularity are we seeking and hoping to achieve?

The earlier knock out format was far more effective and interesting. It had to be done away with only because of the commercial aspects. The number of teams was increased to increase the number of matches, thus raking in more money from the sponsors. Secondly, to take the game to new shores, where unexplored markets are waiting for the ICC.

Of course I can't be against the logic because ICC is after all not a charity organization. But one has to retrospect the prices that we are paying in our quest, the sacrifices that are being made and most importantly, are they worth it?

Let us take up another issue now. The entire tournament is being played in Sri Lanka, which in effect means Colombo. I have no intention to delve into the geo-political natty gritties of Sri Lanka which is responsible for a such a localized development. But I do have a right to look into the matter, if the particular fact in question has any effect on the quality of the game, which should be our prime concern in any case.

Apart from the twelve league games, we have two semi finals and a final. Colombo boasts of four international venues, but the entire tournament is being staged in two stadiums only. The SSC is hosting six of these games, where as the remaining nine, which includes both the semifinals and the final, are scheduled for the Premdassa Stadium.

Which of us would sincerely believe that a stadium hosting nine games within 17 days would be in a position to offer its best conditions for cricket, no matter what the standard of facilities be. The ICC in all its magnamity has conscended a reserve day for the games and there is even a provision of rest day, a phenomenon which is all but extinct from the game These extra days are in effect the recuperation time provided to the field so that they could be made playable.              

The consequence of such indiscriminate planning is that, after six or seven inconsequential games, the deciders could end up being played on pitches that are dust bowls. It is extremely abhorrent to think that such a meticulous planning could be done to kill the very spirit of the game. And all for a few more bucks.

Cricket in the hands of the ICC is becoming the golden goose, which as the proverb goes is slated to be killed, for the insatiable desires for more golden eggs appears to be unending.

God save the game!      

Lets Get Back To Cricket
The Game Takes A Back Seat Amidst Contract Drama
By S Zeyaur Rahman

One of the artistic criticisms of the age of the globalization is the toll that it takes on the aesthetic aspect of our existence. Commercialization is an inescapable fact of life and people are being forced to take cognizance of this all pervasive phenomenon without having a choice to act otherwise.

This observation is not really new or radical in any case. We have not only known and felt the degradation earlier, but more or less reconciled rather resigned ourselves to it. The recent hullabaloo over the ICC Trophy, the contract drama to be precise, has forced us to sit back and reassess the fact in a new light.

What ensues is a lamentation. In the middle of a very interesting series, in fact at its culmination, the very game appeared to have been sidelined by the Mammon worshipping mandarins and all we heard was financial dealings, profits and losses, compensations and indemnities. It was really sad that things came to such a pass. The cricket loving public, the only ones who pay to make things happen, was short changed and were robbed off the delight they take in the game.

To get back to cricket and cricket only appeared to be a Herculean task and it was a frustrating experience for one and all. One can imagine the amount of pressure and application our cricketers would have applied, when people like us found it impossible to concentrate on the on field proceedings.

It appears that I am deliberately attempting to defy all odds when I am trying to comment on the series, find out the reasons for the result and the effect that it is going to have on the future of cricket in India. I know its going to cost a little extra effort, but for cricket's sake lets get Back to cricket.

The tour to England has proved to be extremely eventful and partially fruitful as well and it's a pity that no body seems to be discussing them. Right from day one we have been treated to some excellent cricket by the players of both the sides and we were witness to some fantastic team effort and wonderful individual performances.

The triangular series will prove to be a landmark, a watershed in the history of the game in India. No matter how spectacular the victory in the final was, one should not allow it to obliterate the performance of our team in the group stages. India was the first team to make to the finals amidst stiff competition from the hosts and the Lankans and lost just one of their six league games. So much has been, said, written and felt about the finals that it is impossible to sum it up. It was an experience to be savored and will remain so forever etched in our collective memories as one of the greatest sporting achievements of the nation.

The Lord's victor broke the jinx of a final victory for India. Before that we had lost nine successive finals in an amazing run. That gave hopes that the jinx of a test victory abroad might as well be demolished. The feel good factor was so strong that most of us had almost assumed that only India could win the series.

Therefore it was a rude jolt when we capitulated so disgracefully in the first test at the very same venue of our triumph. The talks about one day and tests being as different as chalk and cheese, the inability of our batsmen to win a test, the lack of wicket taking bowlers, the usual criticism of the entire domestic system, in effect all that we have been hearing over and over again, was back in circulation.

India was back to square one at Nottingham, having surrendered the initiative. It was struggle once again with the back against the wall. In the end we came up with a credible draw and there were sufficient pointers regarding the regrouping of the team. It is easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight so an honest assessment will not find Nottingham as a transition, where the vanquished started the transformation process, but merely as a stop over, which did not contribute to the faculties of accurate prophecies.

That is one reason why the victory at Leeds was so special. There was an element of surprise which added to the pleasure and excitement. Our apparently harmless bowlers turned devastating to shoot down England for a paltry score to set up the platform. India has been guilty of negating the efforts of the bowlers many a times, especially overseas. But this time our batsmen proved equal to the task and grabbed the opportunity to post their highest ever total abroad. Their effort was complemented by the bowlers yet again, a rare phenomenon in any case, and the result was India's biggest victory abroad.

The stage was set for a grand finale at The Oval and the players did their bit to make things interesting if not engrossing. Quite literally cod water was poured on the aspirations and all speculations went down the drain, (Thames, if you can afford a little temerity).

The last two of the tests were played when the clouds of uncertainty were looming large, not only over the ICC Trophy but on the future of the game itself. Talks of split, boycott, penalties and compensations dominated the scenario at the cost of cricket.

It is for us to make our choices. What would we love to pick from the tour as memorabilia? Tendulakar surpassing the Don and appearing in 100 tests, the exquisite opera that is Dravid, the coming of age of Vaughan, the victory at Leeds. " Or contract disputes, saber rattling, legal wrangles."

Its our game and the choice should be ours.

And Pop Goes The Bubble
Complete Fiasco At Lord’s For India
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Once again the critics and cricket lovers are struggling to formulate their responses to the latest test debacle at Lord’s. Of course it is not a pleasant thing to do on nay occasion and the sickening regularity with which we are confronted with the same set of problems, the task becomes all the more despicable. All such exercises boil down to the same fundamental question what went wrong again?     

Can we really say that our worst apprehensions were proved correct? India losing a test match abroad is not a rarity and therefore not a nightmarish possibility. We do that very often and with regularity. We have almost perfected into an art, losing here there and everywhere. So what if the odds were in our favor to start with, so what if the pitch was not a green top, so what if the opposition attack was without its four top bowlers, so what if we have the best batting line up in the world….

We should not really be upset if India loses a test match abroad. In fact we would do well to be prepared for it, expect it, anticipate it or even predict it whenever we can no matter what the pundits say. We were the favorites to win the series in West Indies not a long time ago. But we contrived to end up on the losing side. Even at Lord’s, it was India which held the upper hand, on paper though. But still we were pretty close to earning an innings defeat (had the follow on been implemented).

Historically speaking, Indians are supposed to be a pessimistic or at least a fatalistic lot. Then how come we are so optimistic when it comes to cricket results? We must get down and investigate into the reasons for the aberration in our national psyche in this particular case. Shall we blame it on the influence of modernity that has changed our national character? But then we should be expecting such results in other games as well. Why only games, in everything else in fact.

I wonder what makes us entertain the notion that India will win a test series abroad. I for one don’t even recollect even a single instance in the last 16 years when India even came remotely close to winning a test series against a decent opposition outside the subcontinent. May be the veil of Maya, which is another inherent characteristic of the nation, prohibits us from seeing the reality.

Yes, illusion can be the reason for that. And the more glittering ones make us visualize phantasmagoric dreams. The recent triumph in the triangular series was one such dream which percolated into realty and blurred our vision horribly.  

Conjectures and hypotheses apart, I do not find even feasible cricketing reasons. I can understand that England displayed better commitment to the game by putting up a very good first innings total. Indians have a habit of letting the tail tell its own tales, spinning a web of stories rather. But what business do we have to collapse for 221. That too on a flat pitch, which did not provide any assistance to the fast bowlers. Shorn of grass and juice, it was England which should have faced problems on the first day. They negotiated it wonderfully well. Without attempting to take any credit from the English batsmen, critics were unanimous on the opinion that it was the flattest Lord’s pitch that they had ever seen.

Secondly, England was without it strike bowlers. Not only Gough and Caddick were absent, second rung strike bowlers like Cork and Tudor were also missing. If we can’t negotiate the opponent attack without four top bowlers on a flat pitch, do we have any moral right to stay in business? Would not be a crime or insanity to entertain visions of victory under the circumstances.

It was difficult to believe that it was the same Indian team which played so wonderfully well in the triangular trophy and scripted a memorable victory in the finals. Almost all the countries have the two-team strategy for the different versions of the game. But none of them have such glaring contradictions in their performances. Top teams like Australia, South Africa, Pakistan win regularly both in test and one dayers despite having different combinations. Why does the experiment fail with India? Why do we become such a hopeless test side?    

This question needs serious pondering and more than that an answer must be found quickly. It was shocking to hear the skipper dismissing the debacle as ‘these things happen in the beginning of the series’. Mr Ganguly, why these things happen to India and not any other team? And why did these things happen in the end in the West Indies, when we slipped from 1-0 to lose 1-2?        

In The Aftermath Of Victory
The Quest For Supremacy Abroad Continues
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The euphoria following the spectacular triumph in the Natwest Trophy is beginning to settle down and things are falling in their proper perspective as there are more serious tasks on hand. The series will be of crucial importance both for India and England as there is a lot more than reputation at stake.

Among the numerous cricket ratings that have infested the statistical landscape of the game, neither of the teams figure among the top rated sides, being confined to mediocrity. At one point of time, England was making rapid progress towards the top, winning five series in a row, including two in the sub continent. It appeared that Nasser Hussain’s side has gelled into a cohesive unit and he was playing the same role for England what Allan Border had done for Australia a decade and a half ago. The reverse in India arrested the progress and the defeat at home to the Kiwis have put the clock back. England has forfeited its impressive ranking and they have to make a renewed and sustained effort if they are to realize their dream of being a top rated side.

The tale of Indian cricket has been more or less the same over the years, with the same set of achievements and strikingly similar failures. They have been champions at home for more than a decade and the whipping boys abroad. So many times they have appeared close to break the jinx, but each time ended up on the losing side. With every passing series the disease is becoming more and more mysterious and also seemingly incurable. They have been unable to beat a lowly side like Zimbabwe in their home, ignominiously squandering the lead after looking good enough to clinch the series. In the West Indies they went a step further to lose the lead and finally the series. One is bound to reflect on the fact that a supposedly better side like India could not beat Hooper’s side and Fleming’s men ended up winning the very next series. That should put things in proper perspective when one looks at India’s achievements abroad.

It is in this background that both the teams are ready to cross swords once again, the first duel getting underway today at Lord’s. England lost the series 0-1 to India a couple of months ago. For people following Indian cricket, nothing could be more misleading regarding the actual strength of the Indian side than its record at home. There is absolutely no congruity and similarity in Indian sides which play at home and abroad, despite consisting of the same players.  

One is not sure if the revenge motive will be very high on the minds of Nasser Hussain, but nonetheless the factor will come into play. England’s tour to India was a highly publicized and popular affair which made sure that a huge range of emotions came into play. India’s test series victory at home did not get unnoticed despite the repetitiveness involved, because England had been doing rather well in the subcontinent having recorded two historic victories in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But the actual drama unfolded in the six-match one day series in which England came back sensationally from 1-3 to square the series. To add icing to the cake the decider at Mumbai was a cliff hanger and went to the wire. In the fitness of things, India opened their campaign solidly in the triangular series that culminated in one of the greatest matches in the history of the game. It made sure that nobody could remain unaffected with the outcome and the media highlighted the trivial stuff rather dramatically to set up the stage for the show that begins at Lord’s today.

We all know that the huge gap that separates the two forms of the game and it is extremely unwise to make forecasts for one on the basis of the other. We realize the difference between the two and that is why most of teams have separate squads for the two versions. India has got its batch of reinforcements of tests specialists. The Indian performance in the two practice games has been far from satisfactory. The batsman did not click against West Indies A and against Hampshire the performance was even dismal. It could be the early tour blues for the side but the English tours do not give one much of a time to settle down.

The composition of the team will have more or less a familiar look to the one that was on duty in the Caribbean. Once again there will be a new opening pair. Shiv Sundar Das’ prolonged lean patch with the bat has cost him his place in the side. Virendra Sehwag will replace him and will play the test as an opener along with Wasim Jaffer, who did reasonably well on the previous tour. We will have to wait to see how this new pair fares. One can also question the wisdom of sending a specialist opener who does not merit a place in the side. That is a touchy topic, for there are quite a few others who have been asked to stay back without being a member of the test side.

Rahul Dravid will be glad to get rid of the wicketkeeping and after handing over the gloves to Ajay Ratra, he will return to his position of No 3. Ganguly and Tendulkar follow automatically and Laxman will be retained at No. 6 on the basis of his successful tour to West Indies.

The problem arises over the position and role of Sanjay Bangar. He supposedly presents too many alternatives and has every one in a fix regarding his role. He can open the bowling and batting, he can bat in middle order, lower middle order as well play as an all rounder….One is really confused regarding him and is unable to clearly define his status in the side, given the assumption that he is fit enough to be in the side. Playing him gives a little more depth to the batting side but that comes at the cost of a bowler. I do not see any reason to play him instead or along with Laxman and the team management can be assured by Ratra’s performance to allow him to come at No. 7 leaving the space for four bowlers.

That is the second part of the problem. Playing with four specialist bowlers is a big gamble and India has suffered often in the past because of that. We sacrifice ea bowler to accommodate an extra batsman to put up a decent score. So many times the batting order has collapsed and with one bowler short we try to make a fight of it and regret not having another bowler. Secondly playing two spinners is extremely tempting and extremely risky at the same time. You cannot win a game in England with two fast bowlers. The second spinner is a luxury which a team cannot afford, certainly not when there is a place for only four bowlers. So once gain there will be a toss between Harbhajan and Kumble and Ganguly will have to make a choice between experience and youth. Nehra and Zaheer Khan should command a place automatically leaving the last place open for a toss between Agarkar and Yohannan. I presume that Agarkar’s superior abilities with the ball and bat will weigh in his favor to steer him to the side.

On the other hand England are facing a number of injury problems that have ruled out several key players. Trescothik is out and that is severe blow. They are badly hit in the bowling department with both Caddick and Gough nursing injuries. They will have to fall back on rookie bowlers and in the absence of incisiveness might fall back to the negative tactics that was evident in India.

Things do look appear upbeat for India as they always do at the beginning of the series, remember the last series. But it is a mystery as to why they end up losing. I don’t have any doubts regarding the potential of the team, but am extremely cynical when it comes to translating this potential into performance. It is for Ganguly and his men to prove my cynicism wrong and restore our faith in the abilities of the side.                                             

A Perfect Tenth At Lords
A Moment Of Triumph For Indian Cricket
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The shadows of defeats are long but the taste of victories linger on for eternity. That too a victory like the one India achieved the other day at Lord’s is sure to be immortalized in the minds of cricket lovers across the globe and will stay there for generation to come. All of two days old, the picture of Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Kaif darting madly for the seemingly impossible 326th run is a part of cricket folklore now.       

Historians are unanimous on the opinion that history in motion is very difficult to perceive and one is most vulnerable to drawing false conclusions about the events when the objective distance is the minimum. We are too close and near to the red lettered day, the 13th of July 2002, to realize its magnitude and significance. Being an Indian is undoubtedly a drawback for a reporter because the natural elation accruing out of it will colour our perspective and might even blur our vision of the spectacle.

One must give full credit to India for the way they clawed out of a near certain defeat. Struggling successfully against all kinds of odds was never a strong point with India. At crucial junctures they are the most likely to falter - the successive defeats in nine consecutive finals are a testimony to the fact. But for once they emerged trumps when not even the staunchest of Indian supporters would have expected them to do so.

It was not the first time and it will not be the last time when India will undo the previous hard work and blow away its chances the way it did for the most part of the game. Remember the various tournaments in Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sri Lanka and its own backyard where they failed to seize the initiative when it mattered and ended up with the losers trophy. Can we forget how Chris Cairns single handedly stopped the unbeaten run of India in the mini World Cup in Nairobi, or the way Hooper deprived Ganguly of the trophy at Harare or the manner in which India capitulated at Colombo after Sehwag had announced his arrival at the big stage? Trescothick and Hussain did the same at Lords and one was forced to believe that the Indians were Champion Chokers after all.

India had played wonderful cricket through out the series and they had clearly looked the best of the three teams in business. Their victories were well deserved which had an element of authority and finality about it. Winning five out of six games against competitive sides was no mean achievement and it does make you the hot favourites for the title. Converting probabilities into possibilities and possibilities into eventualities has remained the bane of Indian cricket for long and we have seen long enough how they have failed to bridge the gap between gallant winners and valiant losers.  

The track at Lords was suited for batting and a big scoring game was predicted. But does that mean you have a right to concede as many as 325 runs against a side which does not have too many devastating players in its rank? Which team would fancy its chances chasing an unprecedented target of 326?

Ganguly and Sehwag gave a rollicking start to the Indian chase and India were 105 at the end of 15 overs. There were fireworks at both ends but we knew that it would not last the night. Five wickets fell in the next 15 overs and we were left to ruminate over where things went wrong. The look in the players pavilion, the quivering voices of normally robust sounding commentators said it all. Sidhu, Bhogle and Shastri were not exactly singing hosannas but requiems for the great Indian middle order.        

Chasing any target is not easy and anything over 275 is enough to exert pressure on the opponents. What can you say of the opponents who have a consistent record of exposing the chinks in the armour at the slightest of pressure? True enough they did. After scoring 325 when you have the rival reeling at 146-5 one has a legitimate right to harbour a feeling of having won the prize. Hussain could have felt the waiting champagnes after having brought about a remarkable turn around in the fortunes of his team. 

Yuvraj Singh and Kaif had other ideas. Hussain has taken into account the immense potential of the new generations of fighters that India has. They were slowly rebuilding the innings, gathering the wreckage around them, swimming against the tide and further the voyage towards the destination. They did not lose heart after being left in the lurch by the more seasoned campaigners and bit by bit the caravan moved on. 

It would be interesting to know if these two really believed that they could pull it off. I for one would not agree to what Kaif or Sidhu had to say at the end of the match that they considered it to be a possible task. Another 180 runs to get with the last pair of recognized batsmen and an asking rate climbing to more than 8 an over. No amount of cricket sense can consider the task even remotely possible. I would rather agree with Boycott who said that these two could have hoped for victory at that stage without really believing in that.

Hope proved to be the ultimate weapon. The Indian teams of the past have been guilty of losing all hope and giving it up. These two exhibited a rare combination of sensible and sensational cricket and soon that hope gave way to faith. A faith that they could mange the impossible.

No great task is ever accomplished without surmounting insurmountable hurdles. The faith was jolted when Yuvraj departed after resurrecting India, the faith was bruised when Harbhajan and Kumble fell in the same over, but it prevailed in the end and India had pulled off an unbelievable coup.

What followed was delirious ecstasy and nobody seemed to mind it. The tri colour was flying high once again on Lords. The moment is not as historic as Kapil Dev lifting the Prudential Trophy, but this moment could well be the watershed that Indian cricket required after losing nine finals on the trot. That moment restores our faith in the phenomenon that is cricket in India.

The hurdle has been crossed in the most glorious manner and we hope that from here on the Indian team will go on scaling peaks unheard of before.                

Will India Break The Final Jinx
Last Hurdle Remains To Be Crossed
By S Zeyaur Rahman

India's first triangular series in England did not have many surprises in store for us. None of the three teams have been able to set the English summer on fire by their display. The quality and the standard of the display so far has been more or less mediocre, at least they have not exceeded our expectations in any case.

The most disappointing of the lot has been Sri Lanka. Critics are at a loss of plausible explanations in the marked decline of the fortunes of the former World Champions. After scaling the zenith with World Cup in 1996, the Sri Lankans had displayed a remarkable consistency in the one dayers and taking inspiration from that, had dramatically improved their test record both at home and overseas. At one point of time they were the undisputed Asian champions. Though officially they still hold the crown, but I am sure that there are better claimants to the throne now.

What makes the matter mysterious is the sudden decline in their performance. They played extremely well to beat Pakistan in the final of the Asian Test Championship and routed the West Indies comprehensively at home. The very same set of players have failed rather miserably in England. They lost the test series 2-0 and were knocked out of the triangular contest with three matches still to go.

I would not mind calling Sri Lanka a top rate side. Which implies that they have a number of players to bank upon. That is why it would be difficult fore me to believe that the Islanders are going downhill because of the absence of Muralitharan. Agreed that he is a match winner on any given day, but a good team does not and should not have only one match winner. It was a pity that they forced their golden hen to bowl marathon spells despite a serious injury, which showed their desperation and the lack of faith in attaining a victory without Murali.

Murali apart, they have a very talented bunch of batsmen and bowlers who have been delivering the goods in the past. It is very strange that the entire lot is going through a bad patch simultaneously or at least none of them has threatened to be a match winner on his own. Every one of the top Sri Lankan batsman has had a couple of good innings, but they have not been able to gel as a unit or complement the efforts of one another. You cannot expect to win against top teams through individual brilliance. This team has players that can do it and they have been doing precisely the same in the past. It is not the time to panic but for serious introspection for Jayasurya and I am sure that they would have already got down to it. I do expect some bold steps from their think tank which might mean replacing some established names or a change in the roles of the existing ones if they have to pose a strong challenge to other teams in the coming World Cup.

One can't be really sure of England's performance in the one dayers at any given point of time. No team in the world has the ability to metamorphosise as suddenly and as completely as England. Without being World beaters they have the players which can get the better of any team on any given day. But they never do it with a consistency, which is precisely the reason why they have never been able to win the World Cup or any major one day tournament.

Even this team has many average and many quality players who have the required potential. All they need is a dependable man in crunch situations. Andy Flintoff is fast emerging as the leading contender for that role. Once he assumes the responsibility of giving a thrust at crucial times, the team will be difficult to beat. England does not have too many stars but they have players who know their roles. Once they do justice do that or even prepare a decent launch pad for Flintoff, they are sure to have the opponents in trouble.

But the pick of the lot has been India. With the exception of the sole loss to England, they have never looked in trouble in the remaining five matches. India has consistently outplayed England and Sri Lanka in every department and deserved the five victories which they have managed. The superior display of India has come as a pleasant surprise to one and all and they are undoubtedly the favorites for the title.

The move regarding Dravid has clicked wonderfully well but it is too early to comment if it will continue to do so in the future as well. For all we know we might end up losing a valuable batsman in order to gain a mediocre wicket keeper. Only one man can avert that calamity and that is Dravid himself. So far he has done reasonably well behind the stumps and exceeded his limitations in front of them. Despite the early loss of Ganguly, Tendulkar and Sehwag on a couple of occasions, he formed the backbone of Indian victory by mobilizing the young Turks like Yuvraj and Kaif.

I have been consistent in my assertion that it is on the people like Yuvraj, Kaif, Mongia and Laxman that the future of the Indian team lies. Two of the Big Four will always play their part and it will need two from the smaller quartet to carry India to the doors of victory. They have risen to the challenge in a most heartening manner and I can see the seeds of an Indian resurgence as a strong and durable cricketing power in the shorter version of the game as long as these four do justice to their roles. The have had a reasonable amount of exposure and experience out in the middle and now it is time to take the reins.

It will be the tenth final for India in recent memory. They will be well aware of the fact that they lost out on the past nine occasions to earn the tag of Champion Chokers. But this time they really look good enough to lift the trophy.

Frankly speaking, it will be an injustice to the hard work of the team if Ganguly cannot lay his hands on the silverware tomorrow.

History Then And History Now
India Prepares To Begin An English Summer
S Zeyaur Rahman

The mother-offspring relationship that exists between England and other cricket playing countries of the world is primarily and simply because of the fact that England is the birth place of cricket. No wonder that the umbilical chord of Indian cricket also traces its long and winding journey to the erstwhile colonial power, Great Britain. But in the times of post colonialism (and also neo-colonialism), these things stir up too much of an emotion to allow a proper objective picture.

Its impossible to escape history, when one talks of cricket against England – certainly not when one takes a trip down the memory lane. Whether it is test cricket or the shorter version of the game, one will come across many moments and events that are simply historic. As India begins its campaign in the triangular series, starting June 27, it is imperative for us to put the pieces together in order to get the picture right. Didn’t someone say that knowledge of history was past necessary to understand the present?

The English cricket establishment is by nature conservative. That is why it did not take very enthusiastically to one day cricket, which it believes, distorts the real thing. It will be difficult for many to believe that India has played a total of 14 one day international in England.

These 14 matches have been spread over five tours and four World Cups, spanning three decades. The tours of 1974 and 1982 had a two-match series, named after the sponsors as the Prudential Trophy. On the subsequent tours of 1986, 1990 and 1996, we know them under the name of Texaco Trophy. Only the last of these was a three-match series, which weather permitting was reduced to a two-match affair. Apart from these 11 encounters, India has played England thrice in the four World Cups, staged in England, bringing the total number to 14.

So should not we begin at the beginning? In this article, we will take look at the Prudential Trophy matches played in 1972 and 1982.

13 July 1974 is an important milestone in the journey of Indian cricket. It was on this day at Leeds that India made its tryst with the shorter version of the game. Ajit Wadekar was the man who led the team in its first ever one dayer. More than a historic, it was a nervous moment for Wadekar, when he walked out to toss with Mike Denness. It was like leading a contingent to an unknown territory against an opponent, who at least had the benefit of experience.

An entire team of debutants was asked to take charge first and the pair of Gavaskar and Sudhir Naik were to begin the initiation ceremony. To be fair, neither the opening pair nor the team made a fool of themselves, responding to the situation rather well.

Naik was the first to go, but not before he had given a first wicket stand of 44-runs – not a bad start by any means. It was in the fitness of things that the first wicket was claimed by the only debutant in the English side, Jackman. Naik cold not have complained of an unfair advantage to his assassin.

Six runs later, Gavaskar was bowled by Arnold, after he had altered his style to good effect, contributing 28 off 35 balls, which also included 3 boundaries and a six. It must have been a new experience for him going for his shorts so early in the innings. But India were in real trouble at 60-3 when Woolmer had castled Vishwanath. 

The stage was set for the captain to save his ship on its maiden voyage. Wadekar accepted the challenge and put on the first 50-run partnership for his country, finding a dependable ally in Farookh Engineer, whose style suited the new role. Wadekar put another 51 runs for the fifth wicket with Brajesh Patel, in the process registering the first 50 for India.

At 181-4, things were looking good for the infants, when they lost the captain for 67. Solkar was gone soon and it was 6-194. Patel took the charge then and played like a seasoned campaigner. He put on 52 runs with Abid Ali, in which the latter’s contribution was 17 runs. England clawed back into the game towards the end making a short work of the tail. From 6-246, they had India all out for 265 runs in 53.5 overs. Patel stood out with a scintillating knock of 82 under trying circumstances. English bowlers had been effective without being devastating and all of them had picked up a wicket or two.

266 was not a huge target, but was not a walkover either. It was more than a challenging total and the ball was in India’s court. The world was wanting to see if the famous spinners would be effective in the shorter version of the game as well. Abid Ali opened the attack along with Solkar. It was Solkar who drew the first blood, trapping Amiss leg before with the score at 37. Edrich joined David Lloyd and the Indians realized that it was a different ball game, where keeping runs in check was as important as taking wickets. They were able to do neither.

It was Solkar who provided yet another breakthrough, getting Lloyd stumped for 34, but not before he had added 47 runs for the second wicket. The wicket charged them up and they soon got the rival skipper to make it 96-3. It was a long haul for as Fletcher matched Edrich stroke for stroke and took the score to 179 to shut India out of the match. The next man, Greig did not provide any respite either. If anything, the run scoring got even faster, as he smashed 40 runs only in 28 balls.

At 212, Venkatraghavan snared Edrich to deny him a well deserved century. But he had won the day for England with his 90 runs. In the end it was easy for England as they won with 4 wickets and 3.5 overs to spare to go 1-0 up in the two-match contest.     

Two days later the teams met at the Oval for a repeat performance. Wadekar was encouraged by the maiden showing that he decided to make the first use of the pitch. There were no alarm bells as Naik and Gavaskar took the score to 40. India lost Gavaskar at that score and the downhill slide began. Wickets fell at regular intervals thereafter and the score read a disastrous 94-6. Vishwanath was the only recognized batsman and he found an able company in debutant Ashok Mankad putting 42 runs for the seventh wicket, the highest partnership of the innings. After Vishwanath, Mankad took the charge and single handedly too the score to 171 as India folded in 47.1 overs.

Being unable to defend 265 the other day, India had effected a change in strategy. They had discarded spin and rested both Bedi and Venkat, feeling that they had conceded too many runs. A per the new demands, the supply was changed and in came Mankad and Bose, who could apparently both bowl and bat and lend balance to the side.  

Abid Ali promised to make a match of it, getting rid of Smith for 6 to make it 19-1. Rain intervened at that juncture, but since those days there was a provision for continuing the game the next day, India waited for the impending defeat.

Edrich and Lloyd began clinically and prospered in the absence of any real pressure. They fell one after another to liven up the proceedings, but the pair of Fletcher and Denness took the score to 113. Even after the fall of Denness, he put on the 61 runs required for victory in the company of Greig to complete a 6-wicket victory and with it the series 2-0. He was rewarded with Man of the Match and also the Man of the Series for England sharing the latter with Brajesh Patel.

It was only eight years later on the tour of 1982 that the next version of the Prudential Cup was possible. In the meantime, India had gained valuable experience although they were no serious force in the one dayers by then. 

Once again the setting was Leeds for the first of the two matches. Gavaskar began with the new man Parkar and the debutant put on 30 runs before falling to Bob Willis. Botham ran through the side claiming Vengsarakar, Vishwanath and Patil and he himself fell to Allot to place India at 68-5. Yashpal Sharma and Shastri played with great determination to take the score to 113 but both fell immediately after. At 114-7 the situation was dramatic and India found a man to counter attack.

Who else could do it other than Kapil Dev. Throwing all caution to the winds Kapil blazed through to a 35 ball 50, scored 10 more from the next two balls before being the last man run out for 60 off the last ball. He had taken the score to 193 and ensured that the bowlers had something to bowl at.

But all dreams of making a match of it evaporated in thin air as Tavare and Wood put on 133-runs for the first wicket. Tavare was out for 68 and was the only wicket to fall in the innings. The debutant Allan Lamb joined in the act getting 35 runs where as Wood remained unbeaten on 78 to complete a crushing 9 wicket victory.

Once again it was Oval for the final match and this time Gavaskar decided to bowl first. Wood and Tavare made a sedate start before Patil made a double breakthrough to make it 53-2. They would have to wait long for the next wicket as the master craftsman Gower and the new recruit Lamb put on 159 runs for the third wicket. A hat-trick of run outs and the fall of Lamb for 99 arrested the Englishmen a little bit, but they still finished at 276, which was an uphill task for India given their previous outing. 

Far from accepting the challenge, India simply wilted under pressure. It was even worse for Kapil Dev who found the score reading 66-7. Once again he responded brilliantly to hammer 47 runs all over the park but it was too little. He had inspired Madan Lal, who made 53, but that was not at all as per the demands of the situation. India ended at 162-8, a good 112 runs short of the target to lose the series 2-0 yet again. Kapil excelled as an individual to share Man of the Series award with Allan Lamb, for whom it was a grand debut series.

India lost all the four matches in the two editions of the Prudential Trophy. But it was to change soon with the Prudential Worlds Cup next year, where India stunned one and all to walk away with the ultimate prize in the shorter version. The exploits need a separate treatment and I promise you that in my next article.      

From One Shore To Another
Returning To The Empire
By S Zeyaur Rahman

After all the hooplah regarding the attainable away victory in the Caribbean, India has once gain returned as losers. It is no doubt disappointing, perhaps even more because an away victory was not a dream this time; it was very much within the realms of reality. I have no hesitation in stating that it was India's best chance of an away win and they failed to grab it.

The calculations were upset because all the experts were counting more on the disabilities of the West Indians rather than the abilities of Indians. It was our golden chance because West Indies were rapidly falling downhill and no visible symptoms were available which could point at the arrest in the slide. 

The home factor was also in the favour of the West Indies. They had been performing horribly everywhere, but had managed to keep a reasonably decent record at home. But going by their form, they had had a horrible series in Sri Lanka and were not expected to turn the tables so completely that in the end they will emerge the winners against India.  

The opener in Georgetown gave the first warning signals in that regard that India will have to encounter more than it has bargained for if it has to win the series. True, cricket has its ifs and buts. Das Gupta dropping the catch of the very first ball that Hooper faced, with the score reading 44-3, was a decisive moment. From 44-4 it would have been a different story. But this line of approach leads to nowhere.

What matters is the fact that Hooper went on to make the highest score of his life and West Indies ended at 501, a huge score by any means under any conditions. What took the game away from the Indians was the 297 run partnership between Hooper and Chanderpaul. It was just a rehearsal for India as soon they would be used to the Hooper Chanderpaul.

The alliance forged by Hooper and Chanderpaul in the end turned out to be the most vital aspect of the series and if the follow up is anything to go by, the seeds of the West Indian resurgence lies in this pair. They are not an ideal foil for each other and neither do they complement each other. Surprisingly enough they are much the same, dogged determination to built a big score and in the interest of the team seem to be the hallmark of their play. At the most one can say that Hooper appeals to an aesthete more than Chanderpaul does, but as far as efficiency goes, the little man from Guyana is second to none.

To anyone following the series, it was obvious that the biggest obstacle to Indian ambitions was the Great Wall of Guyana. Together they plundered close to 1100 runs, which is no mean achievement by any standards. But more importantly, it was their partnerships that turned the tide in tier favour. Apart from the 297 in Georgetown, they raked up partnerships of 215 and 198 in the subsequent tests. There was an element of inevitability regarding their performance that they invariably lifter West Indies from a bothersome position to one of strength. One of the major reasons that India could win at Port of Spain was the fact that India did not allow a partnership between these two in both the innings, otherwise the result would have been significantly different.

But the most important aspect of the partnership was that it managed to bring in the dimension of team effort, which was conspicuously lacking in the Caribbean team. Their batting began and ended with Brian Lara. Despite amassing 650plus runs in Lanka, Lara could do nothing to avoid a 3-0 drubbing. In the very next series the West Indies managed to win not because of Lara but despite Lara and his repeated failures at crucial junctures. We must also recount the contribution of Sarwan, who was extremely consistent with his 40s and 50s but, immediately fallible after that. But in these three West Indies have found the nucleus of a very dependable batting line up and the day Lara begins to complement them, which won't be too long, a radical change in the batting exploits of the team will be visible.        

Thew series was billed as the clash of the titans - Lara and Tendulkar - but it was the lesser mortals on both the sides that stole the thunder. With the exception of Sachin all the frontline Indian batsmen scored heavily, especially Laxman and Dravid, but none of them could forge a stable alliance like Hooper and Chanderpaul, as a result India lost out on the battlefront. Otherwise how does one explain a team losing the series when almost all its batsmen have scored more than 300 runs averaging close to 50, be it Ganguly, Laxman, or Dravid. Even rookies like Jaffer and Ratra did well with the bat.

The bowling on both the sides was ordinary, in comparison to the batting, it certainly was plebian. But the crucial point is that for West Indies Dillon stands out, but for India there was no one to assume the leadership role in the bowling department. The kingpins of our attack, Kumble and Harbhajan, were never allowed to settle into any kind of rhythm, for various reasons. The pacemen picked up 50 wickets amongst themselves, but none of them looked like a match winner on their own, threatening to run through a side. Nehra was very effective in breaking partnerships, but why in the first place too many partnerships were forged against India. The reason was the lack of sting and it is bound to stay till one of the young Turks goes on to develop into a real threat.

The victory in the aborted one day series does not count for much. It can be used as a display but it has done nothing to help Indian cricket, which finds itself back to square one, if not a couple of steps back. Srinath's retirement is a case in the point and only time will tell if he has done greater service to India by opting out with dignity at the right moment. There does not seem any immediate replacement for him but neither does he leave a big vacuum. It is up to Zaheer Khan and Co to rise to the opportunity.

India has all but two weeks time to rest before they undertake another serious assignment. A very tough tour to England is waiting for them. Given the performance in the West Indies, where they lost despite being the clear favorites, it will be difficult even for die hard fans to hope for an overseas victory. Nasser Hussain's side will be no pushovers. They made India sweat at home not a long time ago and with the home advantage, they are the ones likely to come out winners from the contest. They have been shaping very well, and their current form against Sri Lanka should be an alarm bell for India.

The team for the tour has already been announced and the constitution is very much the same. It is very difficult for a critic to be satisfied with anything, but on the other hand the lack of alternatives do not leave much scope for me. The selectors could not have done much. For the sake of hair splitting, one can raise eyebrows on exclusion of Srinath from the one day side. Similarly the decision to stick with Bangar can be questioned. One can only hope that he is able to reap the dividends of his hard work in English conditions. Das Gupta ahs been dumped and I am sure that no one would have anything against that. All of four matches old, Ratra has an understudy in Parthiv Patel. Only in extreme circumstances will Patel be turning for India as Ratra is a certainty for tests and the experiment with Dravid will be continued in the smaller version. So where does Patel fit in?

Frankly speaking, no one is expecting India to win in England, at least not in the test. That does not sound like a pessimist but a realist. And like a realist we can look forward to a attractive display by India

Waiting For Jamaica Farewell
Keenly Contested Series Coming To A Close Finish
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Coming to Kingston one realizes the importance and the charm of a five match test series. One of the major assaults of the pyjama cricket has been that a five match test series is increasingly becoming a rarity and only die hard cricket fans and the conservatives in the cricket establishment are in favor of having a five test match series.

With time at a premium in erstwhile colonial countries rising to the ever growing needs of industrialization, it is becoming difficult for cricket lovers to spare five days for test cricket. Today’s generation will find it difficult to believe that earlier we had timeless tests and later there was a rest day in test matches invariably. In the last five days I do not recall a single test match which had a provision for a rest day.

When economic motives rule the world how can cricket being a part of the globalized and integrated world be unaffected from it. Cricket has to compromise and that is why we see seven match one-day series and three match test series. But having seen the manner in which the series ion the Caribbean has turned out to be, no one would deny the unique charm in the gold old ways of cricket.

From Georgetown through Port of Spain, Bridgetown, Antigua and now Kingston has been an interesting journey to follow, show casing not only all that cricket in west Indies has to offer, but also all that cricket in totality has for the fans.

A match severely affected by rain is as much a part of the game as a nail biting finish. We saw the total domination of batsmen in Georgetown for days on before bowlers could impress us with their presence. Varying shades of flamboyance and delightful stroke play were put up by Carl Hooper, before Chanderpaul displayed how one can be effective without being charming. A third dimension to the art of batsmanship was added by Rahul Dravid, which does not win matches but allows one the luxury of walking with the head held high despite being on the mat for a long time.

The victory at Port of Spain was a result of more than one factor. Was it the incomprehensible help from history or was it the belief in the present, was it the vulnerability of the Windies or was it the timed to perfection aggression of the Indians. One can never know. What on remembers is Zaheer Khan’s hands going up to mark the end of a long long draught, signaling India’s first victory against a major test playing nation outside the subcontinent after 16 years. An entire generation of Indians had made the transition from childhood to adulthood, from youth to middle age before they could savor the fruit of a foreign victory.

At Bridgetown we were back being fed our staple diet of a batting collapse on a green top resulting in another humiliating defeat. There were no surprises in the script, despite the minor aberration in the previous match. India still has a long way to go if it has to seize the initiative and hold on to the lead. This was the third time in a row when India had managed to put up a despicable performance ending in a defeat immediately after registering a spectacular victory abroad. Remember Colombo and Kandy, Bulawayo and Harare and the logical sequence of Port of Spain and Bridgetown. We Indians are never radicals at heart. Conformity comes to as easily as anything.

If Port of Spain restored our faith in test cricket, Antigua showed why we lost our faith in test cricket in the first place. In a thoroughly uneventful and unimaginative chain of events, the players, spectators and fans alike groaned under the assault of statistics on the very ethos of the game. It was a batsmen’s game and the bowlers would be justified if they were to sue the groundsman for damages caused to their reputation. Sadly enough for the game, Antigua is no exception, but Port of Spain is. Within a fortnight we have seen two contrasting rather diametrically opposite shades of cricket.

What could be better for the fans and the game than a five match series going into the decider at 1-1. Te teams evenly balanced, having had a good look at the opponents, measured each other thoroughly, with most of the batsmen in good touch, bowlers eager to make their presence felt and to top it all a good sporting wicket to test the abilities of the craftsmen. Kingston was a dream come true for the fans whose heart’s beat with the rhythm of a bowler’s run up, echoing the sweet timing of the willow when a thumping cover drive is executed.

One man’s victory s another man’s loss. If there is a victor, there has to be vanquished. We did not know that at the beginning of the fifth test match. Now with India chasing a target of 400 plus on a crumbling wicket, we know the difference in mounting a spirited challenge and coming out with the flag held high. It is not the wicket which has made the task appear impossible, it is the susceptibility of our batsmen to crumble under pressure which has decided the series full tow days in advance.

Antigua Yet To Deliver A Result
A Significant Turning Point Expected
By S Zeyaur Rahman 

Antigua Recreation Ground is one of the newest grounds in the Caribbean. After tourism started blooming in the twin wonders of Antigua and Bermuda, these small islands assumed a greater significance in all spheres. One of them was of course cricket and the construction of a cricket ground was a symbolic statement of the newly acquired importance.

Antigua did not really need to announce its importance in the world of cricket, having already produced some of the very big names in cricket. Antigua is home to none other than the King who was arguably the best batsman of his generation. Sir Vivian Richards was a terror in his hay days and another son of the soil Colin Croft was no less terrifying to the batsmen.

It was in 1980-81, that Antigua got to host its first Test match thus becoming the 52nd test centre in the world. Since then it has become a regular test venue, acting as a catalyst to the cricketing activities in the West Indies. In teres of facilities, it is second to none and with West Indies getting its chance to host the World Cup, one can only expect improvements in this regard.

St John’s has been a happy hunting ground for the hosts. Since the ability to utilize fast surfaces, almost all pitches in the West Indies were seamer friendly and Antigua was no exception. Their bowlers saw to it that they remained undefeated in Antigua for a decade. It was only in 1990-91 that Allan Border and his men got the better of Richard’s team.

Five consecutive draws followed before the West Indies returned to the winning ways at Antigua. In all Antigua has seen 16 tests in which the home team has won 6, lost 3 and the remaining were undecided. Incidentally West Indies have lost 2 of the last three tests at Antigua, which speaks about the all obvious decline in the fortune and standard of cricket in the Caribbean.

India does not have very deep connections with Antigua but certainly the ties are old. The last test match of the 1982-83 series just before the World Cup was played in St John’s. Needless to day it was India’s first test at Antigua. It was also the only second test at this ground.

The team under Kapil Dev had already lost tests at Kingston and Bridgetown, and with it the series. Kapil Dev and his men had nothing but pride to pay for. A positive result would have pepped up the morale of the side, a moral victory for the tourists. But nothing of that sort happened and the test ended in a draw.

Lloyd won the toss and in conformity with the traditional Caribbean hospitality asked India make first use of the pitch. He had a quartet to make the batsmen dance to his tune and when India had lost both the openers Gaekwad and Gavaskar for 28, the move appeared to be spot on.

Amarnath was in the form of his life. He had played exemplarily well in the previous series in Pakistan, negotiating Imran & Co wonderfully. Against Roberts, Holding and Marshall he was at his best and scored heavily in the series went past 50 for the fifth time. He and Vengsarkar 91 runs for the third wicket to steady things.

With the exception of Yashpal Shrama the Indian middle order came real good. Apart from Amarnath’s 54, Vengsarkar made 94, Shastri got 102 and Kapil missed hundred by 2 runs. Madan Lal also joined in the act remaining unbeaten on 35 when India finished at 457 shortly before close on day two.

What the Indian middle order batsmen did good , the West Indian batsmen did even better. Greenidge and Haynes batted India out of the match adding 296 runs for the first wicket. India toiled the entire day and all they could manage was the wicket of Haynes for 136 just before close. It is not for nothing that Greenidge and Haynes were a formidable pair. At the very same ground they notched up a partnership of 298 in another test match.

Early on the fourth day India had a successful run. Greenidge retired at the overnight score of 154. Madan Lal bowled an inspired spell to remove Davis, Richards and Gomes where as Kapil Dev got Logie. From 303-1 the score read 334-5 (and Greenidge retired).

But that was to be the end of the fairy run. Lloyd came at no 8 and with no 7 Dujon added 207 runs both of them getting centuries in the process. West Indies finished at 550 with four centurions in the innings.

The match and series was rendered inconsequential by now. All India had to do was to have some batting practice. Gavaskar ended the series on a poor note getting out for 1. But Gaekwad made amends by getting 72 runs against his name. Amarnath got another hundred and it appeared that the West Indiana pace battery had finally found an answer. In all Amranath got 598 runs in the series, with 2 hundreds and 4 fifties. He was adjudged the Man of the Series but he could not help India avoid losing the series 0-2. It was to be a summer of content for Amarnath, as he was the Man of the Series n Pakistan, West Indies as well as the World Cup in England.

India got to play in Antigua next in 1996-97. India played the fourth test of the five match series. The team under Tendulkar gave West Indies a good fight and the result of the series could have been different of it was not for one session of irresponsible stroke play from the batsmen. The defeat at Bridgetown will continue to be talked about whenever the reliability of our batsmen comes under doubt. It was immediately after the Bridgetown test that India gathered in Antigua to further their challenge.

Walsh won the toss nad surprisingly enough chose to bat first. One would have expected him to further intimidate the psychologically wrecked batsmen by exposing them to a fresh pitch. But the turf at Antigua was not as seamer friendly as Bridgetown and may be he did not want the Indians to get their rhythm back.

But even Walsh had to wait for full three days to make the first use of the pitch. It rained incessantly for three days and the test match was reduced to a mere formality. With the possibility of a result nullified it was certained that West Indies could not lose the series now.       

The West Indian innings began on the fourth day morning and they had proceeded to 257-7 at the end of the day's play. India had done well to get the first four wickets for 82 only. It was then that a decisive partnership between Lara and Holder took shape. Lara got his only century against India and with Holder (56) added 142 runs.

Walsh allowed his batsmen to have full practice and India had to get all the ten wickets to get their turn at batting practice. West Indies were bowled out for 333 and the two spinners Kumble and Joshi had 5 wickets among them.   

The match was as dead as it could be. But still one cannot take the credit away from the openers Laxman and Jadeja who put up a decent opening partnership, which is a rarity for India in nay case and certainly even rarer on overseas tours. Laxman had scored a very attractive innings of 56 and Jadeja missed on his century by four runs. Dravid pitched in with 37 and when the play was called off, the score read a very healthy 212-2.

Both the previous test matches between India and West Indies have ended in a draw and it remains to be seen if the jinx can be broken this time. This is a crucial game of a very crucial series a result here will go a long way in determining the future course for both the teams.

There is lot more than honor at stake. A victory for either teams will considerably enhance the respective reputations and will prove to be a turning point. We can expect that the contestants will put their heart and soul in their efforts to obtain that elusive result for tier sides. A victory here would mean that the team cannot lose the series. And a draw will mean that the situation at Jamaica will be a real treat.  

We will have wait and see where history gets written, or rewritten. Will it be Antigua or will it be Jamaica? Or will it require another set of mortals who have it in them to alter the course of history.   

Another Milestone At Port Of Spain
A Destination After A Long Journey
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Some moments are very special indeed and will lie etched in the memory of the cricket lovers for an eternity. Talking holistically in terms of the game, they are but moments, just a passing one. But it is only in those moments that the peaks are scaled, new horizons are touched and the entire journey that has made the destination possible fades in the background. What we remember is the step that touched the line. Surely these moments do not make the game go round, but they make the ride worthwhile.          

When Cameron Cuffy edged Zaheer Khan’s intended bouncer to Sanjay Bangar, it was one such moment. When things stood to standstill, five days of exhilarating cricket, fluctuating fortunes, the trials and tribulations, the flamboyance and serenity along with everything else appeared secondary. What we remember, love to remember and long to cherish will be that moment which brought the victory cup to India’s lips.

Just a sip of that nectar would have given Ganguly and his men a never before high. That is one experience not many Indian teams have had. In 70 years as a test playing nation we have had only 17 victories outside our frontiers. That can only make the evening at Queen’s Park Oval more special.

Kitne din se pyaase hongen yaron socho to
Shabnam ka ek katra jinko darya lagta ha

(Try to imagine the magnitude of thirst
When a drop of dew appears to be a river)

Yes, Port of Spain is but a drop to which whole of India is clinging and savoring its taste, for it has come after a seemingly unending drought. It was India’s first victory in the Caribbean after 26 years, first major victory outside the sub continent in 16 years. It has been a long journey, full of despair and disappointment.

The test epitomizes all that is good about cricket. In five days we have had a virtual capsule of the glorious uncertainties that makes cricket so exciting. It was a tremendous retort to the common view that one day cricket had displaced test as the real thing. It would be short sightedness to feel contended with seven hours of action packed drama when we have a possibility of 30 hours of non stop neck to neck contest.

The test began in familiar fashion with the two Indian openers back in the pavilion with next to nothing on the board. Before it was lunch on day one talks of another Indian surrender had started doing the rounds. It took a tremendous effort from Dravid and Tendulkar to see India out of danger. Later on the good work was continued by Laxman and despite the hara-kiri by the skipper India had posted a decent total, which was nonetheless not enough for victory.

West Indies were in command on day two with Sarwan and Lara in full flow. An inspired spell from Srinath changed the equation totally and the game had turned on its head. Indian teams are never famous for making such conclusive comebacks once the initiative had passed slipped from their hands. Among the Indian teams that I have seen it is only the one under Ganguly that has managed to fight back on a couple of occasion and we are waiting for the day when this will be developed as a habit.

One of the major reasons for India not winning enough test matches, especially abroad was its inability to maintain pressure. A few strokes of individual genius bring India back into the game but there was no way to sustain that onslaught. On numerous occasions India has got the opponents top order rather early. But the tail wags on indefinitely till the pressure is back on Indians. Just a look at the score cards of the past few series will verify the statement. The most notorious tour in this regard was the one to New Zealand, when every time we were in a winning position only to be found wanting in the finishing touch.

My skepticism was proving to be correct when Hopper was organizing the tail beautifully and reducing the first innings deficit. But India raised its game and cleaned up the tail but not before the last five wickets had added 65 runs. It was an achievement both for India and the West Indies. For India,  because it never gets the last five wickets without conceding around 100 runs; for West Indies, because its tail does not getting more than 30 odd runs.

Part two of the drama was even more interesting. After getting a handy first innings lead, all that India had to do was to make a solid start to settle the matters. They did just the opposite and nearly lost the game on the third day. In half an hour indiscreet stroke play the team was fighting with its back to the wall and any body following the fortunes of Indian cricket instantly knew what was in store. From 54-4 there was only one way that India could go and that was further down.

India is used to be let down by openers and it is a kind of bonus when our openers give us great starts. This may sound harsh on Shiv Sundar Das, our only reliable opener. I feel that the absence of a permanent partner at the other end is taking a toll on him and it is high time that we do way with the policy of make shift openers. An opener who can keep the wickets, an all rounder who can open etc, kind of logic is not going to take India anywhere.

It was not only the openers but also the mainstay of Indian batting line up that was back in the pavilion. Let me clarify that with the mainstay of Indian batting line up I do not mean Tendulkar but Dravid. This may be heresy in times when Tendulkar is equaling none other than the Don himself, but it is also time that we give Dravid his due. Just ask any one in the Caribbean regarding the most difficult Indian batsmen to bowl out and the unequivocal answer would be Dravid. He is destined to play the second fiddle not because of any lacking of his own but because his colleague happens to be one for whose incarnation it is worth waiting for a couple of generations. But before tea on the third day both of them were back setting the stage for a    total collapse. Geoff Boycott had hurriedly prophesied that he could not see India making another 50 runs.

Boycott was not wrong in his judgment because he was speaking from his years of experience. But perhaps he has failed to read the newly acquired fighting spirit in the Indian team. The only problem is that the team does not fight back with a consistency. Old habits die hard but once when they are able to lift up their game, one has to look hard for a more pleasant a surprise.

It was unbelievable but true that India had managed to fight back not once but twice in the same test match. Putting all speculation and theory to rest Ganguly and Laxman came up with a partnership that can change the fortunes of Indian cricket. When we talk of decisive partnerships, it was worth nothing in terms of quantity. But in terms of long term impact, it is going to rank very high.

The fourth day’s play had its own share of unpredictability. From a commanding position of 205-4 India repeated a spectacular collapse for the nth time. India lost six wickets for 13 runs and the game which had looked beyond the hosts, was very much in their reach.

Any target in the fourth innings on an uneven pitch is tough. 313 was a challenging task but not impossible. And certainly not impossible at Port of Spain, which holds the record for the highest successful chase. Scales were in favor of India, when they started the defense, but Lara and Sarwan had made it a tough call and all the suspense was pent up for the last day.

It was champagne cricket on day five. India almost settled the matters by getting both Lara and Hooper in two overs to break the backbone of West Indian batting. But Gayle and Chanderpaul proved that the spine was still there and after this partnership was broken no body would have taken a bet on West Indian victory.

The match was not over at tea with Chanderpaul looking determined to do the impossible. It is a tribute to the guts of this lad from Guyana that even with one wicket remaining people had doubts about the outcome of the game. He and Cuffy had defied India for long but could not prevent the inevitable. After looking rock solid for almost an hour Cuffy, that delivery from Zaheer Khan rewrote history for India and everything else was forgotten.

Desperate Desire For An Encore
Port Of Spain Beckons India
By S Zeyaur Rahman

In complete contrast to Guyana, Port of Spain has been a very important destination for India and the test matches here have been littered with historical feats. Each time an Indian fan is cornered for the overseas record of his team, he rushes into the solace of Port of Spain. India’s glorious overseas record begins with Port of Spain and after a brief detour of Lord’s and Melbourne ends at Port of Spain.

The capital city of Trinidad and Tobago is the most important cricket centre in the Caribbean. But its historical importance is not limited to cricket only. It was here that Christopher Columbus landed in 1498 and discovered America for the world. Today Trinidad is the most preferred tourist destination in the West Indies, the balmy air, the rhythmic beats of the calypso combine with the Caribbean rum to give a unique high to one and all.

Perhaps it is in the fitness of things the Indian odyssey to the Caribbean began. India played its first test match in the West Indies at Port of Spain in 1952-53. Port of Spain has been a prominent fixture of the Indian itinerary in the Wet Indies. It has figured in all the seven tours that India has made here. In fact in the first four tours, India ended up playing two test matches at Port of Spain. Of the 11 test matches that India has played here, it has won two (which happen to be India’s only two victories in the Caribbean), lost three and remaining six ended in a draw. At no other overseas ground in the world India has such an impressive record.

India’s first test in the West Indies ended in a draw. Hazare’s team performed very well and posted 417 runs in their first innings. Not to be outdone, West Indies backed by Week’s double ton, managed a 21 run lead. Gupte was spearheading, India’s spin department and his figures of 7-162 still remains the best performance by an Indian bowler here. Backed by three 50’s in the second innings India set a target of 276 runs of which the hosts erased 142 without losing any wicket before the match was called off. India lost the following test at Bridgetown before assembling here again for the third test of the series. India did moderately well by scoring 279 in the first innings. Weeks was in his elements again and with his 161, West Indies finished at 315, but not before Gupte had claimed his second successive 5 wicket haul. Unheralded Madhav Apte struck 163 and Umrigar recorded his fourth consecutive 50 plus score and set a target of 327 runs for the hosts. This time Stollmeyer got a hundred and the test ended in a draw when the West Indies had scored 192-2.

India began their challenge in 1961 from Port of Spain itself. But this time they lost both the tests. Contractor’s side was not up to the mark and India experienced what a blackwash was, losing all the five matches of the series. Things were evident in the first innings itself when India was down 6-89 before posting 203. The bowlers brought India back in to the game by dismissing the Windies for 289. Sobers and Hall blew away the Indian batting line up for 98, which remains India’s lowest score at this ground. A target of 13 runs put the result beyond doubt and the Windies won by 10 wickets. India lost two more test matches at Kingston and Bridgetown before meeting for the fourth test here. India had got a new captain in Pataudi Junior as Contractor’s career was over because of a skull injury. A hundred by Kanhai took West Indies to 444. Umrigar continued his romance with Port of Spain and this time shone as a bowler claiming 5-127. Later he top scored with 56 but could not save the follow on for India. Hall was the wrecker in chief claiming 5-20 while dismissing India for 197. A side 3-0 down in the series and following on, showed tremendous courage to post a score of 422, mainly because of Durani’s 102 and Umrigar’s 172. This was Umrigar’s last test at Port of Spain and his sequence of scores read : 130, 69, 61, 67, 2, 23, 56 and 172. West Indies had to chase 176 runs for a win and they did that after losing three wickets.       

The situation was totally different when Wadekar’s side played matches here during the historic 1971 tour. The first test at Kingston had been drawn and India took the world by storm by beating the mighty West Indies in the second test. Bedi and Prasanna skittled out Sober’s side for 214. Sardesai took India’s score to 352 with useful contributions from debutant Gavaskar and Solkar. Noreiga claimed 9-95 which remains the best figures by any bowler at this ground. 138 runs behind, West Indies were 1-150 before Venkatraghavan ran through the innings and Durrani’s double strike of Lloyd and Sobers and India got a target of 124runs. India seized the opportunity with both the hands and registered its first victory in the West Indies. India held on to the 1-0 lead at Bridgetown and Georgetown before the teams regathered for the finale at the Queen’s Park Oval. The Gavaskar-Sardesai pair took India to 360. The Caribbean batting line up clicked and they posted 526 through centuries by Davis and Sobers. Gavaskar got his first double hundred and took his tally to 774 from 4 tests, which is a record for a debutant. India finished at 427 and set a target of 262. This match will be remembered for fast bating as the two teams had scored 1313 runs in three innings and still had time for a fourth innings. West Indies very nearly lost the test as they were 165-8 when the test was called off. They had come to square the series and were on the verge of losing it 2-0. Wadekar’s team had done the impossible by beating Sober’s team in his own backyard.

Bedi took his team to the West Indies hoping for a repeat. Things fell into perspective when India was beaten by an innings and 97 runs at Bridgetown. He was hoping that Port of Spain would prove to be lucky and India would bounce back. He led with a 5 wicket haul to dismiss the side under Lloyd for 241. Gavaskar showed why Trinidad loves him by raking up another century. Brajesh Patel also joined the party and the two took India to 402-5 where Bedi was forced to declare as rains had played spoil sport. 161 runs behind, the Windies had crawled to 215-8 when India ran out of time and had to be contented with a draw. The third test of the series was also on the same ground and this time the Indian team performed like champions to level the series. Richards hit back to back century and the total read 359. Gavaskar’s dream sequence was ended and India was all out for 228. At 271-6, Lloyd calculated that the match was beyond India and declared setting a target of 403. India did the impossible and got those runs, which is still a world record. Gavaskar was back in business getting another century, Amarnath got 85 and Vishwanath 112 as India won by 6 wickets justifying the faith that Bedi had in Port of Spain.

In 1982 under Kapil Dev, it was the first time that India was playing only one test at Port of Spain. It was not a calculated move to avert any more Indian miracles, but because more centres had developed in the Caribbean. India had begun by losing at Kingston and like Bedi, Kapil was also hoping of a repeat. But for once the talisman did not work. Gavaskar recorded his lowest score here and India was out for 175, Marshall doing the maximum damage. Gomes and Lloyd got centuries and took the score at 394. India replied through fighting centuries by Amarnath and Kapil to finish at 469-7 declared. Sadly enough there was no more time left in the match to force a result. This was Gavaskar’s last test in Trinidad and this was the only test in which he did not get a 50. He bettered Umrigar’s dream run and his scores at this ground read: 65, 67*, 124, 220, 156, 26, 102, 1and 32.

In 1989, India was under Vengsarkar and they had begun well by drawing the first test at Georgetown. But they ended up losing the remaining three. India played the third test here after being drubbed at Bridgetown. Arshad Ayub was developing into a quality spinner and he took five wickets again but due to all round effort West Indies had scored 314. Trinidad missed Gavaskar from the batting line up sorely as India was dismissed for 150. Kapil and Chetan Sharma did well to contain West Indies for 266 and India had a fourth innings target of 431. With India at Port of Spain anything was possible and the world awaited another miracle. But it was a tremendous let down when they collapsed for 213 losing the test by 217 runs.

India played the second test during their last tour in 1997. The opener at Kingston was a non decider and with tremendous optimism India took the field at Queen’s Park Oval. India had got West Indies cheaply for 296 by the second day. It was the turn of another opener to dazzle the world. Navjyot Sidhu scripted an 11 hour epic to take India to 437. The Indian bowlers had not conceded much runs, but by the time they dismissed West Indies for 299, there was no time left for any result.

Although India has not been able to perform well at Port of Spain since 1976, the Queeen’s Park Oval remains there best chance for a victory. They have plenty of inspiration from history and the crowd support is never short. It is closest India can get to home in these alien conditions.

The pitch this time has some grass on it and anything green on the surface is not to India’s liking. But it is result oriented pitch and it is up to the Indian batsmen to rise to the challenge. After the initial set back, they replied rather well at Georgetown and that should serve as a morale booster.

Where Hopper will be toying with the idea of daunting India with four seamers, India has a couple of selection problems to solve. Deep Das Gupta’s failure both as an opener and a wicketkeeper might force Ganguly to go for specialists on both these slots, but that looks highly improbable and we can only hope that India does not end up paying much.

Harbhajan will be back but at whose cost. This test may finally mark the end of numero uno status of Kumble if Ganguly opts for Sarandeep or Nehra as the fourth bowler. Similarly Bangar did not excel in either of the roles and it is time that India goes for specialists rather than make shifts all rounders, openers and wicketkeepers. This is important because Port of Spain is India’s best bet and not only India must line up its best army but also put its best foot forward.

Of Hooper, Dravid And Rain
Georgetown Sets The Tone for The Series
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Although, the opening test of the India West Indies series failed to throw any result, but it succeeded in showing certain pointers regarding the shapes of the things to come. For all of us who have been following the game, the Georgetown test had flashes of past in it. No not only did it show the similarity with the past, it also displayed how things have changed over the years.

Contrary to the speculations that the pitch would assist bowlers, there was nothing in it for fast bowlers or spinners. Still, Srinath was devastating on the opening morning of the test match and had reduced them to 41-3. It must be frustrating that even after a decade at the top his abilities are doubted. And each time he silenced his detractors with a class performance. One can debate
endlessly on the role of umpire Harper in his success, but his domination on the opening hour was beyond doubt. But a performance like that was due from Srinath for a long time and we will be happier if we see frequent encores from him.

It has been very rare that an Indian fast bowler has the opposition on its knees so completely. The other occasion that comes to my mind is the Sydney Test of the 1991-92 series, when debutant Subroto Banerjee had Australia at 47-3. But the all familiar story of letting the opposition off the hook repeated once again and soon India were fighting with their back to the wall. In the above mentioned test, Azharuddin had taken the gamble of going to Sydney without a spinner.
Ravi Shastri's double hundred and Shane Warne's unimpressive debut are a part of the cricket lore now. Pressing for victory, India missed a spinner badly and despite Shastri the match ended in a draw. Srinath and Banerjee got their breaks in the same series and as of today, one has to excavate Banerjee from the dustbins of history.

That is not the only connection that forced me to dwell upon the past. Remember Lord's 1990. That was also the opening test match of a very crucial series. Gooch's team had just begun to take strides towards progress fresh from a historic 2-1 victory in the Caribbean. They had to beat India in order to prove that their improved performances were no fluke. On the other hand, India was limping under a rather new captain and he had to vindicate that the Dungarpur's vision of
the team of 90's was not a joke but a master stroke.

The most famous or infamous toss at Lord's gave Gooch the opportunity of batting first at a paradise of a pitch. What followed is again a part of cricket lore. Gooch was dropped at 37 by wicket keeper More and he went on to score 333. England aided by Lamb and Smith ended at 653. Azhar's breathtaking hundred and Kapil's onslaught on Hemmings saved the follow on for India, but nothing could save the test for India. England won the series 1-0 and what followed was a mini resurgence in the English camp and they continued to be one of the better teams in the first half of the decade. India had missed the bus and despite later becoming invincible at home, they continued losing everywhere outside the subcontinent.

The history of missed catches and the bearing that they have on history can make a wonderful topic for research and even more interesting reading. Georgetown will form an indispensable part of the episode, when at that decisive moment Deep Das Gupta was left catching thin air. Hooper had not even opened his account. He went on to play a most memorable innings.

Perhaps no team other than India will have more haunting memories of losing the first test match of the series because in the end that proved to be crucial. Remember Christchurch, remember Lord's, remember Melbourne, remember Colombo, remember Durban. The first test is always a trend setter and on numerous occasions India has lost the psychological advantage which proved to be the deciding factor in the series. One does not have too many examples of an Indian team
bouncing back after a defeat, moral or otherwise. It takes a possessed Laxman to do that and everyone knows that there cannot be too many possessed Laxmans and Laxman cannot be possessed too many times.

It is here that the importance of Hooper's innings lies. It needed a class effort to wrest back the initiative, to take the fight to the enemy camp. Hooper is a veteran of many battles and he knows the significance of the first session of
play in an opening test match that too of a series which is a turning point. Yes, this series has both India and West Indies at crossroads and a wrong step will take them miles back. And by the end of play on day two, it appeared that
West Indies had taken the all important right turn.

It is a coincidence that on that fateful day in Lords it was the rival captain Gooch who started the demolition work and at Georgetown it was Hooper. I must be forgiven for the comparison that Hooper's score is exactly 100 runs short of
Gooch. That aside, now we all know that the test did not produce any result. But that does not diminish the significance of Hooper's innings at all. It makes a very symbolic statement that the West Indian bating line up is formidable no
matter what Muralitharan made out of it. And secondly that even if Lara's contribution is zero, there are others who can take care of the batting needs of the side.

Lets look at the other side of the coin now. Despite all the flamboyance that characterizes Indian batsmen, they are never known for fight backs. Indian batting has been always symbolized by spectacular stroke play and spectacular
collapses. At 21-2, the stage was set for the house of cards to come down. I do not blame the skeptics if they could smell another Port Elizabeth or Perth. There are simply too many instances of our batsmen letting us down in the most
disgraceful manner.

Surprisingly enough we had a consolidation. Das stands for all that was lacking in our openers, foremost of all consistency. He did not play a gem of an innings but he played his part. Yet again Tendulkar's dismissal at a crucial point
gave legitimacy too all the lack-of-finishing-touch theories and the supporters of Steve Waugh would have had a comfortable sleep.

Even the Laxman-Dravid stand was uncharacteristic. Commentators were almost ready to spell Kolkatta when the familiar happened. The fall of a wicket at a most inappropriate time in a most inappropriate manner. The tone of tenor of the
commentators assumed a familiar style, bemoaning and anticipating another collapse. 7-275 and talks of follow on were in the air.

If for anything, this test match will be remembered by extremely uncharacteristic performances by both India and West Indies. A West Indian revival without Lara; India managing to avert a collapse under difficult circumstances. We are
not used to it but no less thankful for it.

If Hooper did that for his side it was the vice captain Dravid that turned the tables for his side. It was an innings which showcases Dravid in totality, not that his incapable of much more. But that was a knock of immense caliber. Ask any Indian fan regarding the most probable author of such an innings, the answer will not be Tendulkar but Dravid.

I cannot stop being nostalgic. The similarities drag me to the past again and again. I cannot get Durban 1992 out of my head which was the opening test of a very historical series. South Africa was playing its first home series after the return and it was a test of its fidelity to the game during their exile. And they had India on the mat very soon and proved that it was not South Africa but the game itself that had lost in the past 21 years. A debutant, Praveen Amre had different plans and single handedly saved the day for India. He did not even have Tendulkar and Laxman to play the supporting role.

In my trips to the past I am forgetting the role of the weather in the match which has played the deciding role. It knocked out all the theories of resurgence and renaissance. But that reminds me of continuity. This was the sixth test at Georgetown between the two teams and not one has been unaffected by rain. So much so that in none of the six matches we have had four complete innings. Neither Hooper nor Dravid could break the jinx. True, man does not have any control over the elements.

Georgetown was a turning point successfully negotiated by both the teams and without actually taking the turn. Things stand where they are. It will be a tragedy if it remains so at the end of the series also.

For any more symbols, pointers to the road lying ahead we must wait till Port of Spain arrives on our journey map.





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