Caribbean Challenge Beckons India
High Time To Set The Record Straight
By S Zeyaur Rahman
If someone were to ask me, what it takes for the victors to become
vanquished, I would answer, Time. Agreed that the transition does not
happen overnight, but the fact of the matte remains that it does happen,
slowly, steadily, gradually and definitely. It is as inevitable as the sun
going down the western sky after dazzling in the firmament. Take any
sport, any sportsperson and you will vouch for its authenticity.
I am sure many of us would be aware of its fact, for all of us have gone
through triumph and despair, moments of ecstasy and agony. The immediate
occasion which had brought me to dwell upon the observation is India’s
tour to the Caribbean getting underway tomorrow with the first Test match
The West Indies, that motley collection of small countries in the
Caribbean, which dissolve their independent identities to fuse under the
maroon flag on the cricket ground, were the graveyards of all successful
teams for close to two decades. The West Indies never had sacrosanct and
ceremonial purposes like the Lords when it came to cricket. It had a
different function to perform. It was here that the teams were tested and
individuals were tested and certified that they had arrived. A failure
here could put you back and would mean that there was still a lot of
homework to be done before you could be granted the rights of passage from
being pretenders to the challengers. Yes, Challengers was all you could
hope to be, so complete was their domination and so predictable the
Those were the days… It appears like a hazy dream, half forgotten and half
buried under the avalanche of the present. It sounds like a haunting
melancholic song, oozing with nostalgia. The Windies would have taken long
to get accustomed to this new strain in their songs, for Calypsos are not
characterized by moaning and mourning. What we are witnessing is the
collapse and decay of an empire, the cricketing equivalent of the fall of
In the last ten years the West Indies have lost one laurel after another.
The edifice which they had built so painstakingly over decades has
crumbled gradually and all they are left with are the ruins of the past.
Dominations do end inevitably, but not many would have guessed so total a
It is under this background that the Indian team under Saurav Ganguly has
embarked on the territory previously considered to be impregnable. It is
perhaps a telling comment on the state of tings that the same is thought
to be wholly vulnerable now. The doubts that arise in the critics mind
regarding the outcome of the series are not because of a sudden
Renaissance in the Caribbean, but because of India’ weakness on overseas
Historically speaking, Indians were never great explorers and the rare
breed seems to have ended with Samudragupta itself. Nothing can possibly
explain the huge chasm between India’s record at home and abroad.
Statistics are poor indicators conveying only half truths. The aura
surrounding the Indian team undergoes a sea change, when they play at home
and abroad. Can you imagine that the only place where the Invincible
Aussies have lost a series in the past decade has been India. In the very
next series, the very same team could not conquer the lowly Zimbabweans
simply because the series was not being
played in India.
The Indian team does look stronger on paper and despite my skepticism I
really do not have any reasons to consider the hosts to be the favorites
for the series. They have been going through a lean patch for a long
period and it appears to be an unending tunnel for them. The West Indies
do have some very good batsmen, foremost among them is the Brian Lara. But
despite all his genius he has not been able to check the slide. He
plundered the Sri Lankans, still his side lost heavily. The support cast
of Chanderpaul, the veteran Hooper has to play a more proactive role, if
they are to have India under any kind of pressure.
The real problem for them lies in the bowling department. With all due to
the great Caribbean batsmen, the architects of their victories have been
the bowlers. The dreaded pace battery is history now, with one stalwart
after another bowing out after their reign of terror. It remains to be
seen if the second generation bowlers are able to exploit the all too
famous vulnerability of the dashing Indian batsmen.
India are in some kind of comfortable position not because of the Super
Four, but because the young blood appears to be maturing and has been
delivering somewhat consistently under pressure. Tendulkar, Dravid,
Ganguly and Laxman are all class acts. They have the ability to bail out
India from any kind pf perilous situation and also let us down from the
most comfortable positions also. I believe the crucial factor will be the
response of the young Turks like Shiv Sundar Das, Dinesh Mongia, Das
Gupta and Bangar. More often than not the second string batsmen are
required to supplement rather than compliment after the horrendous
failures of their illustrious colleagues. Even in this series there is
bound to be a batting collapse with the new ball on livelier tracks. That
will be their moment of reckoning and the turning point of the series.
The bowling line up is no apology for a pace attack and this has further
consolidated India’s position. Srinath and Co do not get bowler friendly
tracks too often and they would be raring to go and prove a point or two.
Another blessing in disguise is the gradual slowing down of pitches which
fits exactly into the game plan of Kumble and Harbhajan. When it comes to
the spin department, not many countries can hold a candle to India.
The air is pregnant with expectation for a keenly contested series. We
must also keep in mind that it is not only the god tings but the bad ones
also come to an end. The Revival in the West Indies has to take place some
day or the other and the rest of the opponents will be caught napping the
day the Calypso Kings rediscover the magical touch. Nothing could be
better for the game if the turn around begin with this series.
The same applies for India as well. They cannot go on losing away series
for an eternity. They have it in them to humble opponents in their own
backyard. Actually speaking, it is long overdue. And with conditions
favoring them like never before, this is their golden opportunity to
announce to the world that they have finally arrived.
England And New
Zealand Ready To Renew Rivalry
It Is A Battle Of Equals Now
By S Zeyaur Rahman
of the oldest rivalries in the history of test cricket is all set to begin
anew when England and New Zealand meet for the first test at Christchurch
next week. New Zealand is one of the oldest members of the test club,
having won the full membership status way back in 1929 itself. Only
England, Australia and South Africa are senior to New Zealand as a team.
It remains one of the unanswered mysteries of test cricket as to why could
New Zealand never became a cricketing power. It has forever been
languishing on the fringe. Though there has been no dearth of quality
players from New Zealand, who have won respect for themselves, the team
and the game itself, but one cannot really say that New Zealand was an
indomitable force at any point of time.
The point becomes more pertinent when one analyses the performances of the
teams, which became full fledged ICC membership long after New Zealand
did. West Indies is a case in the point. West Indies were not the
invincible to begin with. It was only after the 5-1 drubbing that they got
from Australia in 1974-75 that Clive Lloyd moulded them into World
Champions and they remained so for close to 15 years before being
dethroned by Australia. For that matter even teams like Pakistan, India
have better test record than the Kiwis. It will not be an overstatement if
I say that nowadays the minnows of yesteryears Sri Lanka are taken more
seriously than New Zealand when it comes to quality cricket.
It was in 1929 itself that New Zealand played its first test when an
English side came visiting. The teams played a four match series. It was a
good beginning for New Zealand for they did not embarrass themselves in
their inaugural series. The 4 match series ended 1-0 in favour of the
visitors with three tests ending in draw.
It was by no means a poor performance and promised much more for the
future. But I must admit that New Zealand has not done anything seriously
of note on the collective level ever since. On the personal front, they
have had greats like Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe, Ken Barrington… but a
team game is cannot be judged on the parameters of individual genius.
Even in the shorter version of the game New Zealand has had very little to
show. There have been odd triumphs in bilateral series, which have been
extremely inconsistent to make a great impact. They have appeared rather
frequently in the Triangular series in Australia without winning even
once. They have an equally poor record in the World Cup, going only as far
as the semi finals.
Without being harsh on New Zealand, one must say that they were the best
team in the 1992 World Cup. They won seven games on the trot, convincingly
enough, but faltered against Pakistan twice and subsequently bowed out of
the race. Their only notable victory has been the second edition of the
ICC Knock Out Championship in Kenya, which they won beating India in the
finals. But if you have so little to show after some three decades, then
that might get treated as a fluke.
The history of English cricket is too vast and varied to be summed up in a
few lines. It has seen ups and downs of all kinds and there has been no
dearth of great or pathetic performances. But it will be an apt
description of the present state of cricket in England that whenever
we talk of the great English players and teams, we tend to be past
centric. Almost entirely through the past decade, the English side has
shown signs of recovery only to sink further.
This series is pretty crucial for both the teams because it will decide
the direction for these two teams and will definitely set the tone for the
days to come. Both England and New Zealand are young sides regrouping
under good captains. In the past year, both these teams are giving the
right kind of signals and it appears that they might finally be able to
shrug away the tag of mediocrity attached to both of them for quite some
To the surprise of one and all New Zealand won the ICC Trophy and
strengthened hopes that cricket in New Zealand was finally coming of age.
They had some disastrous results after that but they have acquitted
themselves very well while touring Australia. Despite the weather
affecting the results, it was a great achievement by them to deny the
mighty Australians a victory at home, something that none of the teams
have been able to do for almost a decade. Their display in the triangular
series was even more spectacular, where they actually piped Australia at
the post. That must mean something. As if to reassure the critics, they
won a very keenly fought home series against a rejuvenated English side.
England is also experiencing some kind of renaissance under Nasser
Hussain. They have had two memorable victories in the sub-continent, the
grave yard of all visiting teams. The victories in Sri Lanka and Pakistan
heralded the dawn of a new era and they ended up gaining a moral victory
over India despite losing the test series and winning two crucial games to
square the one-day series. Even in the series against New Zealand they
bounced back from 0-2 to take it to the decider, which is not a
disgraceful performance by any yardstick.
The statistics of New Zealand-England test encounters show a very lopsided
picture as they are heavily tilted in favour of the latter. Out of the 82
test matches played between the two, England has won 37 of them where as
New Zealand managed to get he better of their opponents only on 6
occasions and the remaining 39 ending undecided. Surprisingly enough 4 of
the 6 Kiwi victories have come on the English soil. They have played 44
tests in England losing 22 of them, winning 4 and 18 were drawn. At home
they have played 38 tests, losing 15, winning only 2 with and the
remaining 21 yielding no result.
England have dominated their Tasman rivals so thoroughly that it was only
1977, that is after 48 years and 43 tests that they lost their first match
against New Zealand. It was six years and four series later that New
Zealand won their first series against England. That was 1983-84 when
England lost 0-1. That was some inspiration because when New Zealand
toured England in 1986, they won their first series in England 1-0. The
feat was repeated in 1999, when the Kiwis beat England 2-1 in a keenly
contested 4 match series.
New Zealand has to go a long way if it has to set the record straight. The
1-2 defeat to New Zealand in 1999 was a new low for England and they have
emerged much stronger after that. Except the loss in India, England were
undefeated in five consecutive series, which had famous victories against
Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies. For New Zealand it can be a turning
point and Fleming would not like to take a wrong turn.
When we talk of cricket there have been turning points in the histories of
teams that have proved to be water sheds. Equally significant are those
ones where history did not take a turn and continued to languish in the
morass. We will have to wait and see that which of these two teams take a
turn, for better or worse… or do not turn at all.
Comprehensive Home Victory At Home For India
What Exactly Are They Worth
By S Zeyaur Rahman
wonder what kind of position should we take vis-à-vis the routine manner
in which India defeats visiting teams at home. May be it is slightly
better these days because the victories are only routine these days.
During the hay days in the late 90’s there was a kind of finality about
these victories, which made the entire affair monotonous. Thanks to the
series defeat to South Africa and keenly contested ones against Australia
and England, the degree of predictability has decreased.
So we find ourselves once again in the familiar position of being made to
rejoice a test victory. There is nothing wrong if you win a test at home;
it is nothing to be ashamed of and certainly not a sin. The quality of the
opponents does take away a lot of charm. And when you know the role and
contribution of the doctored pitches, one does not really feel like
celebrating. The whole thing appears to be a very cold formality, as if
you are going through the motions.
But the biggest point that I am trying to make is the huge discrepancy
between India’s record at home and overseas. It is not only a question
of record but just look at the change in attitude that the change in venue
brings about. It is a known fact that Zimbabwe is not the toughest of
teams to beat. Well but it is the very same Zimbabwe team whom we could
not beat in a two match series a year ago. And one does not forget the
national hysteria following the victory in the first test. A victory
against Zimbabwe away from home was a national event. Now a victory
against the very same team at home is hardly noticed. We can afford to
neglect it and refuse to celebrate. Far from being hysteria or euphoria,
it is at the most mundane.
I guess that it puts the innings and 101 runs victory in proper
perspective. I do not intend to rubbish a victory at the highest level, no
matter whatever the secondary conditions were. A dispassionate analysis is
required so that we understand what actually means to us.
It will be very unkind of the media to sit and criticize the team after
the have won in a professional manner. After all the players alone are not
be blamed if India does not have great pitches, if Zimbabwe is not a great
side. Their task was to perform and they have done it sincerely in this
test. The only gray area was fielding for which John Wright has come down
heavily on them.
It is never easy to dismiss a test side for less than 300 runs. The last
time around Zimbabwe was here, it was very difficult to bundle them out
cheaply. Was not it the same venue where Andy Flower stood solidly like a
rock and shut all possibilities of an Indian victory? If Andy Flower is
not in the best of form and our bowlers get him cheaply, what is wrong
with that. Our bowlers were bang on target and shooting Zimbabwe out for
287 was the cornerstone for victory.
A lot has been said about the lackluster and slow batting by India. It was
at times at times agonizing to see Dravid and Das struggling against a
mediocre attack. Our batting line up is known for exciting stroke play and
our batsmen were unable to get singles at will. The run rate never crossed
2.8, till Bangar cut lose on the fourth day. Even Tendulkar was unusually
subdued and appeared frustrated at his inability top force the pace.
For a casual observer it might all seem so dull and inexplicable as to why
our greats are not sending the Zimbabweans on a leather hunt. Almost at
the same time Gilchrist was playing one hell of an innings against a
better attack on a much more sporting turf. And here our batsmen were
scoring at the rate of 2.75 against attack which does not have a single
match winning bowler.
But they have bowlers who bowl to their filed, who bowl aware of their
limitations. It was a terrific achievement by Price who bowled marathon
spells and kept the stroke players quiet. Not even Shane Warne was able to
do that. He was an example of controlled spin bowling. He made the Indian
batsmen, who have spinners for breakfast, struggle for every single run.
And to think that he did not have support from the other end!
It was very sensible of Das, Dravid, Tendulkar and Bangar to keep their
heads cool and play the waiting game. They were aware of the deteriorating
pitch and the fact that if it was so difficult to score ff Price, then it
will be really impossible to get the better of Kumble and Harbhajan. Every
run would count in the end and any adventurism would have made things
difficult for India. Irrespective of the slow run rate, it was those runs
that made possible for Ganguly to apply the pressure. And facing Kumble
and Harbhajan on a turning pitch that too under pressure is not every ones
cup of tea. Predictably enough the visitors folded without much
Now the teams will regather for the second test at Kotla. Going by the
trends and traditions Kotla pitches are dust bowls. They might once again
enable India to defeat Zimbabwe but in the end it defeats the purpose of
It is back to the same old story.
Ganguly And Waugh At Different Ends Of The Spectrum
By S Zeyaur Rahman
is perhaps predestined and certainly ironical that the angry young man of
Indian cricket Saurav Ganguly and his ruthless Aussie counterpart Steve
Waugh will find their names together for all kinds of reasons, most of
which are beyond their control. What is more noticeable is the fact that
one man’s gain will be another man’s loss. It is an interesting
coincidence that Ganguly has a clear edge over the person who by the
virtue of his personal aura of indefatigability made his entire team
The hottest story doing rounds in cricket media circles is the
unceremonious ouster of one of the greatest captains in cricket history.
By sheer chance on the very same day Ganguly, by no means in the ivy
league of captains, was given an extension. Waugh was apparently shown the
door for Australia not making it to the finals of the triangular series at
home and also for poor form with the bat. On the other hand Ganguly won
his extension despite his team losing in ten consecutive finals and his
form with the bat being extremely fickle for almost an year now. These two
facts will suffice to drive home the point that the selection process and
the criteria in the respective countries are as different as chalk and
We in the media are always on the look out for such twists and turns and
the issue has turned into a kind of debate on topics ranging from
selection ethics to the cricket establishment…The similarities or the
lack of them have been latched on to and everyday we see columnists
churning out extremely readable pieces which of course every one is
enjoying. After resisting for almost a week, I felt that enough was enough
and have decided to throw my hat into the ring. Well why should not I use
my fundamental right of expression?
The Australian selectors are being much criticized for being impatient and
somewhat ungrateful as they have dumped the very man for a single failure
who had won innumerable games for them in the past. But there is also a
candid admiration for their foresight and guts that they dared to take
such an extreme measure, which might in the end help Australia. As for the
Indian selectors, they are being criticized on both counts: that they have
made a poor selection and of course do not have any foresight at all.
I have nothing against these two observations. My contention is something
else. Since when have we begun to expect the Indian selectors to behave
like their Australian counterparts? No matter how much we wish our team to
be world champions, in the heart of our hearts we really do not expect our
team to behave like the Australians do. Otherwise, why would we be
surprised when our team pulls of a great victory and why does it become
such an opportunity to go overboard if it is on the expected lines? Is not
it a kind of discrimination against the selectors that we are applying two
different parameters for judging the performance of the products of the
Products of the same system! That is the point that I want to make and
make it very clearly. There is hell lot of a difference between the
Australian cricket establishment and the cricket governing apparatus in
India. One need not go far to unravel the reasons for the difference. It
is just a question of national psyche.
Australians behave that way because they are born and brought up that way.
What you learn from the system gets reflected in your demeanor, mannerism
of which performance is just a part. That is why Australia can pull itself
out of impossible situations and go on to win the trophy… on many
occasions. And that is precisely why India manages to lose from
winning positions… on many occasions. That explains why the Australian
selectors can dump their great captain and our selectors cannot do away
with their mediocre one.
What is then the way out? I agree with the critics who are pleading for a
change in the modus operandii. But I certainly do not agree with those who
want us to take similar steps that are being taken seven seas away in a
culture that is radically different from ours. Do you think that the
fortunes of Indian cricket will change if our selectors start imitating
the policies of the Australian selectors blatantly ignoring the conditions
prevailing here? The answer is a big No.
In order to have a proper view of the things happening we must sit down
and analyze the reasons for it. We cannot say that Ganguly’s extension
is a step in the wrong direction simply because Steve Waugh was not given
an extension. What could be more foolish than that? It may not be possible
or even feasible for the Indian selectors to do what the Australian
selectors are doing. It is the same as accusing Vajpayee for not attacking
Pakistan despite provocations etc, because George Bush has attacked
Afghanistan after the WTC tragedy. It is a question of rationality as well
as limitations and the only way to arrive at a proper decision is to take
a stock of the existing options that We have.
Ganguly will continue as the captain because we do not have other options.
Is Ganguly to be blamed for the malady in the system? The selectors did
discuss Dravid and Kumble, did not they? We have all the right in the
world to criticize for their choice, call them a bunch of jokers etc, but
it is they who are making the decisions. The Indian teams of the past who
have done us proud were selected by Indian selectors, not the Australian
ones. It is with the very same players that we have a reasonably good
record and may be the same players will deliver some day.
I am not trying to be a status quoist and neither do I want a laissez
faire kind of a situation. We have to try and get the best of what we
have. If we do not do that, we deserve to be criticized. May be here the
selectors are wrong that they do not have a proper policy, that thing are
disorganized when it could have been better. But this lampooning for not
following the Australian model is nonsense. It is dangerous to advice that
and suicidal to follow it. Not only that, it is essentially
self-defeatist. Because we will never be able to realize our potential if
we work imported ideas on domestic resources without taking into
consideration our strengths and weaknesses.
Will Ganguly regain his form or will he get back to winning ways is a
different issue altogether. We will get to know the answer soon that is
for sure. Without ceasing to learn from external events, let us
concentrate on ourselves.
Victory For England
Where Does Indian Criket Go From Here?
By S Zeyaur Rahman
recently concluded India-England six match one-day series has been a
tremendous advertisement for cricket in India. Almost all of the matches
were keenly contested, a couple of them going to the wire. And the
matches, which were lopsided, India was the winning team, so the
spectators had nothing to complain about. It was perhaps in the fitness of
things that the series ended at 3-3, thus both the contestants ended up
sharing the honors.
It is the last formulation, which is problematic and is being contested
heavily in the cricket circles at the moment. Though the series has ended
on par statistically, it was obvious more often than not that the visitors
were the better side. And there is not only a consensus but almost all the
cricket pundits are unanimous in the judgement.
This is nothing less than a damning indictment for Saurav Ganguly and his
side. No doubt that Ganguly had a far better team on paper and talking of
individual brilliance, perhaps no present English player comes any where
near the high standards set by Ganguly, Tendulkar... in batting and
Kumble, Harbhajan in bowling. But cricket is a team game and Nasser
Hussain showed why. The way he marshalled his resources turned the game on
its head with his astute moves was a revelation. He managed to perform
beautifully with a mediocre side in a way, which Ganguly could not do with
an array of greats in his arsenal. No wonder that Botham thought him a fit
candidate for Man of the Series.
Apart from being unable to beat a supposedly weaker side, what complicates
matters for Ganguly is the fact that it was a home series and India has a
tremendous record at home. Over the last decade not many teams have been
able to go back unbeaten. It must be a coincidence that the series against
England has finished at 3-3 on two consecutive occasions. Keeping that
aside, Ganguly is finding it very hard to answer why he was unable to beat
England, when he had better, in fact daunting players and that too when he
had a distinct home advantage. If he cannot win with better players at
home, where will he?
This must be of grave concern to the players, pundits and the spectators
alike. It is really a disturbing fact that India has managed to perform
well below its potential for almost two years now. Of all the wounds, the
unkindest one is the tag of Champion Chokers associated with the side.
India has made a habit of crumbling under pressure and slowly the malady
is becoming chronic. How can you possibly explain losing nine finals in a
row? And if we count the Mumbai encounter as a final, which in many sense
it was, then our count of wilting under pressure enters double digits.
That is definitely not something to be proud of and unless the jinx is
broken, I do not see the team going a great distance in the World Cup next
year. Nasser Hussain, that shrewd judge of cricket, hit the nail on the
head when he said that when India were chasing, no matter how small the
target was, he always thought that he had a chance.
What makes Hussain so confident of India's failings? India has a unique
dualism because it is the only side whose biggest strength is its biggest
weakness. Our world famous batting order has the ability to hit any attack
out of the ground but it is the same batting line up that is so fragile
and had largely been responsible for snatching defeat from the jaws of
victory on many occasions. On a given day they are capable of finishing
the game in 30 overs (as in Kanpur) but that occurs once in a while. What
happens rather regularly are middle order collapses as in Delhi when
chasing 271, from 3-211 they were all out for 269 or in Mumbai, from 2-153
they could not reach 255.
At the beginning of the series I had pointed out in my article that
inexperience could well be India's undoing. We really do not have any one
to fall back on once Ganguly and Tendulkar are gone. It will take some
time before Sehwag enters this league. The rest of them are relatively new
to international cricket no matter how talented or promising they appear
The middle order has a new look after the exit of Azhar and Jadeja and
that is beginning to tell on it. Earlier we had a great match finisher in
Robin Singh and the vacuum caused by the exit of these three is yet to be
filled. These three knew the art of keeping the scoreboard moving by
taking singles and were capable of stepping up the momentum at death. That
is something which people like Laxman, Kaif, Badani, Sehwag, Mongia,
Kanitkar, Martin, Sodhi...need to learn if India has to utilize the launch
pad provided by Ganguly and Tendulkar. Dravid's unavailability did the
rest and the result was for everyone to see.
In these youngsters we have the nucleus of the team, which will serve
India for the greater part of this decade. Among the youngsters named
above, two or three will form the backbone of the Indian batting in the
time to come. It will really take some time before Sehwag turns out to be
another Tendulkar or comes any where near that. The same applies for
others. They are lucky that they have renowned and settled batsmen in the
side. I mean they are not supposed to be the answer to India's batting
problems, something that West Indies cricket expects from every newcomer.
All they have to do is to play themselves in for sometime and with a
decent mixture of ability and experience, they will soon be in the
footsteps of their seniors.
It is precisely here that the problem for Indian cricket lies. All these
youngsters have already got a decent amount of exposure of around 30
matches on an average. That should be enough to give them a fair idea of
the game at the highest level and they should have been in a position to
demonstrate that their learning process has begun. Sadly this is not
happening. That is why one finds Laxman out of the team, Badani making all
but 89 runs in 6 matches, and the others forced to be discarded because of
non-performance. Sodhi has too many well made 30's, which are far and few
in between and not really mattering in the final analysis. India cannot
afford to have batsmen who score good 30's or 40's once in a while and
that too after they have been blooded for quite some time.
The place of a genuine match winning all rounder has been lying vacant
since time immemorial. Everytime a tailender hit a couple of balls out of
the park, be it Agarkar, Zaheer Khan or even Srinath, we felt as if the
slot was going to be filled. But that has remained a mirage. For all
respect due to Bangar, his selection was a step backwards. He might have
all the abilities to fill the all rounder slot, but by the time he becomes
indispensable, it will be time to exit the big stage. The selectors should
have persisted with Sodhi or replaced him with an equally young talent.
One positive outcome of the series has been Ajya Ratra. His wicket keeping
has not been a revelation and we were sad to see the dropped catches. But
his two innings of 30 odd runs at crucial times hold a lot of promise. Or
may be Das Gupta was so pathetic behind the stumps that everyone was
relieved to have a wicketkeeper who was not an embarrassment for the side.
The wicket keeping slot is one musical chair and for all we know we mighty
have someone else representing India in the World Cup. I would suggest
that we allow Ratra to settle down in the side and it is highly probable
that he will deliver finally.
The Indian bowlers have been denied their due share because of the galaxy
of batting stars in the team. Nonetheless they have been performing with a
greater consistency than their more illustrious colleagues. Even in this
series the bowlers are not much to blame. The team was let down by the
batsmen on all occasions. Srinath, the old warhorse was doing his duty in
his stoic manner. It was heartening to see Agarkar performing well both
with the bat and bowl. He has been around for quite some time and had he
used his talent well enough he would have been an established name like
Pollock if not Cairns.
The lack of a back up seamer was not felt in the as there is no point in
playing three seamers at home. But this will be of a crucial importance
when we play overseas. By his standards Kumble has under performed as he
was not instrumental in any of India's victories, something that was his
habit not a long time ago. Harbhajan enhanced his reputation with a couple
of good spells and the one at Mumbai was truly world class. It remains to
be seen if he performs as well in alien conditions.
Over all it has been a disappointing series for India because they did not
win when they should have. It will be very difficult to believe that this
team did not have the ability to beat the side under Hussain. And if the
answer is no then it is even a greater crime not to perform despite having
Adds Another Jewel In Its Crown
The First Neutral Test Series Gets Underway
By S Zeyaur
have not been associated with many beautiful things in literature or
reality, fact or fiction. The dominating imageries are of wilderness and
lifelessness. It is even more improbable to associate the lush greens and
the bubbling enthusiasm of cricket flourishing in the midst of the
barrenness of a desert. All that a desert has to offer to the most
incurable of all Romantics is the haunting silence of the sand dunes and
the refreshing murmurs of an oasis. Cricket in Shrajah is neither of
these. It is impossible made possible all because of one man’s ability
to realize his dreams.
Not many would have taken Shiekh Abdurrahman Bukhatir seriously when he
decided to host cricket matches in Sharjah. And today the man stands tall
amongst the administrators of the game. There were a lot of factors
working against his dream when he set out on his mission. There was no
history of the game in his country, there were no existing facilities for
cricket in UAE and UAE did not have a cricket team even. But the man
pulled off a miracle and did what he wanted to. He did not degrade the
name of cricket as the Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer did. Sure he
had the advantage of the petro dollars, but to his credit he used all the
fare means only. It is a tribute to his ability that Sharjah today holds
the record for organizing the highest number of limited over matches.
Bukhatir must be a very happy man now. He has established Sharjah firmly
and indispensably on the cricket map. He provided top quality
infrastructure and the cricket loving expatriate community responded
vigorously. The cricket playing nations reached out to Sharjah and this
magnificent venue has witnessed world records being created and broken not
to speak of the innumerable memorable encounters that are etched in the
memory of the cricket fans world over.
Thursday, the 31st of January was another historical day for Sharjah
Cricket Stadium, when the first test between Pakistan and Wrest Indies got
underway. That was only the third time in the 115 years of test cricket
that a test was organized on a neutral soil. The first one was when
England, Australia and South Africa participated in a triangular test
series in England. And the second was one when Pakistan and Bangladesh
featured in the Asian Test Championship in Sri Lanka. To add, it is the
very first time that a bilateral series is being organized on a neutral
Although the circumstances under which the test series is being held is
unfortunate from the point of cricket, specially for cricket in Pakistan.
The war in Afghanistan has acted as a severe deterrent for teams traveling
to Pakistan. First New Zealand backed out from their commitment. To make
matters worse, the hastily arranged substitute series against the Asian
neighbors Sri Lanka did not materialize for the same reason. It was
unfortunate that cricket lovers, especially in Pakistan, were deprived of
what would have been interesting contests. Pakistan was facing some kind
of a boycott as far as playing there was concerned. It was too much for
the PCB to see the third consecutive series (this time against West
Indies) getting cancelled because of the volatile political situation in
the neighborhood and in Pakistan itself.
Pakistan and other Asian team, India and Sri Lanka had played a major role
in popularizing and establishing cricket in the UAE. And Bukhatir is not
the one to betray his friends. He was the first one to come up with the
face saving formula for the PCB and he unilaterally volunteered to
organize the series in Sharjah, in case the situations are not conducive
for cricket in the home country. PCB was not enthusiastic about the idea
to begin with. It had already suffered huge losses as a result of two
series getting cancelled. Apart from that agreeing to the Sharjah
alternative would endorse the view that Pakistan was unfit to host cricket
for the time being. It is the second interpretation that could have long
term effects on cricket in Pakistan.
But then it would have made things even more difficult for Pakistan as a
cricket playing nation. It had to honor its commitments to the ICC and
there was a realistic danger of it going without cricket for a major part
of the year because the situation nearby shows no signs of remarkable
improvement. Despite a caretaker government in Afghanistan, the peace is
too fragile to provide the luxury of sports and entertainment at the
moment. The ICC clause also makes a provision of honoring the commitments
elsewhere under extreme circumstances. So instead of waiting and watching,
in an unprecedented decision, the PCB agreed to Bukhatir’s proposal and
consequently the series was shifted to the desert venue.
That did not raise the specter of uncertainty from the test series. The
West Indies Board was in two minds regarding the issue and there were
conflicting statements emanating from the Caribbean. Despite Shrajah’s
tremendously successful record as an organizer, it had never hosted any
test. But all that is a thing of past and Sharjah has now entered history
in a manner, which even Bukhatir would not have visualized some time ago.
So much for the happenings outside the field. West Indies have been
interesting rivals for Pakistan. The cricket ties between the two
countries date back to 1957, when Pakistan traveled to West Indies under A
H Kardar to participate in a 5 match test series. Although West Indies was
not a major cricket power then and even Pakistan was new to test cricket.
Kardar’s team lost 1-3 but not without creating a ripple with their
victory at Port of Spain. Since then the two teams have played 37 tests
against each other, in which Pakistan has lost 13, won 10 and the
remaining 14 ending in draw. Series wise, of the 11 contested, West Indies
have won 5, Pakistan 2 and in 4 of them the honors have been even.
In the one dayers, the two teams have faced each other 94 times in which
West Indies has once again had an upper hand. They have won 59 contests,
losing on 34 occasions and 2 of them ended in a tie. Each of these 94
matches was contested tooth and nail, which have contributed in creating a
very healthy and competitive rivalry between the two. There have been
certain unequal contests, notable among them us Pakistan’s dramatic
collapse for 43 in South Africa, which till date remains the lowest score
by a team in one-day internationals.
Pakistan has been a regular feature at Sharjah and the West Indies are no
strangers to the ground. In all the two teams have faced each other 16
times at this venue and the result is balanced at 8 all. All though an
India-Pakistan tie at Sharjah is the hot thing, but a West Indies-Pakistan
clash does not go unnoticed by the crazy cricket lovers here. And they
have sufficient reasons to expect fire works when the two teams are
locking horns. Who can forget Basit Ali’s spectacular 65-ball century,
when he single handedly mauled the West Indies attack? Providence had a
greater innings in store, when on the same afternoon, a budding star
called Brian Lara hit a majestic 153 not out to win the trophy for his
We do not know how the teams will fare in the test series. The odds are
heavily in favor of Pakistan at the moment. For Pakistan Sharjah is almost
like playing at home, which is a big factor in any game. Then the West
Indian side has been severely depleted with the exit of one star after
another. They have been regrouping under the aging Carl Hooper, but the
youngsters do not really show much promise. The malady in their system has
become chronic and it is a tragedy for cricket in general that a world
champion side has been so completely dented and depleted.
For the time being the critics are eying the behavior of the pitch. It is
for the first time that the pitch will be required to hold on for five
days, in case the match lasts so long. It is expected to turn into a dust
bowl sooner than later and it must be worrying for Hooper, whose team was
demolished 3-0 in Sri Lanka mainly by the spin wizard Muralitharan.
Pakistan has lined up three spinners for the show in Saqlain Mushtaq, the
upcoming Kaneira and Afridi as well. To add to Hooper’s troubles, the
only person capable of hitting these spinners out of the attack, Brian
Lara is out nursing a shoulder injury. The services of the talented Sarwan
would also be missed although seasoned campaigner Chanderpaul is back with
Campbell. Though Pakistan is also without veterans Anwar and Akram, but
they have enough youngsters ready for the job.
At the time of writing this article the West Indies are already with their
back to the wall because of a late resurgence by Pakistan. Yohanna has hit
his third century in as many tests and Rashid Latif has notched up a
career best 150 to post a daunting total for the Caribbeans. Not to forget
is the fact that Hooper’s side will be batting fourth on a pitch which
is an unknown entity.
We can only hope that the West Indies finally finds itself on the long
road to recovery after being a second rate side for a greater part of the
last decade. That will be of great service to the game itself. For them
inspiration lies close at hand. Well who can be a greater example than
Bukhatir if one is set to defy the odds?
Enroute To Bowling Bradmanhood?
An Overview Of The Bowling Field
By S Zeyaur Rahman
To begin with it might sound preposterous to put Muralitharan in the same
league as the great Don, albeit in different departments of the game. To
do that would be violate and trespass one of the most sacrosanct areas of
the game that is cricket. But later on an in depth analysis of the young
man’s achievements leave us in little doubt that he leads the bowling
filed in much the same way that the Don in his forte.
I am sure it must be sounding a little harsh to the many avid cricket fans
who have been born and brought up on the diet that stressed the
impossibility of any comparison of anyone to the great Australian. And my
friend with a slightly lighter colour of skin would have been outraged no
ends at my foolish impunity of thinking the improbable. But hold on, let
me give my arguments and you are free to hang me after a fair trial.
Murali’s repeated magical displays had caught the attention of the
cricket fraternity long time ago. After a meteoric rise some time ago he
has achieved a kind of consistency which is rare among the greats even. He
has shattered one record after another and his latest achievement of
reaching the 400-wicket mark in record time and age has forced cricket
pundits to sit up and take note of this Tamil from Sri Lanka in a way
which is reserved only for the blue eyed boys of cricket.
The prodigal off spinner was known to have a brilliant command over his
bowling and to add had the rare ability of extracting turn from
practically any kind of surface. That was one reason why even the better
spinners of spin found it difficult to tackle him. He has fared well
against all kinds of opponents, on all kinds of pitches and in all kinds
of situations. It is not for nothing that he was able to get to the 400
wicket mark earlier than any body else both in terms of number of matches
As of now his record stands at 404 wickets in 72 test matches. That is
close to 6 wickets per test match, a magical figure in cricket, which is
by no means poor in terms of miracles and wizards. He broke the record of
the legendary Sir Richard Hadlee who reached the mark in 80 matches and
finished at 431 in 86 matches. The margin by which he has broken the
record would have done Hadlee proud. Murali has reached there in 8 test
matches less than the existing record that is 80 (margin of 10%).
Extending the similarity, we can say that it is the same as some 100 m
sprinter crossing the line one full second less than the existing record
of 9.79 sec (say in 8.8sec). Am I wrong if I consider such a performance
to be of Bradmanesque proportions?
Legends and myths are important indicators of the standard of the times we
live in. What is a legend today means what is considered to be superb by
today’s standards. Murali stands tall in comparison to the legends as
well. He is the 7th member to break into the elite 400 wicket club. Of the
remaining six Hadlee had the best record and Murali has bettered even
that. That makes it obvious that it must be better than the other three,
the great West Indians Walsh and Ambrose, and the Haryana hurricane Kapil
Dev. Ambrose reached there in 97 matches, Walsh in 107 and Kapil Dev in
115 matches. Calculating the rate at which Muarali has taken wickets, his
record is 25-50 percent better than his esteemed companions. If Bradman
has an incomparable record, then what do you call a record that is 50
percent better than the existing benchmarks?
What is true for yesterday may not be true for today. The game has changed
a lot with new techniques and gadgetry playing a more decisive role in the
affairs. Although Muralitharan has played his cricket along side these
greats (with the exception of Sir Hadlee), we might be guilty of judging
people belonging to different epochs on identical parameters. To avoid
this error let us take a look at his companions in the 400 wicket club who
are still playing.
The Pakistani Sultan of Swing Wasim Akram completed his 400 wickets in his
96th test match. That is 24 matches more than the Sri Lankan. When we talk
in terms of Akram’s performance he took 33 percent more matches than
Murali, other way round Murali took 25 percent less matches than Akram.
This is no joke.
More interesting is the comparison with Shane Warne, his true rival in the
race to unprecedented superiority in bowling department. Both of them are
spinners, although of different types and have played their cricket in
almost the same time.
It will be a repetition to demonstrate how many less matches Muralitharan
has played than his Australian counterpart to reach the milestone. Their
rivalry and their quality of bowling merits a detailed discussion. Just
for the record Warne took 20 matches more than Muralitharan to complete
his 400 wickets.
Warne has played 6 more test matches after reaching the 400 mark and has
claimed 30 wickets more i.e. 430 wickets in 98 matches. He has 4.38
wickets per match a great achievement by all standards keeping in mind the
number of matches he has played. But that pales ion comparison to
Muralitharan’s average of 5.61. It is difficult for me to find a
suitable comparison that will enable to show a relevant example in the
batting department. In terms of runs per test, Bradman stands at 134.5.
Talking in terms of rivalry to Bradman (phew) I can suggest some names
like Jack Hobbs, Graeme Pollock, Sobers etc…where Hobbs has 88.68,
Pollock at 98.08 and Sobers at 86.36 runs per test match. Here Bradman
roughly has a lead of 30-40 percent over his rivals, where as Muralitharan’s
wickets per match is12 percent better than Hadlee, 28 percent better
than Warne, 36, 38, 33 and 43 percent better than Akram, Ambrose, Walsh
and Kapil Dev respectively.
Bradman becomes incomparable because of his staggering average. It is here
that I concede defeat because Muralitharan does not have that kind of
gigantic lead over his rivals. His average is phenomenal but not
unthinkably monstrous as in case of Bradman. Presently he has the figures
of 19.72 as his average which is stunning. But your tongue does not stop
when you say 19.72 runs per wicket as happens in the case of Bradman, when
you say 99.94 runs per
That apart, Muralitharan is way ahead of anybody in the bowling
department. Recently he took 10 wickets in a match for the 10th time and I
am sure that is comparable to Bradman’s 12 double hundreds. And we
should not forget that he has 10 years of cricket left in him and that
figure will be considerably higher. This is his 12th in cricket, but
he claimed his first ten wicket haul five years ago. That means his 10
tenners have come in the last five years and going by the indication, he
should double the figure by the time he retires. So if he has 20 10 wicket
hauls to show in comparison to Bradman’s 12, then I do not think that it
would be wrong to call it a super human achievement.
He is about to usurp one more crown from Richard Hadlee, the one regarding
5 wickets in an innings. He is two short of setting the record and given
the frequency with which Murali dismisses five batsmen in an innings, he
would have at least finished at 50. Bradman had 29 centuries in 52 tests,
Murali has 33 in 72 and there are chances that he will better the ratio in
Another clincher before I sign off. Bradman is the only batsman to have
scored triple centuries twice. There cannot be a bowling equivalent for
that, or perhaps all ten wickets in the match might serve the purpose.
Well Murali has not achieved the mark but apart from Jim Laker, he is the
only one to crack nine wickets in an innings twice. Any repetition of the
performance or a perfect ten will give an edge to him over none other than
At the start of the article I was not sure that if I would avoid sounding
ridiculous. Comparison to Bradman is a mighty thing to do. Its like
feigning some kind of divinity as far as cricket is concerned. But after
having completed it I am sure that Murali has enough and valid causes to
be a pretender to the throne if not of a rightful heir. And I believe that
is an achievement in itself.
Back With More Ammunition
Stage Set For Spectacular Clash
By S Zeyaur
Indo-English Test Series did not offer much to the spectators through on
field activity. Although India managed to regain the rubber through a
solitary victory at Mohali, but it was the visitors who had the opponents
on the mat for a greater part of the remaining series. It was a
spectacular achievement by the depleted English team and Hussain no doubt
deserves all the credit for the credible performance, which he got out
from a side rated as mediocre by the pundits.
But the test series was not without significant ramifications. Its
greatest achievement was that it shifted the focus of the game to where it
actually belongs. Otherwise the unsavoury controversy, which erupted in
South Africa, had all but split the ICC along racial lines.
Even this series was not without distasteful incidents. There was enough
drama on the negative tactics followed by Giles with the tacit support of
his captain which irritated the little maestro so much that he was out
stumped for the first time in his career, that too when he was just 10
runs away from a record 28th hundred. Incidents like these are an integral
part of the game and we should not read too much into it. Too make matter
worse no less a person than Sunil Gavaskar criticised it heavily and I
believe that he went a little overboard. I do not recall him coming out so
strongly when certain teams in the past have performed even worse while
touring India. In his conscious and consistent tirade against Anglophilism
his behaviour betrays some kind of Anglophobia.
The Indians are taking the English side more seriously as is evident from
the change of tactics for the one dayers. A new look Indian team is ready
to lock horns with the Poms and will attempt to regain the lost aura of
invincibility on home turf.
The main strength of the Indian team lies in its batting and batting line
up certainly looks very fragile. Two big and ‘partially’ reliable
names right at the top. But that is all about it. The remaining batsmen
have played a little over 50 matches among them. A shoulder injury to
Rahul Dravid has allowed India to experiment with the number three slot
which he was accused of blocking though he has performed decently well
there. The blazing star on the horizon Laxman resembles a fading star
more. In this scenario Sehwag is shouldering a lot of responsibility in
the middle order because the remaining two are more or less newcomers.
Dinesh Mongia and Hemang Badani have won their reinstatement because of
their good showing in the Challenger’s Trophy. One of them has to come
real good if India entertains an idea of posing imposing totals. `
The void left by Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh in the lower middle order can
still be felt. Sanjay Bangar has been brought in to perform deeds to the
likes off Kapil and Botham. In the view of his limited stints it looks
highly improbable that he will fulfil our expectations and in any case he
his too old for a newcomer.
One very welcome change has occurred in the wicketkeeping department. As
per the needs of modern cricket India cannot afford to waste a slot on a
wicketkeeper who is not a quality batsman if it has to compete with the
top teams. It is here that Ajay Ratra fits in. He is one of the genuine
talents to have emerged on the domestic circuit for a long time. It
remains a mystery why Das Gupta was preferred to him.
After the en masse sacking of the bowling contingent for the dismal show
in South Africa a semblance of resemblance has been restored. Zaheer Khan
and Ajit Agarkar have been recalled to lend company Srinath. It is
ironical one of these two who were supposed to meet India’s requirement
of an all rounder will have to sit out for the new man on the dock, Sanjay
Bangar. Similarly it is unlikely that Sarandeep Singh will get the nod
ahead of the two stalwarts Kumble and Hrabhajan. No matter what the nature
of the pitch be, three spinners in a one day side is a luxury.
The English side looks more balanced both in the batting as well as
bowling department. They do not boast of big names but barring a few the
entire side is young and raring to go. One day specialist Nick Knight is
back in the side which gains additional weight by the likes of Graham
Thorpe and Ben Hollioake. It is the bowling department that looks
menacing. Now England has two genuine fast bowlers in Andy Caddick and
Darren Gough. With their pace they can be very effective on Indian wickets
even, which are not as dead as presumed to be.
Now that the invincibility myth in the one dayers has been broken the home
series have become a bit livelier. The battle lines read a fragile batting
order versus quality pace attack. The result could be ranging between
awesome and appalling if the batting team in question is India. Indian
batting in full flow is one of the high points of the game itself.
Similarly one of those days when India collapses spinelessly are a
disgrace for the art of batting. It remains to be seen what Saurav Ganguly
and his men chose to give their fans as New Year gift.
Lonely At The Top
Africa Not Fit For Company Yet
By S Zeyaur Rahman
Cricket or any other competitive sport for that matter does not go
by their dictum in the Bhagvad Gita that one should pitch in one's
best without caring for the result. Nothing could have been
further from truth if we give a look at the manner in which games
are played these days.
Results are of paramount importance not only because it gives a
sense of individual satisfaction or a sense of reward, but the
driving force these is the opportunity that results provide of
mapping oneself in the hierarchy. I stand here is not an isolated
statement. It also implies that I stand higher or lower to so and
so. One can imagine the kind of feeling one would get on finding
oneself right at the top. Yes we live in a result oriented world
and we are none the worse for it.
In terms of cricket, though one day cricket started almost a
century later than tests, it was quicker in devising an
institutive mechanism for finding out the supreme team in the
category. It has never been that easy to devise a world
championship for test cricket and it has obvious reasons.
Nonetheless the ICC has tried and come up with an idea that will
deliver the goods at the end of an initial period of five years.
Even before the days of the Test Championship, there were certain
unofficial attempts at naming sides as the best in business. Two
sides which have performed credibly well over the years were
termed as claimants to the throne and when they played against
each other, that was billed as the fight for the top.
Traditionally the top spot oscillated between Australia and
England. The resurgence in the Caribbean brought a new dimension
in the play and they held the top place unquestioningly for close
to two decades. For a brief time Pakistan pretended as
rivals before the Proteas returned to cricket. It was simultaneous
with the decline in the standards and fortune of the West Indies
and the previous three Australia - South Africa series evinced
great interests as nothing short of the zenith of cricket was at
The just concluded series assumed even greater significance
because there is a system in place, which identifies the team
standings. To begin with the system has proved to be right and the
two best teams in business were vying with each other.
But the limitations of the system were exposed when we got to see
the result. The gap in the standards of the two teams does not
correspond to the gap in points. South Africa proved to be
woefully inadequate to the might of the Aussies. All talks of a
close fight and the series going to the wire went down the drain.
Not only was South Africa beaten, they were beaten
comprehensively, fair and square. It is nothing short of a
humiliation for them to lose 3-0 in a series that was supposed to
be a close fight. They did not even put pretence of a fight as the
None of the tests lasted full five days and the results are a
damning indictment for the South African fans. It is very
difficult to digest losses as comprehensive as 10 wickets, 246
runs and 9 wickets when one is supposed to prove equal to the
At the collective level, Australia proved to be far beyond the
range and reach of South African cricket. Steve Waugh's men have
formed such a cogent unit that one can be mistaken for believing
that there has been a total merger of individual identities in the
team and for the team. Every single player complements and eggs on
the other 10. To quote Steve Waugh the team has reached such a
level that the colleagues are reveling in the success of each
The South Africans were bundled out for less than 200 on three
occasions and reached the 400 mark only once in six innings.
In contrast the lowest score for Australia in a complete
innings is 439. South Africa had only one partnership of more than
100 in the entire series that too in the very last one. Australia
has had 5 partnership of more than 100 with two of them crossing
the 200 mark.
At the individual level there is absolutely no comparison at all.
Kirsten was the only South African to manage a century where as
Australia has posted seven centuries, three of them by Matthew
Hayden alone. Martyn finished with two and Langer got two to
his name as well. Kallis and Kirsten were the only two South
African batsmen to cross the 200 mark in six innings and neither
could cross 250. Three Australian crossed the 300 mark while
getting fewer innings to play and chasing targets that were not
The bowling department fared no better. The likes of Shaun Pollock
and Allan Donald had to work really hard to maintain their
reputation and command respect from the opponent and certainly
none of them enhanced it. None of the South African bowlers
managed to get a five wicket haul and neither of them could mange
even 10 wickets in the series. Not many Australian got the 5
wicket bouquet. That is because they were well complemented by
their teammates and every one finished with 2-3 wickets in the
innings. That is why all the three front line bowlers, McGrath,
Lee and Warne have close to 15 wickets each. Even
McGill, who figured in the last test scalped seven.
Statistics do not show the true picture. I agree because the true
picture is even bleak when we see it from the South African point
of view. The fragility in their batting line up was suspect for
long. It was only because of the lack of penetration power in the
bowlers of the other teams that the myth had been perpetuated.
Kallis is the only world class batsman in their team and Kirsten
makes up for the lack of class through determination and grit.
Imagine a player like Gibbs who was in the form of his life short
while ago was completely at sea. Klusener has no clue about his
role. It is unfortunate to see a truly wonderful player losing his
bearings. Henderson, Mackenzie, Dippenar cannot walk into a good
batting side. South Africa has to do something to bridge a yawning
gap in tier middle order. No winder they yearn for Cronje so much.
The loss of Cullinan has also hit them hard too.
Age is telling on Donald now. The great man has nothing much to
prove having molded a battery of young blowers ever since the
Return. Neither he is finished at the moment. He has something
still left in him which will come out in occasional bursts but
nothing more. He should not be expected to run through a
quite often. That task is better left to Pollock and Co. The
tragedy is that Pollock does not have too many companions. It was
obvious in the series against India itself that the second string
bowlers of South Africa are not in a position to complement Donald
The one day series has already commenced. The Proteas are a beaten
side in test but they are expected to acquit themselves better in
the one dayers. The return of Rhodes will be a major point for he
is a great inspiration for the team. Similarly Australia has been
known to murder in cold blood. Not for a moment are they going to
let down their guard. My bet is on the Aussies wining the title,
South Africa performing better than the tests and New Zealand
giving us a couple of surprises.
Water Everywhere....... But Everyone Is High And Dry
Disappointing End To India England Series
By S Zeyaur Rahman
test match series between India and England ended on a very disappointing
note. It is rather unfortunate that the rain gods decided to pour water
over the efforts of the two teams just as some kind of climax had been
built on the series and everyone was waiting for an interesting finish. In
the end the Bangalore test has ended in a tame draw and India won the
three match series 1-0 by the virtue of their decisive win at Mohali.
In retrospection, from an Indian point of view, the win at Mohali is the
only thing worth talking about. That was the only game where the Indians
seemed to have the upper hand and in the end that proved to be decisive.
That is definitely not the kind of performance that one expected from
India at home that too against an English side, shorn off its strength
because of the non participation of its key players.
The win at Mohali needs to be praised because of the circumstances under
which it came. The team had just about returned from a taxing tour of
South Africa. It is needless to say how difficult the tour to South Africa
can be. After a hectic schedule which included a three-nation one day
tournament and then an engrossing three test match series. No one can
forget the drama surrounding the third ‘test’. Naturally these things
would have taken a toll on the players, both in physical and mental terms.
But the team put the debacle behind it from the word go. They did not have
any rest worth the name and still came out blazing to defeat England under
four days, on a pitch which was likely to support English rather than
The defeat was in act so comprehensive that no body worth his salt was
prepared to give another chance to England. Two factors were totally
against England. One that India had an awesome record at home, where even
the mighty had to bite dust. Secondly, the remaining two venues were going
to be more spinner friendly than Mohali, a fact which England could never
have liked. To add to the woes, their most competent batsmen against spin,
Graham Thorpe, had to fly back in haste owing to some personal problems.
All in all it was a sure recipe for disaster and a 3-0 sweep was at the
back of every mind.
England went through a wonderful transition from there and had India on
the mat for the remaining part of the series. At Ahmedabad we were the
ones fighting to save the test and not the mediocre, inexperienced English
side. Nasser Hussain had emerged all trumps up and his team members had
performed their role to perfection. The induction of Giles was a major
factor and it is one of the mysteries of the series that how could Indian
batsmen, who are born and brought up on quality spin bowling, succumb to
the guile of an unheralded spinner. It is to the credit of the English
captain that he refused to entertain any ideas about a moral victory
though it was apparent to everyone that England had the upper hand through
As a consequence of the strong comeback at Motera, the Bangalore test
became suddenly interesting. From a no win position England could afford
to think in terms of squaring the series. The Chinnaswamy pitch had some
ray of hope for them and of course they utilized the conditions more than
we did. On the sidelines, the Indian calculation was upset and in a
desperate move, they went with three spinners, something they should have
done at Ahmedabad, not Bangalore.
England went from strength to strength at Bangalore. First they put a
sizeable total against an attack which seemed to have forgotten its tooth.
Much was said about the negative strategy and the incidents on the field
only helped in highlighting the issue. What Sachin Tendulkar did has not
enhanced his reputation in any way and by getting out in the 90s at a
crucial juncture in the game, he once again proved that even he is all too
human. Whether India would have lost the third test or not, is altogether
a different issue, but it is obvious to everyone that there was a daunting
task on her hands and we were most likely to lose the match.
India’s failure to comprehensively beat a mediocre side at home does not
add to our reputation. Winning overseas against a respectable opponent has
been a dream for a greater part of the decade. And the failure to do so at
home is a serious setback to Indian cricket at large.
As is usual at the end of the series we must go into the nitty gritties of
the matter and analyze the reasons for the debacle. Although we have won
the series, I would still call it a debacle because of our performance
We have a strange opening pair. They have proved to be effective without
proving reliable all through out. Though Das has consolidated his position
at the top, but he does not really exude that kind of confidence, which is
expected from a good opener at this level. He has to curb his adventurous
instinct to a large extent otherwise he will be perishing after the well
made 30s and 40s. Deep Das Gupta has shown a lot of promise as an opener
but his work behind the stumps has posed a serious question mark on his
role in the side. His wicket keeping was never up to the mark and he had
been missing catches as well stumping routinely. That is something India
can do without. And certainly he is not so good an opener that he will
walk in the side on the merit of his batting alone. Having a wicket keeper
as an opener gives a lot of flexibility to the side such as playing an
extra bowler or batsman. Once Ramesh walks in to the side, Gupta will have
to be relegated down the order and if he continues missing routine
catches, it will be time for some one else to walk in. In any case the
Castrol Junior Cricketer of the Year, Ajay Ratra is waiting in the weeks
and I think it will be a good idea to try him in a home series.
With the exception of Sachin Tendulkar, our middle order has had a poor
series. They were all supposed to excel in home conditions and compensate
for their below par display in the overseas tours. Both Laxman and Dravid
have had only one good innings each and I am sure that they must be
regretting on the missed opportunities. Sehwag did not get much of a
chance but neither will he be a very satisfied man. The offenders list is
headed by the captain who continued having his wretched run in the tests.
If he continues to perform this way, I think the selectors will be forced
to think in terms in two different teams for one dayers and tests.
Identical to what happened to Mark Taylor, although with him it was the
other way round. And I guess it will be good for both Ganguly and the
We are once again jumping to dub Tinu Yohannan as the find of the series.
No doubt he has impressed with his bowling but it is too early to conclude
that way. We did the same to Zaheer Khan and Nehra and within an year they
are out of the team. It is still left to the old war-horse Srinath to
carry the flag and I must say that he has been doing his duty to the best
of his abilities. Even before the series ended, we have totally forgotten
the pair of bowlers with whom we started our campaign. Sanjay Bangar and
Iqbal Siddiqui figure in nobody’s list. Yes, it is very tough at the
The spin department did not exactly let us down but they came with exactly
the same kind of display that our batsmen did. They performed well enough
to maintain their reputation but did nothing of note to enhance it. The
disappointment is because they were expected to run through the sides
under favorable conditions. May be we are expecting too much from them.
They cannot take five wickets every time they turn up, but surely they
have left a lot to be desired.
England have returned home for Christmas but they will be coming back next
month for the five match one day series. Once again India will have the
huge home advantage on their side. But we should be keeping in mind the
kind of transformation the visitors underwent. The rise in the confidence
level of the English side can be gauged from the fact that tier captain
refused to unconditionally accept the entry of one of their stalwarts,
Alec Stewart when he declared himself available for the tour. That is
definitely something to talk about. That clearly shows if any team has
gained from the series, it is England and India certainly cannot afford to
take them lightly when they come back for the one dayers.
Crosses Another Milestone
Its Miles To Go Before He Sleeps
By S Zeyaur
It took a little longer than expected but nobody seemed to mind the delay.
It was an elated Kumble, when he trapped the last man Matthew Hoggard leg
before wicket to end the English innings. The home crowd had waited more
than a day to see their prodigal son achieve the milestone. Of course
getting to the 300 mark would please any bowler. And to do so before
one’s home crowd can only add to the sense of pride and achievement
associated with it.
Anil Kumble became the 18th bowler to join the 300 club. There was a time
when the 300-wicket mark was the ultimate test for a bowler. With the
increase in the number of tests played per year and also the number of
test playing countries, the milestone seems a little easier to achieve.
Eighteen is too big a figure to be called elite. Now we have a couple of
bowlers who have gone beyond the 400 mark as well, and the great West
Indian, Courtney Walsh has ended his career at a once unimaginable 519
It has been a long joinery for Kumble as for any body, who has gone beyond
the 300 figure. It has its own share of ups and downs. All that goes to
show the kind of hard work, the patience and perseverance that has gone
Kumble was first picked up for the Indian team that was to participate in
the Australasia Cup at Sharjah in the summer of 1990. The Indian team
performed poorly and could not make it to the semifinals even. But the
19-year-old bespectacled spinner had impressed the selectors to book his
berth to the subsequent tour of England.
He was not the strike bowler of the side on the tour and neither did he do
anything special. But in the only one dayer he played, he sent down 11
beautiful over for 29 runs and claimed the wickets of David Gower and
Robin Smith. On the same tour, he made his test debut at Old Trafford,
where again nobody was forced to see the tremendous potential in this
determined young man.
Then came an uncertain phase in the life of this young Mechanical Engineer
turned cricketer. Although he was in the team for most of the time, but
was not a certain figure in the final eleven. He had to face competition
from his colleague Venkatpathy Raju, who had an initial edge after bowling
India to victory in the only test against Sri Lanka. There was time when
he even lost his place in the team.
The tour to South Africa was to be a turning point in his career. The
selectors had made it clear that fast bowlers were to be the main weapon
on India’s maiden venture on the South African soil and there could not
be many spinners in the team. Kumble won his place after a devastating
spell in the Irani Trophy. His haul of 13 wickets in the match had him on
the tour, and since then, except the career threatening shoulder injury,
Kumble has been an integral part of the team in either version of the
That season was to be decisive in his career. In the second test at
Johannesburg, Kumble announced his arrival on the world scene with a 6
wicket haul on a pitch which was in no way conducive for spin bowling. The
performance cemented his place in the side. In the home series aginst
England, he combined with Raju and Chauhan to script a memorable 3-0
victory. With 21 wickets in the series, he was adjudged the Man of the
Series and since then has been India’s strike bowler for over a decade
More memorable performances were in store for the same season. His 6-12 in
the Hero Cup final is the best bowling figure achieved by an Indian bowler
till date and it handed the glittering trophy in the hands of Azharuddin,
after India had posted a mediocre total. Kumble was also instrumental in
the 1-0 victory against Sri Lanka, which remains the only series victory
outside India in the decade gone by. And when Sri Lanka came for a return
tour, Kumble claimed his first ten wicket haul in a test at Lucknow and
went on to demolish the visitors so completely, that they lost all the
tests by innings margin.
Kumble has not looked back since. He has gone on destroying one opposition
after another in a thoroughly systematic and professional manner. He bore
the responsibility of being India’s main strike bowler with great
dignity and delivered almost every time that India needed it. If India has
been able to maintain its unbeaten record at home for more than a decade,
much of the credit rightly goes to Kumble. No one can know better the
former captain, Azharuddin who went on record saying that he was the most
successful Indian captain mainly because of Kumble’s deft exploitation
of home conditions.
Kumble has bowled his best in the mid 90’s.his strike rate improved with
every match and he demolished one record after another. His career graph
shows the improvement and even statistics reveal the vertical path that
Kumble has taken. He took ten tests to reach 50 wickets, another 11 to get
past the mark of 100 and yet another 13 to get to the figure of 150. But
he needed only 8 test matches to go past the 200 mark and only 7 more to
reach the milestone of 250. His bowling wagged a bit in the last few
years, and he needed 11 tests to complete his 300 wickets.
This goes to show that his golden period was between 1996 and 1999, a
period interspersed with outstanding achievements. This of course includes
the 10-74 against Pakistan at Delhi, where he became only the second
bowler in test history to claim all the ten wickets in an innings. It was
also during this phase that he went past the 266 mark against South Africa
in Mumbai, thus becoming the leading spinner of the country, overtaking
Bedi’s record. It is interesting to note that Kumble is the first Indian
spinner to reach the 300 mark. A curious fact indeed for a country that
boasts of some of the best spinners in world cricket.
Kumble is aware that he cannot be satisfied with domestic laurels. He
knows that he has some illustrious colleagues in world cricket that are
ahead of him. His Australian counterpart is way ahead with 421 wickets to
his name and is steadily marching towards Walsh’s record. One of the
reasons for Warne’s lead can be the fact that Australia plays more tests
than India. Both Warne and Kumble started their careers roughly at the
same time and till date, Warne has represented Australia 96 times, as
compared to the 66 times that Kumble has turned out for India. But no body
can doubt the consistently magical performances that Warne has spun over
the years and his achievement is well deserved.
Closer in the sub continent, Muthaiah Muralitharan has evolved into a
wicket taking machine and is arguably the best spinner in business. Muralitharan
has played only three more tests than Kumble and his tally stands at 374,
a whooping lead of 74 wickets. And like Kumble, Muralitharan has been Sri
Lanka’s main bowler and has had little support from other bowlers with
the exception of Chaminda Vaas. Muralitharan has been a greater match
winner than any of the three, as he has 5 wickets in an innings 31 times
and 10 wickets in a match 9 times. The figures are 20 and 5 for Warne and
18and 4 for Kumble.
Kumble must be happy at his achievements. Luckily for India he has
recovered from his shoulder injury owing to which he was out for almost an
year. He was a very different bowler in south Africa which made one wonder
if that was the end of Kumble that we knew and it was up to Harbhajan
Singh to carry on the good work. But he has bounced back in his
characteristic way and already has 19 wickets in the series, with one more
English innings to go.
Being a spinner, Kumble at 31 has a good amount of cricket left in him, a
privilege, which his Karnataka team, mates Srinath and Prasad do not
enjoy. One does not know how far will Kumble take his tally. But one
really expects him to take it as far as possible and one also knows that
Kumble will not leave any stone unturned till the end of the journey. In
the heart of his hearts he must be eyeing Walsh’s record and my bet is
that he will definitely reach there if his fitness and form dose not ditch
him. There is also a possibility that either Warne or Muralitharan would
have improved it by the time Kumble reaches there.
As of now Kumble should set his eyes on the 434 mark set by Kapil Dev to
become the number one bowler the country has ever produced. He deserves it
definitely and it would be nothing short of a tragedy if Kumble fails to
do so by the time he hangs his boots.
To Bangalore Today
Goes In The Deciding Phase
By S Zeyaur Rahman
ongoing India-England series is proving to be more than exciting. What a
relief for cricket because the series was under cloud on at least two
occasions; first because of the unwillingness of English players to travel
to a war zone and secondly due to the Sehwag episode. The fact that
England, with such an inexperienced side is still in contention, even at
the end of the series, is an achievement in itself and effectively sums up
the atmosphere before the start of the final test match of the series.
One had considered that Mohali would be the toughest outing for India.
Once that obstacle was conquered with relative ease, talks of another
Brownwash had begun in our media. But England came back very strongly in
the next test and through out had the upper hand. This English resurgence
has breathed a new life in the series and one expects a tough fight at
Bangalore. India can afford to hang on for a draw and thus claim the
series, but England will definitely go all out and try to level the
At the moment India definitely enjoys an edge over the visitors and it is
highly unlikely that the visitors will be able to square the series. But
still nobody is in a position to make an accurate forecast regarding the
The Chinnaswamy pitch has only served to heighten the suspense. The pitch
has been relaid completely some six months ago and has not been tested at
all since then. Not even a first class match has been played on it and no
one will risk making predictions about the nature of the pitch. The only
person who can make some guesses is the curator M Kasturirangan. He said
that the pitch is likely to be a batting beauty and the team batting first
will have an advantage. If it behaves so remains to be seen.
The Indian team will be relying on its batting strength once gain and will
hope that it finally delivers. The batsmen are yet to fire and they need
to get there acts together and post and imposing total. A repeat of
Ahmedabad, where we managed only 291 runs in the first innings, will not
do. The openers have done reasonably well and it is up to the middle order
batsmen to utilise the platform that they have been getting these days.
The batsman under most pressure is none other than the skipper himself,
who has scored just one fifty in the past 18 test innings. That is not
expected from a batsman of his calibre. His dry run in the tests has been
really surprising as he has been performing consistently well in the one
dayers through out.
Dravid and Tendulkar have been doing their jobs well, which only leaves us
yearning for more. Laxman had a very disciplined innings at Motera and is
a good omen for he had been repeatedly gifting away his wicket due to
extravagant shot making after well made 20s and 30s. I suppose that we
should be a little more patient with Sehwag. He is new to tests and has
withered a huge storm. Of course nobody will mind if he gets going. At
home and against a side with limited bowling abilities is just what the
doctor ordered for the Indian batsmen and I should like to see them making
full use of the opportunity.
There is not much scope for change in the bowling line up either, though
there were rumours of Sarndeep Singh getting a look in. But no one was
willing to do that at the cost of a batsman and bno bowler has performed
badly enough to be discarded. Srinath, Yohannan, Kumble and Harbhajan. To
assist them there are a couple of part timers, of whom Sehwag might come
in handy with his turners and there is of course the jack of all trades,
A great moment awaits Anil Kumble and it is in the fitness of the things
that it should happen before his home crowd. The ace Indian leggis is just
a wicket away from the 300 mark and in all probability will definitely get
there. He has been out in the wilderness due to the shoulder injury and
did not make a great come back in South Africa. He is certainly not
bowling at his best but good enough to shut his critics up. He will be
only the second Indian bowler Kapil Dev to cross the mark, long ago having
claimed the premiere spinner slot from Bishen Singh Bedi. But his
colleagues in the international arena, Warne and Muralitharan are ahead of
him, at least in number terms and he has got a little bit of catching up
Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore has been a regular venue for test cricket.
The ground has got a fresh look, especially the outfield had improved
considerably. It has hosted 13 test matches so far, out of which India has
won on four, lost on four occasions and the remaining five ended in draw.
An interesting fact is that India has lost on the previous two occasions,
once against Australia and the other time against South Africa.
Incidentally, both of these were the last test of the series.
Against England, India has played two matches at the venue. In 1977,
they defeated Tony Greig’s side by 140 runs after setting them a target
of 318, the main tormentors being Bedi and Chandrashekhar claiming 9 and 7
wickets respectively. Against Keith Fletcher’s side in 1981, India could
manage only a draw. Both the sides made 400 runs in the first innings and
were left with very little time to enforce a result.
Chinnaswamy Stadium has its place in the cricket lore. It was here in 1988
that Richard Hadlee overhauled Botham’s record of 376 wickets when he
scalped Arun Lal on the opening day of the match. It was a kind of repeat
when, 6 years later Kapil Dev equalled the World record here and went on
to better it at Ahmedabad. In five days from now, we are sure to have some
additions to this illustrious list.
Shifts To Motera Today
No Sign Of Respite For English Problems
By S Zeyaur Rahman
The second cricket test between India and England gets underway at the
Sardar Patel Stadium today. So far on the tour, England have very little
to cheer about. They were treated with disdain by the batsmen and bowlers
of mediocre oppositions and the dubbing at Mohali has done little to
improve their prospects.
As I had written earlier, Mohali was England’s best bet. Having lost
that rather comprehensively, I do not think that England is going anywhere
from here, except downwards. This is despite their track record of
bouncing back in the second match of the series on their previous two
tours of the sub continent. Lets take a look at the sides and the
venue, which will give a clear picture to the readers as to what awaits
the visitors at Ahmedabad.
For a layman, the kind of metamorphosis that the Indian team undergoes at
home, might appear amazing. No doubt it baffles the cricket pundits as
well, but they have learnt to live with the fact. No amount of cricket
knowledge can explain the sudden change. The very same team that humbles
the world champions Australia at home, cannot manage to beat Zimbabwe on
the very next tour. Are not we watching something similar here, although
South Africa is no Zimbabwe and England ain't Australia either. But a look
at the kind of cricket India played in South Africa and the way they won
at Mohali. From an absolutely nervous entity they transformed themselves
into a confident one. There was hardly anything that they did right in
South Africa and they hardly put a wrong foot in Mohali.
The English team is pretty weakened by the absence by some of the top
players. They do not have a single player with adequate experience of
playing in India, which includes the captain. This is a vital factor
against them, otherwise they have some very good players in their batting
line up. The three Marks, Trescothick, Butcher and Ramprakash along with
Hussain and Thorpe are competent enough. But look at what happened to them
in the first test. From a position of relative strength at lunch, they
slid down to be all out before the end of day’s play. A team which
cannot cross the 250 mark in either of the innings, cannot expect to win a
test match, against a side which has some of the best batsmen in the world
(at least at home).
In complete contrast, the Indian batsmen got along their work in a very
systematic manner. They were in no hurry and were in complete command of
the situation. The very basic rule of cricket was followed i.e. to dig in.
Almost everybody did that. The run rate was pathetic and the display
mostly unattractive. But despite all that the team managed a good first
innings total and won the match with a day to spare.
England will have to rethink their strategy for the coming much. It is
different matter that they do not have much option to fall back upon. I do
not see many changes happening in the batting line up. But keeping in mind
the wicket at Ahmedabad, which is supposed to be one of the biggest
turners in the country, reinforcement is required in the spin department.
Dawson performed credibly well and he will be retained. With Ashley Giles
supposed to be fit for the match, there is no reason why he should not be
included, naturally at the cost of a fast bowler.
India too will have a problem of sorts. That arises mainly because Sehwag
is eligible to play again. There was so much of hullabaloo on his
exclusion that it gave one a feeling that India cannot possibly play a
test without hi. Now when he is in, it really has to be seen if his name
figures in the final eleven. Das Gupta will retain his place and so will
Das in all probability. No one can tamper with the places of Dravid,
Tendulkar and Ganguly. The debate has already started if Laxman should
make way for Sehwag. Laxman is a class act but has done little of note in
the last few games. On the other hand Sehwag has staked his claim with two
glorious centuries and a string of useful scores in the same duration. I
am sure that Ganguly will have to do a lot of thinking to do before he
picks his batsmen.
He has more freedom in the bowling department. Srinath will open with
Yohannan, that is for sure. That is but all about the pace attack. India
should definitely go with three spinners, which will mean that Sarandeep
Singh will get a much deserved chance of bowling with his former teammate
Harbhajan Singh. Kumble at the end of the attack is a certainty. Another
scenario can be that India chooses to go with four bowlers instead
of four, just in order to accommodate both Laxman and Sehwag. The
scapegoat will be most probably the other Singh and in my opinion that
will not be a nice thing to do.
A lot has been said about the wickets at home and Motera symbolizes all
that is wrong with it. I guess it is a bit unfair and exaggerated. No
doubt that spinners make merry here. Ask Kumble, Raju, Muralitharan… and
they will agree. But the best performance on the ground has been of Kapil
Dev when he claimed 9-83 against West Indies in the first ever test played
here. India lost the match but has remained unbeaten since then on this
ground. That was a long way back and the wicket has been relaid. But still
Srinath managed to produce a match winning spell against South Africa at
the same venue.
Sardar Patel Stadium received test match status only in 1983. It has
hosted all but 5 matches till then but is surprisingly rich in terms of
records. In the very first match, Kapil Dev produced the best ever
performance by an Indian bowler (later bettered by Kumble). In the next
match against Pakistan, Gavaskar went past the 10,000 run mark. The third
match was against Sri Lanka and India completed a 3-0 clean sweep. The
unique feature of the sweep was that India had won all the three matches
by an innings, only the second team to do that after England in 1928.
The match against South Africa defied the myth of spinner’s paradise as
Donald went on a rampage in the first innings of the match and Srinath in
the fourth innings. English bowlers can take heart from these two splendid
performances. The fifth match was against New Zealand and the match is
remembered, although for wrong reasons. It was in this match that India
did not decide to impose a follow-on on the Kiwis and later became the center
of controversy during the match fixing scandal. Looking on the better side
of the game. Sachin Tendulkar got his highest score (217) and we can hope
for a repeat performance
Empire Comes Back
India England Series Start At Mohali
By S Zeyaur Rahman
The entire cricket world was shaken by the decision of a hard nosed
referee and it was only after 12 days of intense deliberations that sanity
was restored. India was of course at the centre of the controversy, as has
been the case many a times, and it was Indian cricket that stood to suffer
the most in the aftermath of the crisis. It is debatable issue, if the
BCCI should have taken a different stand than what it took.
The immediate casualty could have been the England-India test series. It
was only after that talks were brokered at Kuala Lumpur that the series
could be rescued. It would have been really unfortunate if the series were
to be scrapped. Not because the Board would have lost millions of dollars
but because the fans would be then deprived of a chance to see the English
stars in action, their first trip to India after eight years.
The immediate effect of the issue was that cricket took a backseat and all
the skeletons in the cricket cupboard did the talking. Not only did they
talk but rattled cacophonously aloud. It was certainly not the best of
sights that even two days before the start of the first test nobody was
sure if the test was on. Nobody was talking of strategies and team
composition. All one was interested was the possibility of Sehwag playing
and the consequences of such an action. We are all relieved that the
Mohali test is finally on - and as an official match. It is about
time that we get back to the game, the one which is played on the pitch,
not off it.
There was some other drama attached to the tour. Because of the September
11 attacks and the war in India's 'neighbourhood' five top players decided
to withdraw from the party and at that time it really appeared dubious if
the tour was on. That was a ridiculous decision because we have more than
1 billion people living here rather safely. But we should also concede the
right to decide about themselves to Stewart and Co and put the matter to
rest. It is anybody's guess that the quality of cricket played on the tour
will suffer because of the absence of these players.
I do not really understand the rationale behind coming with a second
string side. India at home is a hard nut to crack. It is not for nothing
that Steve Waugh termed it as the Final Frontier in cricket and regrets
not being able to conquer it. Would you like to believe that what Steve
Waugh's Invincibles could not do, Hussain will be able to do with his
mediocre side that too minus his five top players? The answer is a big no.
Then is England here without the intention of winning? If that is the case
then that is akin to fooling around and deceiving the people in lieu of
their hard earned money.
The Indian team is just back from the South African tour, where it was
beaten fair and square both in the one dayers and the tests. The only
achievement that they can talk of is getting into the finals of the
triangular series (which they have done nine times in two years) that too
after facing a stiff resistance from Kenya. The draw at Port Elizabeth
appears more credible but no one can deny the fact that they were assisted
by the rain gods. Otherwise the outcomes of the tour comprise nothing but
a blank slate.
It must be coincidence that the last time England visited India, India was
just back after taking a pounding in South Africa. England were the
favourites to win the series then but Azharuddin and his spinners conjured
up a magic to essay an English whitewash. The Indian team launched on from
there and remained unbeaten at home for almost a decade. We shall have a
look if the present team is capable of doing that?
Well let’s begin from the top. The perennial search for a pair of
openers is getting prolonged with every passing year. India did appear to
have found a semblance of regular opening partners in Das and Ramesh.
Ramesh's injury has disturbed the fragile balance and it is back to square
one. We are back to our favourite pass time of making openers out of
middle order batsmen. We did that with Laxman and when the experiment was
repeated on Dravid, the results were even more disastrous. It is a
different matter altogether that for most of the times Dravid is the de
facto opener because he is out in the middle before the ball is 5 overs
The tour was not happy one for Das. In the one dayers, he was a total flop
and went past 50 only once in the tests. The surprising part is that he
handles the new ball pretty well and does not appear in any trouble at
all. Despite all his technique and temperament he has not been getting the
big scores, which is essential for an opener.
The search for an able wicket keeper who can bat is also as proving to be
unending. The experiment with Deep Das Gupta paid off well. The Bengal lad
responded beautifully to the faith reposed in him by his skipper. We
should keep in mind that Gupta is there as a wicket keeper not as opener.
We certainly cannot manage with a wicket keeper who is good in front of
the wicket and not behind it. He was found lacking in South Africa and in
India where the ball turns, bounce and does not carry; the job might be
beyond him. He might end up scoring 50-60 odd runs but if he misses a
couple of crucial catches or stumpings, then it might turn out to be bad
bargain for India.
The middle order does not have scope for many changes. Dravid, Ganguly,
Laxman and Tendulkar automatically select themselves. In fact India will
have trouble accommodating Sehwag, when he returns. In that case either
there will be another shuffle in the opening pair or India will go a
bowler short. As for the Mohali match, I really do not see any realistic
chance of Connor Williams or Jacob Martin figuring in the final eleven.
The total revamp of the fast bowling department is a bold step but may
also prove to be foolish one. Young players need to be groomed not
thrusted with responsibility with the word go. Srinath and Prasad are out
because of injury problems, which is a regular phenomenon with aging fast
bowlers. Nehra is supposedly not fully fit, which means that only Zaheer
Khan and Agarkar have been rested. It is a pity because on the Zimbabwe
tour both Khan and Nehra bowled beautifully in tandem and it appeared that
India had found the pair to carry the attack in the first decade of the
We do we have a reasonably good second string bowlers. Especially people
like Mohanty had to be there. But the selectors did not want any of the
old stuff. So we are left with a completely raw attack of Tinu Yohannan,
Iqbal Siddiqui and Sanjay Bangar. Yohannan is a promising prospect, but he
has played all but 7 first class matches. That is a meteoric rise by any
standards and now he has to live with it. Siddiqui has not been long on
the domestic circuit but has been impressing consistently. Sanjay Bangar
is already 29, a late start for a fast bowler. Not only that he is
supposed to be the jack of all trades. He might be asked to open or fill
in the slot still vacant after the exit of Kapil Dev or at least Manoj
Prabhakar. That is a tall order for a new comer. It will be interesting to
see how this trio fares, which does not have a single test wicket between
them. The green top in Mohali might help their case or else they could go
the way of David Johnson, Abey Kuruvilla, Dodda Ganesh, Laxmi Ratan Shukla…
That leaves us with the time tested arsenal of the spinners. Kumble has
been a pale shadow of himself on the South African tour. He can't complain
that the bouncier tracks did not suit his bowling because it was with 6-53
at Johannesburg in 1992 that his success story began. It is not always
easy to return after a long lay off and be bang on target. The home
wickets might well be the tonic he needs and India will be more than glad
if he rediscovers his old rhythm.
Harbhajan Singh did not have a great series but he is by far the most
effective bowler that India has today. He is our most potent weapon and on
Indian wickets odds are heavily in his favour. I do not have any
hesitation in writing that he has replaced Kumble as the Numero Uno and
now he has to do demolish the sides with a regularity that was the
hallmark of Kumble. His deputy Sarandeep Singh is out for no fault of is
own. He has taken five wickets every time he has figured in a home test
and it reminds me of the gifted Subhash Gupte and Rajendra Goel, who had
to sit out as there were better spinners doing duty for the national team.
I do not see England really posing much trouble to the India. They are the
only side in recent times to have won series both in Sri Lanka and
Pakistan. And they were the underdogs on both these occasions but India is
a different proposition and they do not have the services of the players
who made it possible. They have a very inexperienced side, both in bowling
and batting. Their best chance is winning the Mohali test if their fast
bowlers are able to exploit the friendly conditions and the vulnerability
of Indian batsmen. If they fail to do that, it is going to be an uphill
task for them and their dream of conquering the Golden Triangle may well
remain a dream.
Manage Credible Draw At Port Elizabeth
Off the Field Steal Away Limelight
S Zeyaur Rahman
glorious uncertainties of cricket were for once not so glorious at all. It
was in fact ignominious. We had more than the fare share of ups and downs
at the second test match between India and South Africa at Port Elizabeth.
After the meek surrender at Bloemfontein not many people would have
thought that the test would go into the fifth day, given that the strip at
Port Elizabeth was pace friendly.
There was much talk about the constitution of the Indian team, especially
the bowling attack. It was indeed a dilemma for Ganguly to pick up the
right ammunition for the match. India's strength has always lied in the
spin department, which gets neutralized to a large extent on green tops.
The return of Kumble was not really inspiring, and there was a possibility
of him getting replaced by Harbhajan Singh. Also in order to benefit from
the wear and tear on the pitch on the last day, India would have to bat
Given the track record of our batsmen over the years, that was not a
comfortable idea to entertain. The trouble was further compounded by the
absence of a regular opening pair. Connor Williams could have got a look
in but that would have been at the cost of a bowler. India did not want to
waste the resources of Rahul Dravid by exposing him to the new ball. We
have had enough forceful catapultations of middle order batsmen to the
opening slot. The problem was so acute that there was a realistic
possibility of the skipper opening the innings, something that he had
never done before. Finally the young gun, Deep Das Gupta volunteered to
open and gave some flexibility to the line up. Zaheer Khan and Nehra were
rested and Agarkar came in and India took the unusual step of playing two
spinners on a fast track.
The hosts had no problems of this sort whatsoever and were raring to go
and settle the matter here itself. They made a confident start
characteristic of teams that are in full control of the situation. They
have a lot to thank the aggressive flamboyance of Herschelle Gibbbs who
notched up his second consecutive hundred and was to be the corner stone
of the innings. Gibbs' innings was a delightful display of strike making
on a true wicket. One can imagine the kind of influence that Gibbs had on
the innings that he got 196 out of the 362 runs and if we leave Boucher,
the remaining batsmen got 83 runs. Srinath dispelled all doubts his form
and fitness and picked up 6-76. This is the third consecutive test that
Srinath has grabbed five wickets in the innings. He picked up five in the
lone test that he participated in Sri Lanka and also in the first one
It was due to Srinath's efforts that the Proteas could not produce a
daunting total. But much of the onus was lost in the wake of yet another
batting collapse. Dravid continued his role as the de facto opener as the
first wicket fell with 5 runs on the board. The writing was clear on the
wall when he was gone at 13 and was followed by Tendulkar at 17. Deep Das
Gupta opening the batting for the first time in tests displayed better
temperament and ball selection to hang on for 77 minutes. A minor
lapse in concentration cost his wicket and soon Ganguly was the fourth of
Pollock's five victims. At 5-47 India was thinking in terms of avoiding a
India soon lost the first test century maker Sehwag and it was over to
Laxman then. After the double break by Kallis, it was just a matter of
time before the innings folded. From 8-119 it was a long road to recovery.
It was solely due to the dogged resistance by Laxman and able support by
Kumble that India finished the day at 8-282. But the honeymoon was not to
last long as Pollock got Laxman early in the morning to get a neat 161 run
first innings lead.
With such a decisive lead, the South Africans had all the time to play
themselves in, set an impossible target and leave themselves enough time
to bowl out India for a second time. The gates were slightly opened for
India with the sore 4-91. But the Proteas are too professional a side to
miss out on such golden opportunities. Kallis was determination
personified and took five hours for his 89 that put the match beyond
India's reach. Pollock shone again, this time as a batsman and had scored
his runs briskly.
South Africa had ended Day 3 at 211 -5 with an overall lead of 373 runs.
All they had to do was to add some quick 70-80 runs by lunch the next day
and put India in a no win situation. But there was lot to happen on the
It was then that the Mike Denness episode took place and jolted the entire
cricket world. The event has a range of repercussions beyond the duration
of the game and beyond the frontiers of South Africa. That issue is being
dealt in an article separately.
The cricket storm was complemented by heavy rains, due to which 75 overs
of play was lost on the fourth day. South Africa added 22 run to their
overnight score before declaring and set 396 as target for India. India
could not have had a worse start, losing Das to Pollock in the very first
over. It was once again to Dravid and Das Gupta to do the damage control
exercise and they stayed together till play was called off due to bad
The skies cleared wonderfully the next morning and the play started half
an hour early. Not even the staunchest of Indian supporters would have
expected India to save the match, if it were not to rain. But this team
has the ability to surprise people too often.
Of all the members in team, Dravid was the one under most pressure. Being
the Vice-Captain he has to assume the extra bit of responsibility. The one
day series was not really wonderful for him and three consecutive failures
in the test had made matters worse. There were even talks of Laxman being
given the number 3 position and Dravid relegated to number 6.
But he produced an innings of class and caliber to mark his 50th test in a
befitting style. As one critic pointed out that if one averages more than
50 in his 50th test, he is got to be special.
It was an inspiring performance by Dravid. There are innumerable times
that India had folded up without even a resistance. Why go far, in the
previous test they did the same, being shot out in 69.4 overs. But it was
a different story this time and the man responsible was not only Dravid,
but also the young Bengal wicket keeper, Deep Das
Imagine the pressure on the team to prove itself against all odds. They
lost the first test meekly, they were shot out in 62 overs in the first
innings. The bunch of chokers was the tag fixed on them. To top it all
they had an unprecedented situation to face when more than half the team
was fined for one reason or the other, which included the greatest name in
World cricket, Sachin Tendulkar. I do not mean to say that they have
become world champions overnight. It’s a long way to go if they are to
come anywhere near the striking distance of that title.
This team had been bowled out in less than 100 overs in the previous three
innings. In fact they could not resist more than 70 overs on two of these
occasions. And here these two combined to put up a spirited fight and a
single wicket did not fall for 80 overs. Doing that in seaming conditions,
against a quality side, under intense pressure and an unprecedented event,
is indeed commendable. Talent was never the shortcoming of the Indian
team. It had always been determination and application. And this is
precisely what we got to see at the St. George's Park.
The vents that have unfolded during the test match are indeed unfortunate.
As of now the matter is not yet solved and threatens to develop into a
full-blown crisis. The tragic part is that we are talking of everything
else but the on filed performance, a really memorable one, after a long
time by India.
Flatters To Deceive At Bloemfontein
Interesting Beginning To the Tests
was playing a test match on foreign soil. The foreign country happened
to be South Africa, one of the most formidable opponents in contemporary
cricket. To make matter worse the pitch was true and hard and had a fair
amount GRASS on it. Send in to bat, India was countering early morning
disadvantage against a side capable of sustained spells of fast bowling.
The result was that the top batsmen were soon in the pavilion and the
score read 68-4.
It was nothing new for the cricket pundits. They knew that it was going
to come. Most of them had predicted the outcome right from Session 1 and
were congratulating themselves on being bang on target. Well, you can't
blame them for that because India has obliged them unfailingly be it
Kingston, Wellington, Perth or even our own Mohali. The world famous
batting line up collapses like a pack of cards without even the
slightest semblance of a resistance. The first innings of the
series is generally the most pathetic one. Remember that the last time
India opened its campaign in South Africa, they were shot out for a mere
But the familiar script took a turn and a rather drastic one. Sachin
Tendulkar was the last man standing (oh that is a familiar role for him)
and surprisingly enough found a company. The support was not only
unexpected but brand new, for the his accomplice was making his debut.
The master could be forgiven if he took the other end of the pitch for a
mirror. The youngster, Virendra Sehwag has modeled his batting so much
like his idol that he has acquired an uncanny resemblance to the little
The two took India away from deep waters and unleashed the batting
poweress that India is known for. In two sessions of scintillating
stroke play the game had turned on its head. From 68-4, India had moved
on to 372-5 a score which nay team would have been proud of,
especially against a team like South Africa and under such difficult
It is a different matter altogether that the tail did not wag at all.
India does have a very weak lower order. But somehow I find it very
unfair to the bowlers that they are expected to score runs. We do not
reprimand the batsmen for sending down bad overs. Do we?
378 was not a bad score at all but South Africa made a mockery of it.
More than the South African batting, it was our poor bowling that did us
in. Both Zaheer Khan and Nehra, who had looked so promising under the
same conditions in Zimbabwe, were thoroughly outsmarted. Srinath the old
war horse could not do much on his own. It was a strange thinking on the
part of the team management to chose three out of four key bowlers who
were making a comeback after an injury. Kumble, Zaheer and Nehra did
look rusty. The impotency was all the more highlighted when India missed
both Agarkar and Harbhajan Singh.
South Africa did post an imposing total but the match was not lost
there. India started 186 runs behind and were 96-2 at the end of the
third day. That made up for interesting speculation if the Indian
batsmen are finally coming of age and are equipped to handle the
It is here that the irony lies. Despite all the good work in the first
innings, the pundits were finally proven right and they could gloat over
it. Shaun Pollock was the man who got hold of the historic weakness and
helped himself to his first ten-wicket haul. It was a very disappointing
performance by India and the team folded up leaving South Africa to
chase a target of 55 runs. Pollock's bowling deserves all the praise,
but we cannot forget the poor short selection.
Shiv Sunder Das heads the list. So many times he has got a good start
only to squander it. As an opener he should know that the 60's and 70s
do not win games. They have to be converted to big scores. Neither does
elegance count much in the final analysis. This is a lesson for Laxman,
who was in great nick in both the innings. But these well made 20s and
30s are inconsequential. It will off course be a folly to expect a 250
plus score from him each time. But the point is that he is the one whom
India expects to drop anchor. To win a test match, India needs to bat
for at least a day per innings. You can't get out within a day and go on
to win a test.
The other person who can make it happen is Rahul Dravid. It is high time
that we stop tarrying with his position every now and then. His number 3
position has been usurped but that does not necessitate his
catapultation to the top. We did that with Laxman for too long and
suffered because of it.
India has a practice game before the second test. It is very
professional on the part of the skipper to suppress his paternal
instincts and stay back for duty. But he has to sort out the opening
pair problem and also come up with an effective bowling line up.
Bouncing back in a three match series after losing the first one is
never easy. Neither is it impossible. But given India's overseas track
record it would be too much to desire. All we can ask and expect is a
decent performance which would be a stepping stone for the years to
Is Nine A Row For India
No End In Sight For Final Defeats
By S Zeyaur Rahman
If one has to coin a phrase like sinking to the occasion, one would do
well to watch the nine consecutive finals that India has lost in the
past three years. The regularity, the predictability and the finality of
surrender in a crunch game is simply amazing. Nine times in a row is no
joke. Words like jinx or mystery do not explain the phenomenon
adequately. The entire affair is pretty close to being another worldly
matter and only people with esoteric gifts might be able to comprehend
The development cannot be dismissed as mere inconsistency. The team has
figured in nine finals and it cannot be inconsistency. Neither can a
team be a regular feature in the finals without winning crunch games. In
the Mini World Cup, every game was a crunch game and India won against
quality sides. Sehwag scored a scintillating century against New Zealand
in Sri Lanka, which was effectively a semifinal.
Despite these brilliant performances, a loss in the finals has become a
fait accompli for India and no one knows to stop the bizarre
I do not intend to drive home the point that India has been performing
consistently. Even in this tournament, the three games against Kenya
tell three different stories. India wrapped the first one in 12 overs
only to crash to a 70 run defeat in the next game and bounced back with
a mammoth 186 victory in the following game. Isn't it surprising that
the same set of players perform so contrastingly against the same
opponents in similar conditions.
This is exactly what I want to pint out. The extremities in performances
on any two given days. There is a massive swing from one end of the
spectrum to another and no one can fathom the reason behind it. Compared
to previous Indian teams, the one under Ganguly has ended up on the
winning side more often than not, both within and outside the continent.
If I were to sum up the performance, a reasonable formulation would read
something like this: The Indian team has been winning important as well
as inconsequential games, against quality as well as mediocre sides
rather routinely, but has been losing the finals as a matter of rule.
By now the Indian media must be used to a post mortem report after a
loss in the finals. But it reacts to defeat and victory in a very
immature manner. We always blame the team for being inconsistent, but I
have been at a loss to find a single journalist or columnist who himself
took a consistent stand on any issue vis a vis the captain, individual
players, team performance etc. In the process we lose the ability to
analyze the problem on its merits and an emotional reaction is never the
best way to solve a problem.
I do not exactly feel like sending congratulatory messages to the team
members after they let us down once again, but I do not have nay
business to deride them as non-entities. That is of no use and I am sure
that I will have to chew my words very soon.
Lets talk about the Summer Spice Series and what went wrong with the
Indian campaign. Honestly speaking, how many of us considered India to
be the overwhelming favourite for the title. Then whom are we fooling
with our hyper reaction? Did not we know that South Africa was any day a
superior side than ours and even more formidable at home?
I will tell you what pains us. No it's not the 70 run loss to Kenya or
the 6 wicket thrashing at Durban. It is shattering of one myth after
another, the myths we treasure, that hurts. It is the manner in which we
go about our cricket that is insulting to an average cricket fan.
The lone victory against South Africa was a bright spark, but it was too
little. The loss against Kenya was naturally humiliating and no matter
how much we thrash them later, the wounds are bound to stay for some
time. A mood of jubilation after a victory and serious introspection
after a loss. It's sickening to see it happen time and again.
Everybody will begin with the criticism of the captain and let me do my
part. The horrendous swipe he took at Shaun Pollock in the final
deserves to be criticized, on cricketing grounds, on aesthetic grounds
etc. But why did not the critics say anything when he got off with the
same stuff through out the tournament. It went by the name of innovation
and of course we appreciated that. It was the pitch and a superior
thinking by Pollock that did him in the final, but not before Ganguly
had emerged as the top scorer of the tournament. In doing so he had
employed the same horrendous shot, for which he is being criticized,
rather effectively all along.
Some gentlemen, who had been singing Hosannas in the praise of Sachin
Tendulkar all their lives, have begun to doubt his ability almost
overnight. One of them appears really serious about atoning the sins of
the past and has handed over the number one crown to Steve Waugh. Not
only that he also has second thoughts about the caliber of Jayasuriya
and Mark Waugh. Tendulkar's ability to win the big games for India has
come under scrutiny in the recent past. His four ducks in these nine
finals is a case in the point. Even yesterday he was out playing a
reckless shot in a bid to accelerate the pace after the openers were
guilty of being over circumspect. But that does not negate his efforts
in the past or earlier in the tournament. It's an old refrain that if
Tendulkar fails India fails, which is extremely unfair on the little
master. He can't be made to carry the entire burden always.
Rahul Dravid is an interesting case. The disillusionment with his style
and approach to the game is genuine. There is no second opinion about
his class and commitment. But it is really long that Dravid single
handedly won a game for India. As a senior, responsible and capable
member of the side there cannot be shying away on that count. He is
never known to be aggressive or attacking batsman, which is acceptable.
But shaping up to play a defensive shot on the 45th over is not
acceptable at all. The strike rotating criticism is not entirely
baseless. Yet I would prefer to give him the benefit of doubt because he
is the one facing the music out in the middle and not me.
I am afraid that all the kind words and defending must end here. In my
opinion the chief cause in the decline in the fortunes of Indian cricket
is the inability on the part of the juniors to step in the shoes of the
seniors. The loss of Jadeja, Robin Singh and even Azhar can be felt in
such situations. There is no point in having an army of juniors who
can't fire. Sehwag can be excused for the moment, but he will have to
prove himself time and again. Laxman cannot be expected to walk in and
perform wonders right away. But even he has to keep it in mind that one
cannot rest on the laurels of the past for too long.
Now the talented juniors. I am severely disappointed the way they play
their cricket. We have an entire list of promising batsmen and none of
them have delivered. Yuvraj Singh is on his last legs and its time he
made way for somebody else. He had a wonderful opportunity of rescuing
India and restoring his place as well. He was out for duck, driving a
ball without any footwork whatsoever. Reetinder Sodhi is electric on the
field and has a wonderful attitude. But we need match winners not
utility players. The list does not stop here. Kanitkar, Martin, Kaif,
Dinesh Mongia, Badani…Each of them have a reasonable amount of
experience but they shine rather occasionally and India cannot afford to
have a barrage of non performers. In my opinion, this has been the prime
cause of India's poor run. Because if you look at the big three, they
have invariably finished among the top run getters and without the
adequate support from the team. How fair is it to blame Tendulkar,
Ganguly and Dravid when their performances are being negated by the
non-performance of the team?
Panorama Part Two
India Went To Durban
By S Zeyaur Rahman
South African tour to India was history. The hurriedly arranged three one
day match series was remembered for more non cricketing reasons than
otherwise. But that had initiated a process and which gained momentum with
every passing day. The South Africans were once again overwhelmed with
Indian hospitality and Dr Bacher's sense of gratitude was renewed. He had
not forgotten the fact that India had moved the resolution in the ICC for
South Africa's entry. He had reciprocated by choosing India as the first
destination. After the tour to India he made a public proclamation that
India would be the first country to tour South Africa and he fulfilled his
The warm reception that the Proteas had got all over India was a benchmark
and Dr Bacher knew that it would be very difficult to match the standards.
It was his one point agenda to give an equally befitting reception to the
Indian team. He was once again as good as his word. The day the Indian
team landed in Durban, was a historical day not only for South Africa or
cricket but in entire sporting history. No team was ever given such a
royal treatment, given such a regal welcome anywhere in any sport. An
entourage of cars received them at the Durban airport and they were taken
in a procession. Azharuddin could well have mistaken himself for Caesar
and Durban for Rome. To be honest Calcutta was not only history, it paled
into history that very moment. That set the ball rolling for the
The tour opened with a friendly game against the side of the avid sports
lover and millionaire Nicky Oppenheimer. Since then it has become
customary for any touring side to South Africa to begin with a game
against Nicky Oppenheimer XI. On the day of the match it had rained, but
Oppenheimer would have none of it. His private helicopters rained petrol
on the pitch, which was set alight so that it dried quickly. It was one of
the many examples of all that had never happened before in the history of
The first test was scheduled for Durban. There was no way to avoid history
that day. It was the first time that a non-white team was playing an
official match in South Africa. It was for the first time that a black
player was representing South Africa. Omar Henry made his debut at the age
of 40 years and 295 days. It was the first time that television umpiring
was introduced in cricket. The first official ball in South Africa after a
gap of 22 was no less historical. Kapil Dev got the veteran Jimmy Cook,
obviously making his debut, caught behind and one was left wondering as to
what else lay in store.
South Africa stopped playing the gentle hosts then and there. The skipper
Kepler Wessels took charge and scored a dashing stroke filled century.
With history all over Wesels sense of history did not ditch him. He became
the first player to score centuries for two different countries. He had
earlier done that while representing Australia. That was the only high
point of the innings. None of the debutants rose to the occasion and South
Africa was bundled out of 254.
India soon realised that it is not always necessary to use petrol to set
the pitch on fire. Donald and Co were enough for that. They had run
through the top order in no time. Debutant Jadeja, little master
Tendulkar, marathon men Shastri and Manjrekar were back and it was 4
down for 38. History was very circumspect in choosing its tools. The first
ball magic was created by the legendary Kapil Dev and the
legend-in-making, Sachin Tendulkar was the first man to be adjudged run
out by the TV umpire, CJ Mitchley.
The Indian skipper tried to emulate his counterpart but all he could do
was to play a supporting role in a 87 run partnership with the debutant
Praveen Amre. Amre played an innings of the highest order and took India
to safety from a very precarious situation. He got an unexpected support
from one of the least thanked players. The little wicketkeeper Kiran More
added 101 runs for the 8th wicket and India managed a 23 run lead over
Bad light and rain then played spoil sport and the 4th day play was washed
out and by the 5th day morning it became clear that a draw was inevitable.
With no interest left in the game, the South Africans chose to have a
batting practice and painfully laboured to 176-3 in 82 overs. There were
talk of a pair when Jimmy Cook came out to bat, The commentators decided
to give him a King's pair if he did that on debut. Since it was the first
test of his team they later on decided to call it an Imperial pair if he
managed that. Cook would have none of it and got very good 43 runs. For
all the action and drama, Amre's effort was superlative and he won the Man
of the Match award and his portrait was put up in the Stadium Museum. What
a way to begin a career with.
The caravan shifted to Johannesburg for the second test match. This time
Wessels won the toss and elected to bat. Indian bowling became lethal all
of a sudden and none of the top five batsmen could get into double
figures. It was 5 down for 71 at lunch. At 61 for 4, Jonty Rhodes survived
a run out appeal. Umpire Bucknor refused to consult the third umpire and
Rhodes went on to score 91 and along with Macmillan, the last man out on
98 took the score to 292. The decision changed the course and the tempo of
the series. Much of the talk about the Friendship series went down the
drain and the bearing on the result was obvious for everyone to see.
Mayerick Pringle's felling by a Srinath bouncer did not do any good to
Indian batsmen were no match for the accurate and of late hostile bowling.
Tendulkar was the only one who rose above the ashes and scored a memorable
111. India finished at 227 and Macmillan made his mark as an allrounder
grabbing 4 wickets for which he was to be adjudged the Man of the Match.
At 2 down for 138 on the fourth day South Africa was in command. Another
addition in the controversy list was the running on the pitch episode.
First Kapil Dev and then Macmillan earned warnings for that. Under the
circumstances it was strange that Kumble was brought from the Corlette
Drive end instead of the Golf Course end. That decision clicked and the
bespectacled spinner walked away with 6 wickets. His 6-53 applied the
brakes. South Africa ended at 252 but they took enormous amount of time in
scoring them, which later on proved crucial.
India were set a target of 318 runs in approximately 96 overs, not an easy
task by any standards. For the first time the visitors got a decent start
by putting 68 runs for the first wicket. That was soon to be undone and
the score read 4 for 73 and it was a struggle for survival all over again.
The time factor saved India but not before Amre (35) and Tendulkar (32)
had added 70 runs in almost three hours.
The teams took a break from the test matches and a seven match one day
series was played, which will be dealt in a following article. India was
badly mauled 5-2 and were very low on morale when they appeared for the
third test at Port Elizabeth, billed to be the fastest pitch in South
Africa. The hangover of defeat, the traditional vulnerability to quality
fats bowling etc coupled to set up an Indian defeat.
Lightening does not strike a place twice, but the White Lightening struck
as many as five times and India were bundled out for a meager 212. That
too was possible only after Azharuddin got 60, and stuck his lips all the
way to the pavilion when he was wrongly given caught behind. India
promised a befitting reply when Prabhakar got the tormentor in chief
Wessels for naught. The next wicket fell at 117 and that sealed the fete.
Young Hansie Cronje got 135 and that was the turning point. He did not get
any support later in the innings and it was all due to his efforts that
his team finished at 275.
The showing in the second innings was all the more dismal. Donald assumed
the role of one man demolition squad and he had reduced India to 5-27.
That set the stage for one of the greatest innings of modern times. Kapil
Dev's 129 was remarkable for the sheer audacity of stroke play. It was a
memorable tussle between the White Lightening and Haryana Hurricane, which
the latter won hands down but the former ended on the winning side. Kapil
Dev single handedly got 60 percent of the runs and in extremely difficult
India set a target of 152 runs and the South Africans seized it with both
the hands. Once again Wessels and his sense of history took command of the
situation. He finished unbeaten on 95 and guided South Africa to a
comprehensive and decisive 9 wicket victory.
The New year began with the final test at cape Town. Both the teams were
apparently worn out at the end of a long three month tour and that
accounted for an absolutely colourless and unexciting match. Having won
the series South Africa could be forgiven for their laxity, but India
disappointed one and all by not pushing for a victory. It was as if that
they did not have any will to win.
South Africa were put into bat and they meandered agonisingly slowly to
360, the highest score of the series. Without being attractive Rhodes and
Mcmillan scored 86 and 52 runs respectively and Kumble laboured
assiduously for his three wickets. India in their turn fell one short of
their highest score of the series and ended up at 276. Sachin Tendulkar
got a sedate 73 and Prabhakar got 62 as an opener. Bad light had wasted a
lot of time and nobody seemed to mind it.
One can get an impression of the South African batting performance when
they got 130 runs in 97 overs before declaring. They wanted to play safe
and succeeded in their intentions. Srinath, who was back in the side,
bowled his heart out and got 4 wickets an effort for which he was given
Man of the Match. That is a pointer to the quality of cricket played in
the match. India was asked to bat in the last hour and were given a target
of 215 runs. Every one was glad when they got 29 of those and the match
was called off.
With that the friendship series ended. It was along journey from Durban to
Cape Town and one saw all kinds of contours and landscapes even on the
cricket field. Kepler Wessel's side won the test series but the series as
such was a very poor advertisement for test cricket in South Africa.
For India it was problems galore. Earlier on the Zimbabwe tour they had
drawn the only test match and somehow managed to win the solitary one
dayer. As a matter of achievement it was a blank slate. The future of many
players was at stake. Above all it was a leadership in question. Azhar's
record as a captain looked pathetic, having won only one test and lost
seven. A change of guard for the forthcoming home series against England
was on the cards. It did not happen and it is a different story now.
Pulls Off A Coup
Politics Assuming New Dimensions
By S Zeyaur Rahman
storm in the domestic cup of Indian cricket establishment had been
brewing for quite some time. The number of moves and countermoves left
no one in any doubt whatsoever. The BCCI elections were always a high
profile affair aided by some very high voltage drama. But this year's
election upstaged all the precedents and proved to be real suspense
thriller which saw the old war-horse Jagmohan Dalmiya executing a
wonderfully crafted coup de tat.
It is any body's guess as to why a post in the BCCI is such a coveted
one. The BCCI is unarguably the richest sports body in the country and
one of the richest cricket boards in the world. Who would not like to be
associated with it, far less control it? As a reminder, the BCCI used to
post profits in the proximity of a couple of lakhs per annum, which has
meteorically gone up to several crores, thanks to the aggressive
marketing by the board. It is around the same time that the BCCI started
attracting full time and heavy weight politicians. With full respect to
Madahav Rao Scindia and his passion for the game, he was the one who
started the trend of heavy weight politicians throwing their hat in the
Since then there has been an unending queue of politicians in cricket
bodies all over the country and I would not be surprised if a couple of
years down the line one finds more politicians than cricket
administrators as in charge of cricket bodies. The present list is
sizeable and forever swelling. To name just a few Arun Jaitley, Sharad
Pawar, Laloo Prasad Yadav….
The second species infesting the board is from big industrial houses.
That indicates that the rush is not really because of money. It is the
premium on the jobs that is so attractive. Cricket has such a massive
following in India and it provides a wonderful non political secular
platform to hog the limelight before millions of followers at home and
A look at the some of the names will prove the point. Why go further?
The post of the president was contested by A C Muthaiah, who has a big
business empire. His father M A Chidambaram was also associated with the
BCCI in different capacities for a long period. Jagmohan Dalmiya has a
variety of business interests too. Not to forget the Chinnaswamys, the
Iranis and the Rungtas associated with the board.
Cricket will no doubt be indebted to these business houses, which were
loving patrons and contributed in a big way in nurturing and propagating
the game in India. Those were not the times of easy money. Commercialism
was not rampant and advertisement revenues unheard of. They were the
ones that kept the game alive.
One can only doubt if the intentions of today's administrators are as
selfish or as sincere given the manipulations and maneuver that are
routinely being performed to get oneself elected. What are the lobbies
doing? What are the on-election-eve-dinners cum voters parade for? Who
would believe that the motives are absolutely honest?
Lets talk of this election in particular. The incumbent, A C Muthaiah
was entitled to another term and as per the tradition he could well have
had his third term. Under Muthaiah Indian cricket has seen some of its
darkest days, most prominently, the match fixing controversy, which
shook the game to its foundations. It is a matter of debate if Muthaiah
handled the issue well enough but the man tried his best irrespective of
the results that his efforts produced. On the economic front, the
institution went from strength to strength signing record deals in
broadcasting and advertisement rights.
Jagmohan Dalmiya is a visionary in his own right. It can be rightly said
that he was the one who started the aggressive marketing of the game,
when he was the Secretary in the Bindra regime. The huge profits from
the 1996 World Cup prove his acumen. He continued in the same vein as
the ICC president adding globalisation of cricket in his agenda. Well,
he was the ICC president when the match fixing scandal erupted and
critics have doubt if he handled the matter effectively. Now that his
tenure is over one hears of shady advertisement deals.
At least ostensibly these elections were fought on the plank of
bettering the state of Indian cricket. What is new about it? Every
election is fought on more or less the same lines. How can the team
perform so badly when the institution is in the pink of health was
Dalmiya's contention and his famous remark that something must be wrong
somewhere. So we can expect a change in the fortune of the team and its
performances with Dalmiya at the helm. Or at least that is what we are
asked to believe.
Nothing is wrong with the arguments as such. The problem lies in the
vertical split within the board in two hostile camps and each group
wanting to wrest total control. When one is focused on getting one's men
elected, how can be the betterment of the game the object of total
dedication. The moves are reduced to mere ploys of one upmanship and is
severely detrimental to the game.
The permutation at the moment reads something like Dalmiya-Lele vs
Muthaiah-Bindra. Each of these names has a history of its own and so do
the side players with their own place under the sun. No one can deny the
services that each of the named above has rendered to the board. At the
risk of sounding utopian I must say that had not been better if they
cooperated rather than competed with each other. That looks a distant
possibility especially after the bitter pill that each group swallowed
after the acrimoniously contested elections.
Given the circumstances, all we cricket lovers are concerned about is
the possibility of the officials working in a proper spirit that would
further the progress of the game. As long as that is assured no body has
any qualms about the manner of elections and their outcome. But it is
precisely this doubt that it was not a storm in the tea cup, which does
not augur well for the game.
Panorama Part One
When The Proteas Came to Eden
By S Zeyaur Rahman
conventional wisdom says that past is past, dead and gone, buried
beneath the avalanche of the contemporary. But more often than not this
old age adage is defied by none other than us, we who bury the past only
to dig it up later and resurrect it.
Let me use this prerogative and excavate the events of July 1991, when
under a sudden turn of events South Africa was welcomed back to the fold
of cricket playing nations by the very same organisation, the ICC, which
had shown it the door in 1969. It was politics then and it was politics
now. Nothing could be more symbolic of the changing equations than the
initiative by India, a nation of coloured people moving the resolution
in the ICC, which paved the way for the Apartheid nation.
Dr Ali Bacher was indebted with gratitude and in a spontaneous gesture
which came straight from the heart a short trip to India was organised.
That was the first time that India and South Africa were to meet on the
On the 9th of November 1991 the first ever South African airline touched
down the Indian soil at the Dum Dum airport. A sea of humanity,
overflowing with enthusiasm bubbling with spirit gave a rousing welcome
to the team under Clive Rice. It was a momentous occasion for Calcutta
which has more than its fare share of cricketing history.
Rice thought that it could get no better. He was shocked the very next
day as an unprecedented crowd turned up at the Eden Garden. The official
number was 90,800, a world record. That is without taking into account
the numerous officials, pressmen, policemen and vendors! The setting was
The Proteas were jittery and unnerved, perhaps shaken and overwhelmed by
the sheer magnitude of almost everything. The Calcutta crowd, which is
synonymous with deafening crackers went berserk and scalped Hudson in
the very first over. Wickets fell at regular intervals and when they did
not, the run rate was too slow. Wessels, the only player who was not
making a debut, needed 95 balls for his 50 and his team ended at 177-8
in 50 overs.
That was a very moderate target but Donald made a point that fast
bowling was poorer by his absence. He had 3 wickets in 4 overs. With
Azharuddin gone at 60 a match was on the cards.
Cometh the hour cometh the man. India’s teenage prodigy, Sachin
Tendulkar scored a fluent 62 off 73 balls and was ably assisted by the
debutante Praveen Amre, who also scored a fifty and India romped home
with three wickets and ten overs to spare. But not before Donald had
registered 5-29 And walked away with the Man of the Match prize.
Another day another time. But nothing had changed except the venue. Roop
Singh Stadium Gwalior did not leave any stone unturned in making the
occasion a historic one. This match marked the comeback of Srikkanth on
his captains insistence. Everyone knew that Azharuddin was repaying an
old debt. But Srikkanth did not disappoint and rattled up a stroke
filled fifty and added 130 for the first wicket with Sidhu. The next man
Manjrekar got run a ball 52 and India was heading for a big total.
Suddenly there was a slump and India could manage only 233 runs, Donald
breaking Amre’s off stump with the last ball of the innings and had
figures of 3-36.
Indian bowling was extremely disciplined. Kapil Dev yet again got a
wicket in the first over, this time Jimmy Cook. He and Prabhakar gave
away only 46 runs in 18 overs and South Africa was stifled. Wessels
stood tall among the ruins getting 71 off 96 balls, too less for a
victory but good enough to fetch him the Man of the Match prize.
The series was already decided and South Africa had not done anything
special. Still a capacity crowd turned up at the Nehru Stadium, Delhi.
And all of them would be thanking their stars for it.
India tried its third opening pair in as many games. Srikkanth opened
with Shastri and got yet another fifty and with that booked his place in
the team for Australia. Shastri acting as the skipper got 109 but the
surprise package was Manrekar’s 105 off 82 balls only. This was the
first time that two Indians had got a century in the same match. India
set up at a target off 288 runs and the match was as good as over.
South Africa had other plans. At last they displayed their might and
restored their pride. Their entire batting line up clicked and they
hammered the Indian attack. Wessels got his thirds consecutive 50. His
90 off 105 balls and Peter Kirsten’s 86 off 92 balls were the
foundation of South Africa’s strong reply. Cook got a sedate 35 and
Kuiper was explosive getting 63 in 41 balls. South Africa made a mockery
of India’s huge total, winning with 8 wickets and 3.2 over to spare.
That was the icing on the cake. Both the teams generated tremendous
goodwill and enthusiasm and left everybody yearning for more. The
Proteas were bowled over by the warm reception and they in turn won many
a hearts. A beginning had been made. There was a pledge for a Continuum
but for the time being there had to be an Interregnum.
Provisional Selection Can Be Injurious To
By S Zeyaur Rahman
almost a week since the Indian contingent to South Africa was announced.
There was so much song and dance made regarding the unavailability of
key players on the just concluded Sri Lankan tour that by the sole
virtue of having a full strength team we have begun to feel that the
series with the Proteas has already been won. It is of course a glad
news to have a full strength side but that is no guarantee for a winning
or a credible performance. Have not we lost earlier despite having all
the Tendulkar's and Kumble's?
The selection at the best is provisional. There were reports in the
media that as many as seven players were not fully fit for the tour.
Five of them had missed the Sri Lankan tour and two more got added to
the list, which included the skipper Ganguly as well. It is not for
nothing that there is so much of emphasis on the physical fitness camp
scheduled for September 22 and 23. It is only after the camp we will be
able to know if the side bound for South Africa is indeed full strength
or as depleted as the previous one.
The selectors did begin on the right note by persisting with Saurav
Ganguly as the captain. The entire affair was a non-issue. Saurav has
not done badly at all as a captain. The team is doing pretty fine under
him, I mean within the resources that were at his disposal. It was his
poor form that had everyone baying for his blood. Even that had a
cyclical pattern associated to it, corresponding to India’s amazing
victories and shocking defeats. Dravid is no doubt going to lead India
in the future and he should wait for his time to come. As of now he has
not given any indications of being a brilliant strategist. A wise and
cool head is all that we can say of his captainship abilities which does
not make a great claim for an imminent change in the current incumbent.
The return of Tendulkar is a very welcome news. Every fool knows that.
But will Tendulkar return to his best is the million dollar question? He
has not had any match practice before embarking on the all important
tour. All that we can hope is that he is his normal self and that will
take care of a lot of issues.
He will also assisted by Laxman’s presence in the side. I have a
feeling that we all are overplaying the Laxman factor. One innings does
not a player make. That’s some kind of Shakespearean dictum that would
sum up the attitude. No doubt that the Kolkata coup was a great effort
and so was the Goa century. But after that there has been a lull and it
is the right time for him to prove that he is no nine day wonder. The
bouncy pitches of South Africa and the hostile bowling off Donald and Co
will be the acid test for him. If he emerges out of the blitz unscathed,
then it would do wonders for his image and Indian batting as well.
The batting line is of course healthy and apparently reflects some depth
as well which was missing for some time. Not only there are big names
but there is also the pleasant pain of having the opportunity to make
some choices amongst these names. Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman
are sure starters. Then you have a very healthy competition for the
remaining two slots. Yuvraj Singh and Reetinder Sodhi do have an edge
above Virendar Sehwag because of the all round abilities and we have
Shiv Sunder Das in the fray as well, in case we do not want to tamper
with the world class opening pair of Ganguly and Sachin. That makes a
formidable look on the paper and it should be able to hold water under
difficult conditions as well.
The wicket keeper slot has been the musical chair for far too long. In
keeping with the tradition we have Deep Das Gupta as the surprise
package of the tour. Dighe was never the horse for a long race and it
was wrong to keep him in the first place. Gupta is young and talented
and since he is the only wicket keeper he will get enough chances to
prove his mettle. He has been apparently selected with the World Cup in
mind (and the remaining 14 players have been selected keeping the
current tour in mind). There is nothing wrong in grooming youngsters but
there has to be some kind of a convincing plan behind it. You cannot
just pick and choose players arbitrarily and give all sorts of excuses
for every one. For the World Cup Ajay Ratra had a better claim. I wonder
how long we are going to persist with Gupta. It is no use picking
players at a young age and breaking their morale by dumping them
Kumble is to Indian bowling what Tendulkar is to Indian batting. These
two have been the most consistent performers over a decade. Needless to
say that his return is a big respite for Ganguly. South Africans have
never been great players of spin, but Kumble will not find turners
either. That sets the stage for a healthy contest. Kumble will be
bowling in tandem with Harbhajan Singh for the first time. Two quality
spinners of different varieties will be no small a challenge for South
Africa. But in order to accommodate two spinners we might have to
sacrifice a fast bowler which might backfire. In the one dayers, of
course some body like Sodhi can bowl a coupler of overs. But in test
matches one cannot expect much with four specialist bowlers.
Poor Srinath is being pilloried for his pick and play tactics. Well fast
bowlers have always been injury prone. Whats wrong if he wants to
preserve himself for a longer period. He is not preserving himself for
post retirement phase but in order to serve his country longer and with
a greater efficiency. But this has not gone well with the authorities
and now he will not enjoy any special status.
He will be back with his old partner Venkatesh Prasad, who happens to be
the most sinned against Indian player (I guess Mohanty will grudge the
epithet). He did prove his worth in Sri Lanka and if that is any
indication he should do even better in South Africa. I wonder how many
chances he will get for that. In all probability and fairness Zaheer
Khan and even Nehra have a better claim in the side. Nehra was
wonderfully consistent in Zimbabwe and that has given a lot of rise to
hopes regarding his potential and performance.
That sums up the squad for one of the most challenging destinations. The
third team being Kenya, we can expect India to be in the finals, but
beating South Africa on their home territory will require cricket of the
A word on all those who have not made it. Partly because of the return
of the big players and partly because of non performance India’s
middle order has a new look. It would have required above average
performances from Kaif and Badani to make it to the squad despite the
impending return of the seniors. Sadly they did not even deliver an
average performance. Jacob Martin can consider himself unlucky but he
has a greater chance of being recalled for the test or in case there is
a fitness problem somewhere. As for Khurasia the less said the
Similarly Mohanty can nurse a grudge against the heavens but Agarkar and
Harvinder Singh cannot do so. Sairaj Bahutule has been toyed around for
quite sometime and neither has he done anything to deserve a more
All said and done the selectors have made a fair attempt to bring
together a decent side. There are obvious shortcomings and
discrepancies. But we do not live in ideal world. That should be a
consolation for Ganguly and his men and we can expect a performance that
does justice to the talent at their disposal.