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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 at Guyana.

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 result.

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 Rome.

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 decimation.

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 tours.

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

One 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 time.

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 in
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.

Another Comprehensive Home Victory At Home For India
What Exactly Are They Worth
By S Zeyaur Rahman

I 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 resistance.

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 playing.

It is back to the same old story.

Selection Across The Continents

Ganguly And Waugh At Different Ends Of The Spectrum
By S Zeyaur Rahman

It 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 invincible.

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 cheese.

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 same system?

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. 

A Moral Victory For England
Where Does Indian Criket Go From Here?
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The 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 to be.

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 the potential. 

Sharjah Adds Another Jewel In Its Crown

The First Neutral Test Series Gets Underway
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Deserts 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 soil.

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 side.

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?

Murali 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 and age.

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 innings.                                    

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 near future.

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 Bradman himself.

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.  
        

Hussain Back With More Ammunition
Stage Set For Spectacular Clash
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The 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.  

Australia Lonely At The Top
South 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 stake.

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 results reveal.

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 task.

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 other.  

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 there.    

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 side      
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 and Pollock.    

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 Water Everywhere....... But Everyone Is High And Dry
Disappointing End To India England Series
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The 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 Indian attack.

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 out.

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 later on.

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 team.

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 top.

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.  

Kumble Crosses Another Milestone
But Its Miles To Go Before He Sleeps
By S Zeyaur Rahman

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 wickets.

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 behind it.

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 game.  

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 now.  

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.      

Over To Bangalore Today
Series Goes In The Deciding Phase
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The 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 series.

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 result.    

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, Sachin Tendulkar.          

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 to do.

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.          
 

Scene 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

The 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 old.  
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 new century.    

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.

India Manage Credible Draw At Port Elizabeth
Events Off the Field Steal Away Limelight
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The 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 first.  

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 here.      

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 follow on.
     
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 following day.      

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 light.

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 Gupta.        

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.  

India Flatters To Deceive At Bloemfontein
Interesting Beginning To the Tests
By S Zeyaur Rahman

India 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 66.  

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 master.

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 conditions.

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 pressure.  

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 come.  

It 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 it.

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 sequence.    

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?  
 

Past Panorama Part Two
When India Went To Durban
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The 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 promise.

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 Friendship Series.

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 game.        

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 their opponents.

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 anyone either.

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 conditions.

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.

Dalmiya Pulls Off A Coup
BCCI Politics Assuming New Dimensions
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The 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 ring.

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 abroad.

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.

Past Panorama Part One
When The Proteas Came to Eden
By S Zeyaur Rahman  

All 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 cricket field.

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 electric.

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.

The Trip Ahead
Provisional Selection Can Be Injurious To Health
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Its 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 unceremoniously.  

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 highest order.

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 better.          

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 sympathetic treatment.

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.

 

 

























 

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