How not to play the game

by Vinaya HS on February 12, 2006

in General Stuff

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Here’s a great article from today’s Economic Times (one of my favorite newspapers from many years) about the state of Indian cricket. It’s high time India rebuilt a cricket team from scratch. A team that lives and breathes cricket, and not endorsements and advertisements.

Superstars may sell on ad hoardings but cricket remains a team game. That is the lesson India failed to learn during its Test series in Pakistan.

- R K Nandan
Talking Point
Economic Times, February 12, 2006

MARK Waugh may have got it right when he said he saw Pakistan as the main threat to Australia’s domination of both the five-day Test and one-day international forms of the game. It’s not just that Pakistan has beaten England and India convincingly on home ground or held its ‘distant neighbours’ to a draw while touring a year ago. It’s just that Pakistan has got its balance right in both the five-day Tests and one-day internationals. In the last Test at Karachi where it beat India by a whopping 341 runs, Pakistan’s two young openers rallied the team after wicket-keeper Akmal salvaged the first innings with a blazing century when it all seemed over at 39 for 6! On current performance, Pakistan could be said to have the ideal blend of youth and experience, with the junoon of the former lifting the team on the rare occasions when the tazurba of the latter was found wanting!

Even the world champs Australia are in the process of rebuilding ahead of not just next year’s World Cup but also this winter’s Ashes. Middle-order batsman Damien Martyn may have performed outstandingly to enable the Australian touring team to beat India in India in the fall of 2004 and after a gap of 35 years. However, after his failure in last summer’s Ashes tour, Martyn was promptly replaced in the home Test series with the in-form Hussey. There was no talk of a conspiracy to get rid of Martyn who batted more consistently than either his team-mates or the opposition on that Australian tour of India some 16 months ago. In the wake of his exclusion, the state which Martyn represents did not burn any effigy of anyone, nor did the MPs from that region play the parochial card over his exit!

Contrast that with the utter confusion following BCCI president Sharad Pawar’s insistence that Sourav Ganguly be the 16th player for the just-concluded Test series against Pakistan even if it meant that the very promising young Mohammad Kaif had to be left behind after being the most consistent Indian batsman in that 2004 home series against Australia where Sourav suddenly took ill on the eve of a Test on a green Nagpur wicket! The confusion was further compounded when the Indian team did not play either of the two opening batsman it took on the tour of Pakistan just to accommodate Sourav in the already packed middle order where the likes of Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar and Yuvraj had done consistently better over the last few months than the former Indian skipper. Dravid ended up opening the innings in all three Tests and the move came unstuck on the greener Karachi wicket where his early exit in both innings saw the team collapsing.

At the end of it all, Sourav on his return to India after the Test series picked up the cue of a friendly TVchannel interviewer who asked him whether the catch he took in the first Test at Lahore and the two innings he played in the lost Test at Karachi did not clearly indicate that he was bang on form and capable of better things in not just the Tests but one-day internationals where he did not find a place. Which could be the first time that two knocks of minus-40 in the middle order have been equated with match-winning centuries of the kind played by Kamran Akmal when his team was staggering at 39 for 6 in the first innings at Karachi! But, then, BCCI president Sharad Pawar had already set the tone by indicating immediately after the dropping of Sourav for the last Test against Sri Lanka that the former skipper was the all-rounder Indian cricket had been looking for ever since Kapil Dev hung up his boots! Fortunately, Pawar did not rate Sourav as the 21st century Garfield Sobers! The fact that Sourav during his extended tenure as skipper of the national side rarely bowled himself did not matter!

Facts seldom matter when the name of the game is not cricket but compromise! And Pawar is a past-master at compromise, given his expertise in coalition experiments, whether in Maharashtra or at the national level. All political netas reluctantly aspiring for prime-ministerial responsibility and not necessarily just Pawar would need the support of MPs who are passionate but not necessarily knowledgeable about cricket, especially at a time when elections are just a few months away in key states like Bengal! And the instance of a Darren Lehmann gracefully retiring from the Australian side to make way for younger and fitter players is not exactly the trend in India where superstars refuse to switch off not just because of the exposure they have got used to but the endorsements they would lose out on once they are no longer in the public eye. Those who thought Indian cricket could transcend the system have got it wrong. That Kaif, Gambhir and Jaffer were not played in the Tests against Pakistan only goes to show the monopoly enjoyed by the middle-aged, middle-order batsmen in the Indian national cricket team! With the bowling also being under par in the Tests in Pakistan, the BCCI needs to build a new foundation instead of merely whitewashing has-beens!

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