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|December 3, 1999||
Topless, Down UnderHarsha Bhogle
Forget the difference in pitches, this is just a different country,' I thought, as I saw someone who looked like Sadagoppan Ramesh under a hat with two cheekfuls of sun-cream on him. Indeed, you can sense the difference everywhere; not just in the sniffer dogs looking for fruit in your bags at the airport, or in the Australian women's football team who chose to promote themselves by taking their clothes off for a millenium calendar.
(As a graphic aside to that, the calendar, which was shown on every primetime news bulletin, drew a protest, not because of what the national team was wearing, or wasn't, but because they had used the word "Olympic" somewhere without having the rights to use it !!)
You can see the difference in the sunshine and the uninterruped blue in the sky, with not a strand of cloud to break it up. If even a hardboiled, dusky Chennai lad should need suncream, it tells a story, doesn't it ! My arms do as well. After a day shooting around Sydney, they are as red as a beetroot ! But if it was only the harsh sun that the Indians had to counter, life would have been easy. The wickets are different, the ball is bouncing a lot more, the bowlers are a lot stronger and fitter and Steve Waugh has a comment round the corner all the time!
Nobody is surprised that the Indians are struggling. Not Bob Simpson, who spent a lot of time with them in England and thinks India need an "inspirational" coach. "These are some of the most talented boys I have seen," he says, "and these are paradise pitches. They have even bounce, you can play your shots, the outfields are fantastic. But to do well here, you need to have such pitches in India. There is no point in preparing those square, low turners. At Mohali, for example, the natural soil favours quick wickets. Chennai can be quick as well. But if you keep changing the character and making everything turn, you will struggle."
Not Dean Jones either, who thinks it is "ridiculous" to expect any team to come to Australia and expect to do well after only two matches. Jones was at the nets at the invitation of Rahul Dravid, who wanted him to take a look at how he was batting. "They need one more game, mate, one more game," he said. And then launched into an extensive session with Dravid and Ganguly. "He doesn't need to do anything. He is just a fantastic young player. He just needs to clear a few things in the head," was his verdict on Dravid, after the session.
And in the afternoon, as Tendulkar called Simpson over from an adjacent Under 19 net and asked him to look at his backlift, I thought there is a universality in this game after all. People are still free to give advice irrespective of which team they come from. It is a generosity that is such an integral part of the game, and rekindles in you the feeling that in spite of money-making scandals, there is still a great deal of dignity to cricket. The brotherhood is alive and long may it be that way.
Actually, a lot of Australians want India to do well here. They know how attractive the batsmen can be and they want their summer to be lit up by Tendulkar. "Sachin, you're a genius," a little boy yelled after he had just received an autograph. The Indians also travel well, have the right graces and are genuinely friendly. This will be a very popular team, but they will need to make runs and things are looking very bleak at the moment.
Only one player has really stood out. VVS Laxman is enjoying his tour of Australia. He is a bit wide-eyed visiting the country he had "always dreamed about" and, on the evidence of his first few innings, his magnificent strokeplay seems well suited to these tracks. Keith Stackpole was saying how impressed he was by the way "your lad" played in Brisbane, and Laxman himself admits to being inspired by the presence of Tendulkar at the other end. "He told me to keep going. He told me that this could be the innings that could change my life. When Sachin says that...."
Tendulkar downplayed that a bit. "Yes, he is batting beautifully. It is always the job of a senior player to inspire the juniors in the team and take them along. That is one of my jobs in this team."
Tendulkar is looking relaxed, but he is aware of the magnitude of the job that lies ahead. And he isn't beating around the bush either. "Two matches are good enough. I don't think you can complain about that. Four innings should be good enough to adjust to the conditions."
One man who has adjusted pretty quickly is Thirunavukarasu Kumaran. Already he is "Kenny" to everybody (nicknamed after his huge Kenwood system), which isn't too much of a surprise! He is a very shy young man, still coming to terms with the fact that everybody wants to meet him and know more about him. But he has impressed his coach, and that is what matters. "He might be shortish but he is very strong," Kapil said.
At Brisbane, Kapil suggested to him that he would never be a really fast bowler but could be very successful at an "irritating pace". "These young boys come here and see the ball going nicely to the wicketkeeper and they get carried away and want to bowl fast. I can understand that, because in India the fast bowler rarely hits the wicket-keeper's gloves and here it is fantastic. But you can use the conditions better by bowling line and length, you will do well and that is what I told him."
It worked. After a wicketless first spell, Kumaran took 5 for 28 in his second and should play at Adelaide. He has brought a twinkle to Kapil's eye." Our batsmen are good, but something inside me says the bowlers will do better," he said. And you never know, maybe that is how it will be !
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