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December 17, 1999


India Down Under

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Dravid packs up his gloves

Harsha Bhogle

If there were two things about today's play at Hobart that you would be absolutely sure of before play began, they would be (a) that it would be cold and (b) that India would not get a good start.

The Bellerive Oval is a beautiful cricket ground, among the more scenic in the world with the hills in the distance and the river flowing alongside, and with seating that is largely a carpet of green. But it is an open ground and therefore, vulnerable to the elements. And so, soon after a little pause for sunshine, the wind will pick up again; not a gentle little breeze but a pretty angry gust. When it has a smattering of rain for company, you want to be indoors.

But, in what amounted to another lesson in playing cricket around the world, the Indians were on the field all day. There was another lesson for some of them. If you are vegetarian, you learn to bat on an empty stomach. Kapil Dev's order for two large pizzas received the kind of reception you get when you surprise your son with an ice-cream.

Of course, India didn't get a start. In a little giveaway to what lies ahead, India opened with Laxman and Ramesh, and lost Laxman for a duck. With the problems they have at the moment, they couldn't go too wrong if they sent Venkatesh Prasad up! Luckily, Rahul Dravid came in at number three and showed that that is where he belongs. And almost immediately, revealed the person we have known for the last three years.

This was a flawless innings and a century seemed inevitable. Only occasionally, he would lapse into bouts of scorelessness but each time, he would emerge with some excellent shots; a couple of pulls stood out but his best shot was the straight drive. There must have been half a dozen today. Hopefully, it will bring the smile back, for without it he has looked a bit divorced on this tour.

He had a half century partnership with Ramesh, who is looking better by the day but whose irritating lapses in concentration must surely concern him. On 34, he again felt for one and Daniel Marsh took a good low catch at first slip. No gloves here, just an easy movement into position and a very clean catch. It is one of the strengths of the Australian first class game that the standard of fielding is amazingly high throughout the country.

Kanitkar took a while to settle down but once he did, especially in a period after lunch, he played some flowing off side shots and was an equal partner in the century partnership, which is a merit in itself. He looked solid, like he does in India, and if there is to be any competition at all for a batting place, he scored a point over Vijay Bharadwaj who, in search of runs, seems to have left his flowing cricket behind.

He occupied the crease for a while, but unless he learns to force the pace and fight for the runs, the minutes spent will vastly outnumber the runs made. It was during his partnership with Dravid that the innings seemed to lose momentum, and it didn't help the young man's cause that he thought of a second run a little too late. It is a giveaway sign, this. Too many young cricketers in domestic cricket only contemplate the second after taking the first. Invariably, the first isn't run quickly enough and the second becomes a losing cause.

In domestic cricket you can get away with it because the pick and throw isn't very refined. Here, everybody seems to hit the stumps and the resultant couple of seconds gained are fatal for the batsman.

India lost two more wickets to the second new ball. Both Dravid, for 107, and Ganguly edged to the wicket-keeper but at least, it meant that Mongia got the new ball to bat against. These last couple of days have been very difficult for him, because the call that should have come in Adelaide hasn't yet come. The word in India is that there is only place for sixteen and that means one wicket-keeper has to return. Given that Prasad was the first choice, and was fit enough to play and perform decently at Adelaide, Mongia will have to be the man to go.

But the BCCI is dawdling again, and the team management here, which incidentally asked for Samir Dighe as the back-up keeper, has rightly taken the view that no news means he stays on. And therefore needs a game. Now, either of two things can happen. Either Mongia gets the news on day two, in which case his presence becomes irrelevant and Prasad loses out on some practice; or he gets the news on day 4 by which time he might have performed very well.

Or maybe there will be no news at all. Remember that is always a possibility.

One man though is sure to be delighted by all this. Rahul Dravid had very reluctantly packed a new pair of wicket-keeping gloves in. Now he can happily put them at the bottom of his kit bag.

Harsha Bhogle

Mail Prem Panicker/Harsha Bhogle