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December 20, 1999


India Down Under

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Indians foxed by Cox, at Hobart

The Rediff team

'We are not here to provide practise for the Indians, we are here to make things hard for them' -- famous words, from Tasmanian skipper Jamie Cox on the third day of the four-day warm-up game at the Bellerieve Oval, Hobart.

Quite right, too -- for any host nation, tour games provide opportunities to test out young, emerging players but more importantly, provide a means for undermining the morale and confidence of the touring side, ahead of the real Tests. A case in point was the game between Bombay and Australia, when Mark Taylor's squad toured here -- a game in which the Bombay lads went out of their way to target Shane Warne, to destroy his confidence ahead of the big one.

Thus, at Hobart, Cox had his batsmen bat on and on, grinding the Indians into the dust on a track that had nothing in it for the bowlers. No reason why he shouldn't do that -- if the Indians couldn't surmount the conditions, the problem was theirs.

And the problem goes beyond this game, and reflects on how Indian cricket is run. Remember the tour of South Africa under Mohammad Azharuddin? The Indians landed in South Africa. A day later, they found themselves playing their first warmup game, on a track that, a few of the players told us at the time, was the slowest they had ever seen. And one day after that match ended, they were pitchforked into the Boxing Day Test, first of the series, on arguably the fastest track in the world at the time.

We all know what happened in that Test, at Durban. And we've all read the reams of analysis that followed, with everyone and his uncle nodding wisely to themselves and at each other and agreeing that yes, tour scheduling was very important to the fortunes of a team.

When the Australians last toured here, they sent ahead of them -- a couple of months ahead of them, in fact -- a recce team including a couple of national selectors. This team visited all the venues, not just for the Tests but also for the warm-up games, asked for certain facilities, ensured that they got to play their practise games on the right kind of pitches and, in short, did everything possible to back the touring side up.

And what of the BCCI? Was there any such pre-tour reconnaissance carried out? Did anyone in the scheduling committee spare thought for the spacing, and scheduling, of the practise games?

In a word, no.

So today, we are faced with a situation where the Indians, trying to tune up for a Test at the MCG on a pitch that is expected to be quick as you like, have just spent four days 'practising' on a dead pitch, in inimical weather conditions. And now they face the further prospect of twiddling their thumbs for the next five days.

'I am unhappy with the schedule, the board should have had one more practise game here, what do they expect the boys to do for five days?' asks an angry Kapil Dev.

The anger is not misplaced -- but it certainly comes late. True, Kapil was not coach at the time the schedule was drawn up -- but if you throw your mind back to the media briefings on the eve of the team's departure, both Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev said they were happy with the schedule, and they thought they were getting enough practise games.

The volte face now means only one thing. The team management is used to making knee-jerk statements. Thus, before the tour, in response to questioning, they go, 'Yes, we have picked the best side... yes, we are happy with having only one wicket-keeper... we are very happy with the schedule... happy... happy... very very happy..."

And then they get there... and the unhappiness begins. One wicket-keeper won't do, they realise. The practise games are in the wrong venues at the wrong times, they find. And they make statements to this effect -- statements that ring hollow, since they come too late and are in direct contrast to earlier statements made by the same gentlemen.

Thinking, if any, is being typically done after the event. Not before. And that is why the Indians went into a Durban Test against the S'African pace completely unprepared. That is why they will go into Melbourne in a far from match ready state. And this lack of forethought, of planning at all stages, in all departments, is the reason Indian cricket will continue to founder in the morass of its own incompetence.

The story of the day, at Hobart, is easily told. The home team batted through a mammoth 168 overs, to score 548 runs. In the process, they ensured that Harbhajan Singh is not likely to come in for serious consideration for the Tests -- the off spinner sent down 47 overs, for no reward while part-time offie Vijay Bharadwaj sent down 32 for three. Prasad, Mohanty and Kumaran -- and at least two of those three could possibly play in Melbourne -- worked hard, tired themselves out, and found little or nothing to show for it.

Tasmania were 232 ahead when skipper Cox finally applied the closure -- an act that will probably go down in his ledger as his Boy Scout good deed of the day. He still had five wickets standing, none of the Indian bowlers looked likely to do more than provide batting fodder, so given his statement that his team's job was to give the Indians a hard time, no one would have blamed the Tasmanian skipper had he batted through the day.

Whatever. The Indians then got 61 overs to bat, neither opener seemed unduly troubled, Ramesh managed to get himself out through his own trademark lapse of concentration, Laxman batted his way to another tour half-century, Vijay Bharadwaj gave further evidence that while getting ready for Australia, he had inadvertently omitted to pack his form, his footwork, and his confidence, Rahul Dravid and Hrishikesh Kanitkar batted out whatever remained of time -- it was all pretty pointless, really.

What made it even more so was the Tasmanian bowling -- in which all eleven players turned their arm over, including 'keeper Mike Atkinson. Obviously, the home side was not too interested in giving the Indians practise against quality bowling.

Overall, the Indians snookered themselves at the Bellerieve Oval. And -- in response to Kapil's question of what they are supposed to do for the next five days -- they can spend the time, till Boxing Day, thinking hard throughts of a board that, despite having more committees than you can count on the fingers of both hands, are yet completely clueless about such elementals as the planning of an away tour.

Then again, why blame the board? They are, after all, merely 'honorary' officials -- you can't expect them to set goals and work towards them, to actually hold themselves accountable for results, now can you?


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