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|December 26, 1999||
Weather wiseHarsha Bhogle
Did the alacrity with which Sachin Tendulkar announce he was fielding first, betray a defensive state of mind? Or was he being realistic about the strength of his side, taking a decision that he thought was appropriate to the conditions on offer? Was he, as Sunil Gavaskar chose to call it, pragmatic?
I think one thing led to another. After the second innings debacle at Adelaide, Tendulkar, or any captain for that matter, would be just a bit cagey about the ability of his openers to weather the storm. When you decide to bat first, you want your openers to get you off to a good start and clearly, Tendulkar would not put too much money on that event happening. You have to sacrifice being macho for being realistic sometimes.
I actually believe there was another side to it. After the Adelaide Test, Tendulkar was very happy with the way his bowlers bowled. He probably believed, as a few people do, that the Australian top order was just a bit vulnerable; that Blewett and Langer are not really in the same class as the rest, that Mark Waugh is under enormous pressure and that if he could get through the top order, he could get Australia out early.
It went to script for a while as Javagal Srinath produced another top class opening spell. He was quicker than he was at Adelaide, he moved the ball quite superbly and was at the batsman's throat all the time. Sadly for him, there was no pressure at the other end and the normally steady Venkatesh Prasad had an off-day. The Australians have always rated Srinath very highly, they believe he is among the most underrated bowlers in the world, and after this spell, he can only rise in their esteem.
His second spell suffered by comparison and that is a little cause for concern. He told Ian Chappell that the old ball wasn't moving as much here as it does in India, and that could be because of the lush outfields. The ball doesn't wear out enough and, used as he is to the ball "reversing" he is struggling just a bit. Luckily for India, Agarkar rose to the occasion and produced a really good second spell. He was on target, didn't try to bowl too quick and wasn't averse to some eye-to-eye contact. He is an aggressive young fellow and I really do believe he is coming of age on this tour. It has been facilitated by a better understanding of himself and I can't help get the feeling that Kapil Dev has a role to play in his strict adherence to line and length.
At last some luck came Mark Waugh's way. We are having to scratch the surface a great deal to see the great player beneath. He is woefully out of touch and his attitude is of a man who doesn't quite believe in himself. The leg side shots are gone and that is like depriving an archer of his arrows. He looks insecure and maybe there is a lesson there for all of us.
But it was quite wonderful to see Michael Slater rallying him along. Steve Waugh is a great believer in the team ethic and this would have been part of the plan. It also shows the esteem with which Mark Waugh is regarded that the team is willing him along. That is the kind of attitude that produces great teams and this Australian team is on the way to becoming one. Make no mistake, this is not just a collection of very good players, it is a very good team. The difference might seem subtle; it is crucial.
The game is wide open; a bit like the heavens after play was called off. The forecast isn't good but there is enough provision in the laws to make up for lost time. And the game is played at a rapid pace here. Last year's Boxing Day Test saw the entire first day lost to rain and yet, a result was achieved on the fourth evening.
India need to guard against letting the weather enter their calculations.
Mail Prem Panicker/Harsha Bhogle
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