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April 27, 2000


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The Armchair Expert is back

Avinash Subramanium

Just in time for the selectors to take notice of before the Asia Cup. Here are my selections which of course, the powers-that-be will not take any notice of. Including my fervent/repeated/pained plea for a brand, new and improved manager.

Warning: Selections are not based on performance in domestic cricket. (Thank God.)

Speaking of the manager, anyone who makes ridiculous suggestions like India should not play for six months, cannot be the most clear-thinking person on earth. Worse, temptation and cricket don't go together. Cannot go together. Must not go together. And our manager has been accused of falling prey to it. In my book, he must be considered guilty until proven innocent. The last thing Indian cricket needs is even a silent condoning of anti-national activities. Moreover, the India cap deserves more respect…taking a break here to sing the national anthem. Ever wondered why the two national anthems are not played at the start of play? They do it in some of the other sport. Maybe it's something that can be suggested during the Asia Cup.

Maybe…to get back to the point, you just cannot insult the India cap. And sometimes, unfortunately, the best way to send out this message is to make an example of it. The bigger the traitors, the harder they must fall. And what better time than now to make change number 2. (Number 1 we already did by ridding Sachin of the captaincy.)

And anyway, managers of today need to be media experts, communications experts, psychological experts, philosophers, friends, mentors, mothers, fathers, coaches, anything that can motivate players as individuals and team members. Which Kapil is not. With all due respects to the abilities of our former players, I think a manager and coach needs to be a lot more qualified than just an outstanding ex-player. We need someone who can connect a lot better with the diversity that is this team. We have already seen how a great player doesn't necessarily make a great captain. It's time we saw that the same goes for a coach and manager. And as always, we can learn much from the Australian example. By giving the job to a man known for his cricket thinking skills. A man outside of the old-boys club. And a man not remotely interested in the politicking for the post. My man, our man, for manager and coach would be Harha Bhogle.

I can't tell you how disappointed I was to watch the Ranji semi-finals and final. They told me the final was being played on a green-top. I saw batsmen plonking their front foot down the wicket, waiting for the ball to arrive. I saw wicket-keepers consistently collecting the ball knee-high. I saw batsmen struggling against bowlers well past their prime. I saw the over-rated Agarkar being made to look a lot better than he really is. Thankfully, I also saw Kambli keeping wickets for Samir Dighe on a wicket that was supposedly assisting the bowlers. Very soon, I had seen enough. No, team selection must not be based on domestic performances.

For too long have we continued making the mistake of presuming that excellence in domestic cricket means quality on the international level. And too often have we been found. It's time to pick for temperament. It's time to pick for what ticks inside the future India cricketer's head. And it's time to boot out the rest of 'The Gang of 4.' Out go Azhar and Jadeja. And hard as it might be to make up for their absence, in their cases too, it ought to be seen as guilty until proven innocent. It doesn't help that not one of the four accused has come out with a clear, decisive counter to the magazine's claims. Not one of them is suing. A few of them are passing the buck to the CBI. And all of them, in general, have been indulging is some form of obfuscation or the other.

I can draw only two conclusions from it. Either they don't care enough about the India cap to come out in defence of it. Or they have something to hide. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated any more. And neither will be mail and arguments in favour of the accused. This is the only way others will learn. That is the only way cricketers who live for the India cap will feel vindicated. That is the only way to encourage more such 100 per cent cricketers. (In place of Azhar and Ajay will come Ramesh and Vinod Kambli. Laxman might be better off being preserved only for the middle order in Tests, in place of Azhar. Sooner rather than later.)

The top 5 will thus have Sachin, Saurav, Ramesh, Rahul, Kambli and his new found skills as a keeper. Could this mean the end of our search for an attacking wicket-keeper/batsman? (Taking time out to pat myself on the back for two truly innovative moves. Kambli as 'wk/batsman' and Harsha as 'Manager.' So what if neither is likely to be implemented.)

Admittedly, Saurav will have to spend time with Ramesh, Kambli and himself exchanging tips on discipline and running between the wickets. But it's nothing that can't be worked on. (We hope.) Or considered seriously.

Like, if Saurav falls, in comes another left-hander and stroke-player Ramesh. If Saurav and Sachin fall early, Ramesh and Dravid can deal with the new ball. If Sachin falls early, we've got the solid Dravid. And Ramesh's skills as a fluent stroke-player can come in handy anywhere at the top of the order. Meanwhile, Kambli will find himself things a lot more to his liking in the middle order against the spinners and second string bowlers. By the way, doesn't he look a lot trimmer? And no, I'm not saying it because he's a Bombay boy. Maybe he's been practising a bit of keeping lately. Maybe someone's told him India desperately needs a wk/batsman. Maybe he has turned over a new leaf. Maybe he has finally realised the purpose of a brain. Maybe Kambli and Ramesh have realised the purpose of a brain. Maybe, we will make some bold moves while picking this team. Maybe they will turn the corner. And maybe I'll end up with yet more egg on my face.

But all said and done, this top 5 does have a solid and flexible look about it. Saurav, Ramesh and Kambli: left handed and very attacking. Sachin and Rahul: technically perfect, very sound and equally devastating. Will we miss Azhar and Ajay? Maybe not as much as we missed them Down Under. Most important, we might be looking at a solution to our keeper/batsman problem for one-dayers. If Kambli wants, with proper guidance and encouragement, he could work on becoming close to the Gilchrist India so desperately needs. Maybe I'm jumping the gun.

But while am at it, why stop? Well, here goes…also in the sixteen, despite my utter exasperation with their erratic nature, are Ajit Agarkar and Debashis Mohanty. Only because I have a soft spot for guys with spunk, sincerity or both. And players like Ajit, Mohanty, Chopra and Robin, have no shortage of it. They've got spirit. Incidentally, they've also got a bit of talent to work with. Though, most of all, they've got that extra bit of passion which this, often timid and sometimes passionless, team needs. (It helps that Ajit's got a great pair of legs, is, I think, the only bowler in our team with a mean yorker and, with Mohanty, is one of the few wicket-taking bowlers our attack has. Besides of course, the exhausted Anil.)

Sure, both Mohanty and Ajit need to do three months of hard labour. And taught discipline. Still, scrappiness and attacking instinct that puts them on this team. (Proof that you don't have to look scary to be attacking.) Which is also a good enough reason to have guys like Sodhi, Kaif, Kumaran and Kartik in the team. Their credentials read hungry, hungry, hungry and must be encouraged. Also bound to be better fielders than some of the less enthusiastic, 'big men' in the side.

We have enough examples of cricketers with oodles of talent and little else to show for their…well, talent. And since it's mentally where most of our 'highly talented' players are found wanting, we need to…think about it. Not something the powers-that-be might be too familiar with.

Great cricket misquotes:
At this level, the game is 90 per cent mental -- Steve Waugh

Armchair Expert's India Blues:
Saurav, Sachin, Ramesh, Rahul (vice-captain, hidden from him, just so he doesn't feel even more pressure), Kambli (wk), Robin, Sodhi, Joshi, Agarkar, Kumble, Prasad, Nikhil Chopra, Mohanty, Kumaran, Kaif, Kartik, Harsha Bhogle (Manager, coach, friend, philosopher, guide, mother, father, mentor, etc.)

ps.: readers are welcome, in fact invited to question the basis of the judgements made. All questions will be answered at

Avinash Subramanium

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