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January 7, 2000


India Down Under

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Eye of the Tiger

Raju Bharatan

It was, 22 years ago, even more of a clean sweep by Australia (4-0) than it has been now (3-0). At the end of the fourth and final Sydney Test, then lost by 144 runs, then Indian captain Nawab of Pataudi challenged: "We would like to be starting the series again right now. It's taken some time, but only now are we playing together as a team."

Sachin Tendulkar Sachin Tendulkar was in no position to say anything like that at the end of the third and final Sydney Test -- even in the face of that super 167 by VVS Laxman. The diagnosis that Pataudi came up with at the end of Sydney '68 holds good even now! Pataudi, on January 31, 1968, outlined the maladies affecting our cricket as: (i) lack of pace bowlers; (ii) failure to hold vital catches; (iii) the tendency to 'rush' our cricket, forgetting that Test matches are played over five days, not three.

The wristy and willowy way Laxman 'rushed' our cricket saw the Sydney Test over in three days and the series lost 0-3, even in the face of memorable stroke production by this written-off, 'return-home' cricketer. Malady number, two pinpointed by Pataudi - "failure to hold vital catches" - underscores how this department remains our weakest link still, in international cricket. As for Pataudi's point number one -- "lack of (genuine) pace bowlers" is our problem, all over again, as Javagal Srinath, nearing the end of his career, shows signs of failing to turn his nip and hostility into wickets.

Where Pataudi's 1967-68 team differed from Tendulkar's was in Tiger's ability to hit back, at least after the midway stage of the series. In the penultimate Test at Melbourne, Tendulkar's India needed 376 to win, but folded up for 195. Then, in the penultimate Test at Brisbane, Pataudi's India needed 396 to win in the last lap, but fell only 40 runs short of victory.

Chandu Borde All talk here still is about ML Jaisimha's 101 -- as a follow-up to his 74 in the same BrisbaneTest -- after having just got off the plane. But it was the present chairman of selectors, Chandu Borde, who really gave Aussie captain Bill Lawry a fright, that time, with a stroke-laden 63 that all but won Brisbane for India. Borde had Lawry worried no end here. For Lawry then had just been handed Australia's captaincy, for Brisbane, by Bobby Simpson, after that gentleman had helped his country take a 2-0 lead in the 1967-'68 series. Bill Lawry thus was on the point of losing his very first Test as captain, when Borde fell -- and India fell with him.

India in fact were so impressive at Brisbane, that Lawry took no chances for the final Test of that series at Sydney. Here, too, India fought to the last, though the final margin of loss (by 144 runs) might not suggest a fight. Needing 304 to win in the final stanza, India were 120 for 2 at one stage, as Syed Abid Ali (ultimately 81) and Farokh Engineer (37) led the charge. After that India caved in, at Sydney, to be all out for 197. But the outcome, then, was in suspense till the last hour of the fifth and final day's play, prompting Bill O'Reilly to make comments that still hold good for India abroad: "India's chief weakness," observed O'Reilly, "can be described as a shortcoming in the enthusiastic will to win. Twice (at Brisbane and Sydney) they let Australia out of the bag. And twice it happened from lack of concentration at crucial periods."

This summoning of concentration even VVS Laxman displayed too late. Like Tendulkar now, Pataudi then (75 and 85; 74 and 48; 51 and 6) lifted the quality of the touring Indian team's effort by his own personal endeavour, after having crucially missed the first four weeks (and the first Test) of the tour through a hamstring injury. The same thing was said about Pataudi then (by eminent Australian commentator Alan McGilvray) as could be summed up now about Tendulkar. McGilvray opined that "Pataudi, great batsman as he was, was not able to get the best out of his players. Your captains," added McGilvray by way of a footnote, "should aim at imparting more discipline and a sense of mission among the team members."

Tiger Pataudi But Pataudi was unimpressed when I took this issue to him. He had missed the report of what McGilvray had underlined. "But didn't I say the same thing when I talked of the new tendency to 'rush' our cricket?" Pataudi demanded to know. "As I said, we got going as a team only from the (third) Brisbane Test. Remember my saying we'd like to be starting that Australian series again at the end of the (fourth and final) Sydney Test? The reward of our late advance was the (3-1) victory in New Zealand. I lead the team the way I think is right. All this talk of imparting 'a sense of mission' is hokum. Test players are not kids. They know their responsibilities."

Did our Test players know theirs, this time, Down Under? "It just so happened that we were a little slow to find our feet in Australia," concluded Pataudi. "By the time we did so, the series was as good as over."

Tendulkar could not say even that. For our men, bar Sachin, just did not find their feet in Australia. If the odd deliverer like Laxman did discover his rhythm at last, that 167 effort, memorable as it was on the individual front, came too late to make a difference to the end result. The umpiring did affect the result. But surely not to the extent we have been led to make-believe, considering the margins by which we lost Test after Test after Test?

The umpiring angle has clearly been overplayed by those print-world apologists for India. The unvarnished truth is that Pataudi led India towards some kind of a fightback in 1967-68, India under Tendulkar just could not mount a team offensive at any stage in the series. Indeed India now, as a team, looked back to the grim old days of Vijay Hazare's captaincy, when the instruction, from the first ball of the Test match, was to play for a draw!

Raju Bharatan

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