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January 13, 2000

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Field marshals!

Harsha Bhogle

There is no doubt in my mind that what I saw at the Melbourne Cricket Ground represented the finest fielding effort I have seen. Australia used fielding as an attacking weapon and showed those that wanted to watch without cynicism, how far ahead the world has gone.

I was absolutely enthralled by what I saw. Having long been an advocate of watching a cricket match on television (partly due to the conditions at stadiums back home), I could see why it was such a spectacle to be able to see exactly what I wanted. Ricky Ponting on one side and Andrew Symonds on the other are, in my mind now, the best fielding combination in the game. They could not be more than one notch below Jonty Rhodes and, on the basis of what I have seen, are far more intimidatory than Herschelle Gibbs, Jontyís partner.

Now, to Symonds and Ponting, add Bevan, Martyn and Mark Waugh, the throwing arms of the Lee brothers and McGrath and the often spectacular work of Adam Gilchrist and you realise why the Indians are being strangled in the field.

And the Australians hit the stumps from dead angles. There were two direct hit run outs and at least three or four others that were perilously close. All this adds pressure on the batsmen who see their twos converted into ones and who are forever worrying about leaving their crease. And this doesnít take into account the throws from the deep. I thought Leeís dismissal of Tendulkar was staggering and it brought to mind two run-outs during Indiaís brave run chase at the 1992 World Cup in Brisbane against Australia.

On that occasion, Craig McDermott and Tom Moody had two great throws from the deep and it was Allan Borderís one handed pick and direct hit from mid-wicket that really sealed Indiaís chances. It also reminded me of a very interesting story that AshokMankad told me.

At the Mumbai nets before the start of this season, Sachin Tendulkar told his coach that he wanted his boys to be able to throw from 70 metres. "Shaun Pollock ran me out with a flat throw and I want us to be able to do the same," he said. Mankad told him: "Try doing that in two days and you will be the only one in the nets after two days!Ē

Mankadís reasoning was that this cannot be done overnight but it also shows the helplessness that accompanies coaches in India. There are lots of young kids watching these telecasts in India; they realise the value of taking catches and hitting the stumps and yet they do not want to do it themselves. It is bizarre and supports my theory that we are at the bottom of the technology ladder. Just as you canít win unless you hit penalty corners at hockey, you cannot win at cricket unless your fielding is top class.

And well as Ponting and the others batted, it was the fielding that made the difference. I suspect Indiaís total of 241 would have, if their fielders had been in, been the equivalent of 275-280. Similarly, Australiaís total of 269, by the opposite factorisation, was probably the equivalent of 230. Those numbers might vary marginally if others assess them but you have to admit that in the traditionally taught disciplines of batting and bowling, there was little to choose between the two sides.

That needs to be viewed not as a crutch but as a gaping hole. It is very difficult to make up that kind of difference. Occasionally you might and for that to happen, the stars must perform exceptionally. And that is why I have no doubt at all that Sachin Tendulkar must open the batting . Mark Taylorís view on television with us yesterday was that while he understood that India might not want to send their best two batsmen up together, he would have had Ganguly at number four if one of the two had to go down.

Now India have to win and the batting has to do if for them. And for that to happen, Tendulkar must get as much time in the middle as possible. When he goes up, he doesnít need to rush anything. As Sourav Ganguly showed, these wickets are so good to bat on that you only need to play normal cricket shots.

I think Tendulkar also realises that his team is playing as well as it can. And so far, that has not been good enough. Now, the extra can only come from having him leading from the front. He would have copped an enormous amount of criticism for sending Samir Dighe at number three. I think I understand why he did that but I do believe he is hamstrung by the fact that while his ideas might score points on intent, they do not have enough quality content to be successful.

He had picked Samir Dighe as part wicketkeeper, part batsman and his experience, and ours, was that he could go out and play his shots. It didnít work because the talent coming through is simply not good enough.

The game at the SCG on Friday night is a must win game. To lose will be to see both teams four points clear and with a week to go before their next game at Hobart, it will leave them a little too deflated to come back.

Harsha Bhogle

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