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January 21, 2000


India Down Under

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India go down to Pak at Hobart

Prem Panicker

Like Harsha Bhogle the other day, I've got to wonder -- does Sachin Tendulkar ever get angry?

Does he scream unmentionable obscenties? Throw his bat at someone? Lash out in a fury?

No? Then he just ain't human.

Any normal red-blooded human would lose it, after a day like today. The only thing you can liken the Indian performance to, today, is this -- imagine sending out the oldest Ambassador car ever made, into a Formula I race, with Mika Hakkinen at the wheel?

That's what it felt like, watching the Indians today -- an antique car, hopelessly outclassed on an international track, with a top flight driver struggling to get it to go at anything like a decent rate of knots.

Going in to the must win game at the Bellerieve Oval in Hobart, India made a couple of changes. Nikhil Chopra went out, and >Mohany finally got a game. No problems there. Devang Gandhi went out, Jacob Martin got a game.

Huh? Every single match so far, has seen one of the famous three coming in -- Kanitkar comes in, fails, is dropped; Gandhi comes in, fails, is dropped; Martin comes in, fails, is dropped....

Who does the average Indian fan approach for answers? Will the selectors explain why they "considered Jadeja and Azhar and picked Martin and Kanitkar? Will they tell us why Gandhi, an abject failure for the Tests, stays back for the one dayers? Will someone tell us whether anyone out there is halfway interested in Indian cricket -- or are they just interested in their personal ego games?

Earlier this week, the Indian management asked the selectors, through the board, if they could have Jadeja flown out to reinforce this side. Why was Jadeja not in the side in the first place? Because the board secretary decided he wasn't 'satisfied' with the physical certificate submitted by the player.

He does, however, play domestic. Which is the best proof of fitness there is. So now what? 'Sorry,' the board responds. 'We will send you Jadeja only if you accept Azhar as well.'

What is this all about? Nothing serious -- just a little game of oneupmanship, between friends. Earlier, Kapil had during the team selection made a case for Jadeja. Lele made a case for Mongia. Kapil shot the latter down. So Lele got his own back by raising all kinds of questions about Jadeja's fitness. And when no more questions could be asked -- given the man's performance in the Wills Trophy, you for sure couldn't ask for a fitness certificate could you? -- the worthies decided to play a game, and said, if you want one, take the package. The team management said no.

Ever heard of cutting off the nose to spite the face? That is precisely what two childish men with bloated egos -- one the board secretary, the other the Indian coach, have done. Whose nose is it that was so cleanly lopped off? That of the Indian fan, who puts in enormous investments of time and money and heart in following the fortunes of the side.

So who cares? None. No one. Not the board president. Not the secretary. Not the selectors. Not the 'team management'. Not the coach, who assumed charge with the promise of a brighter tomorrow. Not the captain.

Only the fan cares. And he doesn't count any more. Assuming he ever did count.

To get back to the game -- Pakistan made one change, backing Shahid Afridi against India, and resting Azhar Mahmood. And under an overcast, sky, on a itch left a litle moistt by a spell of rain earlier in the morning, Tendulkar won the toss and opted to bowl first. His rationale? "I think any life on this pitch will only be in the first hour or so, after that it should become good for batting."

Was he right? The course of the game is the best way to judge.

Early on, both Srinath and Mohanty got lift, seam, and swing. In the second over of the day, Mohanty got one to pitch on a length, just around off, seaming away. Anwar was drawn into the shot, and got the thick edge flying hard and true just to the right of second slip. Laxman got both hands to it, and down she went. Anwar at the time was five, in a team score of 7. A while later, Mohanty made one kick a bit off a length and seam into Anwar from line of middle. The batsman pushed at it, got the leading edge, Mohanty lunged to his left but failed to wrap his hands around the chance. Anwar was 18, in a team score of 23/1. When he got out, he had made 43 off 66 balls, and Pakistan were 82 into the 22nd over.

Do teams that fail to hold their chances -- never mind creating chances, here we are talking of just hanging on to the ones they get -- win matches?

Afridi went early, with Mohanty bowling one on a fullish length, the batsman heaving across the line to a ball too full for the shot, failing to get under it and Tendulkar, from wide mid off, racing across a good 20 yards then flinging himself forward to hold a well judged catch off a swirling skier.

From then on, Ijaz and Anwar played percentage cricket. Aided by some slow, almost shambolic work from the outfielders (you can hide one fielder, you can at a pinch hide two -- how does a captain hide four or five slow movers? Time and again, the Pakistan batsmen ran after the fielder in the deep had picked up, backing themselves to run the extra one, covering 22 yards before the fielder could send the return back from the outfield), they chipped singles around, waited for the loose ball which when India bowls comes along sure as Christmas, and kept the board ticking over, steadily if a touch slowly (74/1 att the 20 over mark).

I am no fan of Sachin's captaincy. Nor am I an advocate of blaming him for everything from the hijacking in Kandahar to the flat tyre I had this morning driving to work. The next two wickets definitely owed to captaincy, and 'render unto Caesar' is a rule that still holds good, at least in some quarters. With Ganguly being introduced, Sachin Tendulkar asked Dighe to come up to the stumps. The intention is pretty obvious -- to stop batsmen giving the slower seamer the charge. Ganguly waved Dighe back, one ball later, Tendulkar walked up to Ganguly, talked to him, then waved the keeper back up to the stumps. Anwar flicked at one pitching leg and going away, got the touch and Dighe, staying low, did very well to go up with the ball and take a good one down the leg side.

Immediately thereafter, Inzamam pushed at one outside off, that seamed away just enough to get the edge, and Dighe again held a good one. Neither catch would have carried to a keeper in the conventional position.

Ganguly bowled a very nice spell around this point, keeping a very tight line, not giving room to the batsmen to hit through the line. Anil Kumble, for once, bowled a very mean spell, going back to the basics of flight, line and length to keep the batsman in check. And things seemed to be going India's way when Prasad, coming back after a forgettable first spell, produced a beauty pitching middle and seaming away just enough to clip the off stump as Ijaz, looking to run it to third man, ended up playing inside the line.

A slip was brought in, and Prasad immediately produced another leg cutter to have the tentative Moin pushing, first ball, outside off to get the edge through to Dighe.

Pakistan got to the 40 over mark on 171/5 -- and around this time, Yousuf Youhanna looked absolutely brilliant especially in his running between wickets. One lost track of the number of singles that he converted into twos, pushing his partners into racing between wickets. However, the real clue to India's fielding efforts today were provided, for me, in one ball when Inzamam played off the back foot to mid off. The fielder was standing a good 10 yards inside the circle, Inzamam -- not the swiftest mover between wickets -- was on the back foot, and yet he unhesitatingly called for and took the single with ease before the fielder could come up three, four paces, field and throw to the bowler.

By a conservative estimate, the Indians gave away 30 runs in the field. And how much did they eventually lose by?

Youhanna was beginning to look really dangerous when Kumble floated one up on a fuller length, the batsman tried to get under it and lift over the off field, failed to get under it properly and Mohanty, running a long way across from mid off, held a well judged catch.

Wasim Akram left early, a wild heave outside off at Mohanty finding the edge through to the keeper, but from then on it was all Abdul Razzaq. The Pak all-rounder is, in this tournament, doing for his team what Klusener did for South Africa in the World Cup --backing his eye to swing through the line, going through with his shots, focussing on hitting very straight, and producing yet another spectacular cameo that saw him smash an unbeaten 70 off just 52 balls -- the knock that took the game away from the Indians. Srinath came, and disappeared. Mohanty came, and vanished. Ganguly's unerring line and length made no difference. This was the sight of one batsman backing himself against all comers -- a breathtaking performance that set the crowd alight.

Pakistan ended with 262 on the tins. And India ended well beyond regulation time, to get docked two overs in the process, making the task slightly harder.

Now here's a conundrum for you -- the previous captain has been criticised, including on this forum, for his 'they are international players, I don't have to tell them what to do, they should know' style of captaincy. The current captain believes in constant dialogue -- with bowlers, with fielders, with vice captain, with senior players. Which is the better option? Are the overs being docked worth it?

When the team list was released in the morning, Dravid was put down to open with Ganguly. A shocker, that. What could be the reason? On the chat site, it was suggested that Tendulkar was scared to face Akthar and Akram. Another explanation is that Tendulkar does not have any faith in his middle order. Again, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Scared or no, it was Tendulkar who walked out with Ganguly to open -- better sense seemingly prevailing on the team management. And with the track rolling out into a nice one for batting on, India produced the best start by any team this series. Initially, Tendulkar looked a bit nervy. It looked like the need to get runs in a hurry was getting to him. Ganguly, stroking fluently from the first ball he faced, was seen repeatedly going up to his captain, the body language suggesting that Ganguly was telling his partner to hang loose, not try too many things too soon.

Pakistan, after three games that produced very ordinary opening spells by Younis, tossed the new ball to Akthar. Which meant the two premier Pak bowlers were in the firing line straight away. Ganguly got the innings off nicely with smooth drives on the off and on. And then Tendulkar took over. Two fours in an Akthar over, another in the next Akram over, and suddenly, runs were coming in at both ends. 50/0 in 10, 85/0 in 15 (compared to Pakistan's 57/1 at that point). By this point, both batsmen were stroking fluently, more to the point they were playing the ball around and racing singles, and the 99 of the partnership had come off just 108 balls when Razzaq struck. The ball he bowled to Ganguly pitched middle, lifted and seamed to off -- Ganguly, shaping to play to leg, a shot dictated by the line, got the leading edge thanks to the extra seam movement and lobbed up a simple chance to cover.

A nice batting track would, a batsman at the other end looking ominously solid -- you would have thought that the combination would induce confidence in Laxman. But no -- a silly wave of the bat, to a nothing ball from Razzaq going through straight outside off, found the edge through to the keeper.

Tendulkar promptly throttled back, and began playing percentage cricket, nudging and guiding the ball around, looking for singles to keep chipping away at the target. At the halfway stage -- which, given that India was batting 48 overs, meant the 24-over mark -- India was looking on track, needing 133 off 144 deliveries.

In the process, Sachin had gone past Desmond Haynes, to become the second highest run-getting in one day history, behind his former skipper Mohammad Azharuddin.

And then, as so often happens, when everything seemed on course, with Pakistan trying one bowler after another to no avail, everything went west. Dravid, looking to whip one away to leg, got it on the pad and walked back, LBW.

Martin's first few deliveries indicated that he was going to do zip -- a feeling that must have got to his captain as well. For suddenly, Sachin seemed unsure of what to do. Go for the shots? That carried the risk of getting out -- with no batting to follow. Stay, take singles when able and hope to guide the team through at the death? That was the course Sachin elected -- and in a batsman of his mindset, that attitude pretty much prescribes disaster. Razzaq bowled a ball on middle seaming towards off. The line was on the full side -- normally, the kind of ball the batsman would lean forward to whip to on off his pads. Here, Sachin went back, looking to play it down to third man, played down the wrong line, and lost his stump. 93/103, an innings that for a major part ploughed a lonely furrow -- but yet again, the wheels had come off and the driver was left stranded.

The difference is best shown in this statistic -- at the 35 over mark, India had got to 177/3. Pakistan were 145/3. 11.5 overs later, India had lost the remaining seven wickets, for the addition of 53 runs.

Tendulkar went off the first ball of the 36th. Robin Singh pushed one out on the off, Martin took off for the run, checked himself, stuttered, then ran -- and was beaten by a direct throw (earlier in the morning, singles were being ambled for the same shot, by the Pakistan batsmen).

Robin then fell, in the softest possible fashion -- just walking forward and pushing a ball on middle stump straight back to Akthar.

To cut a long story short, Pakistan cut a long story short by quickly taking out the remaining wickets. And India had lost another one -- again, for the second time against the Pakistanis, a game India looked to be winning.

There was some discussion about whether India should have batted first. Its strength, so the wisdom of that segment of the fans runs, is in bowling. I don't know -- was that 'strength' the reason why Pakistan won the first encounter?

I don't think India has a chance, at this point, either batting first, or second. Simply because it takes a team to win matches -- and there is no team out there.


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