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January 22, 2000

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When even the tough fluff

Harsha Bhogle

When the moment comes, Pakistanís next hero just seems to stand up and be counted. At various times in this series, young men answering to different names have responsed to the call of duty and they have done so, not in the clinically efficient style of the Australians, but in the robust, spirited manner of the sub-continent.

Therein lies the malady of the other team representing the sub-continent here. India is caught between two dark worlds. Its administration, wearing blindfolds for clothes and holding on to hour-glasses as symbols of modernity, leaves the team unprepared for the progress of modern cricket. But the team itself, so short of ability and inspiration, is unable to march out and play beyond itself, to emerge from the shadow that a mere two or three are able to cast.

And so as one defeat follows another, with the same sense of certainty with which night follows day (or an edge follows a McGrath leg-cutter!), the team slips further and further into an ocean of gloom. When, the call goes out for duty, there are hesitant steps answering it. When the going gets tough, the tough arenít around.

There was an utter sense of predictability, and acceptance, to the cricket that unfolded at the Bellerive Oval. The end overs assault that Pakistan launched, and which produced 91 from the last 10, went largely unchecked. Often there are times when captains can do little in such situations except to wait for the mishit but surely India and Tendulkar could have done better than bowling a rusty Mohanty, the captain himself and Ganguly in the last three overs.

It suggested to me that in quest of winning a moment, the captain ignored the one to follow. And so, Prasad was bowled out, an excellent spell from a resurgent Kumble ended early and even Srinath, so exciting at the start and so exasperating at the end, finished his overs with three left. And India can have no excuse for bowling two overs short. That was criminal. A poor side should scrounge for coins not distribute them like notes.

Indiaís biggest disappointment so far has been the inability of the younger players to grab a greater share of the action. Remember, one manís problem is another manís opportunity and in the discomfiture of Rahul Dravid should have been sown the seeds for the emergence of VVS Laxman. That is the kind of competition that teams enjoy and captains would give anything to have. But Laxman has been inconsistent and I wonder if there is indecision in the mind. You donít always get a chance to bat at number three for your country and he now runs the risk, having played one of the finest innings I have seen, of returning to India no further from where he was before he left.

And surely number five cannot be a floating manís position. If Jacob Martin is believed to be the man for the job, then he should be there for another two games at least. In fact, if the management has confidence in him, maybe they should send him up; put him in the firing line and see if he has it in him.

What this team needs at the moment is a big dose of confidence, of security. It should not be forgotten that there are four matches to play and that is a lot of cricket. Already some of those here will be scanning the internet for scores from back home and that can be disastrous. The opportunity lies here, it cannot be covered up by the threat from elsewhere.

Four games remain but these are not the last rites. It is in embracing that mindset that the real disaster will emerge.

Harsha Bhogle

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