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January 27, 2000


India Down Under

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Three don't make a team

Harsha Bhogle

Over two evenings at the Adelaide Oval, India showed why they can, almost simultaneously, be a thrilling and an exasperating team. One must use the word “team” with care and maybe I overstate the case a bit. A collection of players would be a more appropriate description.

India continue to rise and fall with the performance of key players. If Tendulkar, Ganguly and Kumble play well, they sparkle. If they don’t, the results can be embarrassing and both sides of the picture were sharply visible at Adelaide. They continue to resemble a plate of salad. Some cucumber, some carrots, some tomatoes and a lot of leafy, grassy stuff that fills the plate but contributes little else.

On Tuesday, Tendulkar and Ganguly put on 99 at a very good rate, Kumble picked up crucial wickets in the middle order and Ganguly showed enormous maturity in batting through the overs. He is a better cricketer than we have given him credit for.

Over the last two years, it has been one of my great pleasures to see him grow up, to mature into a fine cricketer. He is a lot stronger than we think and Pakistan seems to bring out the competitive streak in him more than it does with any other Indian cricketer.

Now, if only he could work on his fitness…. Having said that he ran very well between the wickets with Tendulkar giving rise to the hope that he will one day, be more consistent in that area.

India caught well on Tuesday and Kanitkar’s catch, leaning on the fence, was a gem. He has a safe pair of hands and it must be said that India have caught well here. Dean Jones reckons that Australia is the easiest country in the world to catch in because the light is good and the ball comes evenly off the track. He believes you have more time to catch the ball here though that is probably a cricketing, rather than scientific, expression.

Where India have struggled is on the ground. And in both games, the ground fielding was largely forgettable. One day, an Indian fielder will hit the stumps and that will be cause for celebration. On Wednesday, Australia were running with impunity between wickets, aware that their opponents weren’t great threats with their throwing. They did a pretty good job or rubbing it in as well.

I sometimes wonder how India would have performed here if they were physically stronger. On that one parameter alone, India could have emerged a more competitive side and that was so starkly visible on Wednesday when India went in with only a quarter tank of petrol. They seemed drained by the effort of winning the previous night and while, that is completely understandable, you would want a side to recover a little better physically.

Through that one dreadful performance on Wednesday, India lost more friends than they had right through the summer. When a one-day match is over in the first five overs of the team batting second, time seems to hang still. In a Test match, preservation has a value attached to it; in a one-day game it is irrelevant. If I wasn’t working, I would have gone away.

It was embarrassing and India don’t have much time to get over it. It is a long flight to Perth and with a time difference of two and a half hours, you need to adjust your body clock as well. This is a ridiculous schedule and further proof that in the corridors of Indian cricket, there is no place for planning. Tendulkar’s complaint was a weak one but within it was a cry of frustration as well. Instead of making predictions on how their team is going to play, part-time and long serving officials might want to look at serious matters like itineraries as well. This one is a shocker but India invited it upon themselves.

Hardly anyone in this Indian team has played at Perth. Eight years ago, Sachin Tendulkar and Javagal Srinath did and when he first starting playing for Tamil Nadu, Robin Singh was here to play an annual fixture against Western Australia. But nobody else has. It is one thing to be told of the extra bounce and pace, something completely different to go out and play on it.

The Indians are also carrying a lot of anger with them. I must confess that I was staggered by the allegations made by the Pakistanis because they were frivolous and completely out of character. Pakistan are known all over the world as a team that plays hard and for whom the swear word occupies a prominent place on the tip of the tongue. That they should complain of being called “nasty names” (can you think of a more school-boyish expression?) suggests something deeper to me. They have been the subject of extreme ridicule here and that would have been apparent to anyone who has spent more than a year on the cricket circuit.

Yet, they chose to go ahead with it! Hence, my theory.

Nothing else can explain the allegation of ball-tampering against Sachin Tendulkar. As far as I am concerned, on the field he is a gem and I am prepared to say that under oath. He has always been a picture of dignity and I must confess that I have often been amazed by his ability to keep his emotions under check. Tendulkar does not break the law and understandably he was very angry; as much by the allegation itself as by the fact that the referee chose to give it the importance he did. Throwing out the allegation was merely a trivial exercise, he should not have accepted it in the first place. The umpires have the powers to examine the ball, which they did and they alone should have the authority to lodge a complaint.

If it wasn’t designed to upset Tendulkar and the Indian players, it would have to go down as a very very amateur effort. If I was in the Pakistan Cricket Board, I would have been deeply embarrassed by the letter of complaint. Clearly it is not that because this Pakistan team is shrewd. They are looking to raise a storm in the captain’s mind and, at least initially, they seem to have succeeded.

But if that was the ploy, it reflects very poorly on them. And I am disappointed. Beyond considerations of supporting my team, I have admired the way they play their cricket. This was unbecoming.

It merely adds a touch of bitterness to the contest on Friday. And heaven knows, we can do without that !

Harsha Bhogle

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