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March 2, 2000


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20 questions. No answers

Armchair Expert

Jaywant Lele ko gussa kyon aata hai?
Paaji ko gussa kyon aata hai?

As if the many sideshows that are so much part of Indian cricket weren't enough, a new one now seems to be playing itself out on the pantomime that is Indian cricket today. A pantomime with two senior members of the Indian cricket team thrust at loggerheads with each other. Taking potshots at each other. And making perfect fools of themselves for all and sundry to see.

Cricket is everything in this country. (Well okay, second only to Tendulkar. But then, Tendulkar is God. He doesn't count.) India is very close to being universally declared as the worst Test playing nation in the world. The captaincy is going through a crisis like few seen in the past. And Indian cricket is run by inflated egos, big-mouths and men who'd give even the most seasoned deal-maker a run for his money.

At time when constructive thought is the need of the hour, we have one of the greatest icons of Indian cricket wasting his time indulging in power-play with the backroom boys - almost to an extent that makes you wonder who the villain of the great Gavaskar-Kapil feud was. Bickering like a spoilt child over the selection of individual players/personalities. And not having one straight answer for all the questions being raised over the debacle Down Under. (The irony of it all is that the one person who performed Down Under has accepted moral responsibility for the team's non-performance. While men equally culpable go about their business playing golf and shooting their mouth off as shamelessly as ever.)

We still don't know how and when Mr. Lele is going to be held responsible for making the kind of statements he has been making over the last three months. We still can't fathom how things as crucial as team selection can be conducted without the active support and participation of the team coach! (Or for that matter, the captain.) We have a sneaking suspicion that the media speculation about the murky goings-on in Indian cricket is true. And that the men at the top don't care. (Correction, it's not a suspicion, it's fairly obvious that the men at the top don't care.)

Men who don't care enough about putting out a team that deserves to wear the Indian colours every time they go out on the field? Men who seem to spend less and less of their time finding solutions to problems that seem to have become part of parcel of the conundrum that is Indian cricket. Problems like bad fielding, lack of mental toughness, few strike bowlers, no good openers, like…well, you get the picture. Except that the men at the top don't. They're more interested in other things. Things more hi-profile. Like ads and interviews and TV shows and waffling and private agendas.

Ah, for the days of the quiet efficiency of Gaekwad. Or the unpopular, no-time-for-nonsense-taskmaster that was Bishan. Or the shrewd tactics of Wadekar. And still you ask "Armchairexpert ko gussa kyon aata hai?" But then, as we all know, some questions have no answers.

What is a 'sporting wicket'?
When will we have 'sporting wickets'?

It will be a sporting wicket. Oh really? And what do you mean by that? One, that will play true on all five days. Help the seamers on days one and two. The seamers, batsmen and spinners on days three and four and set up a crackerjack of a final day's play. Now, that's a great advertisement for Test cricket. Small problem, it rarely happens in India.

Fact of the matter is, we don't seem to know what is a sporting wicket. We only think we know what is a sporting wicket. We make slow turners. We make featherbeds. We make square-turners. We make bald, brown strips. We make dustbowls. And we call every one of them things sporting wickets. It's time the men from Australia also taught us a thing or two about wickets. Will someone call in the men from Channel 9? (Just so, they can expose us to yet another facet of modern cricket.)

Look up the BCCI book of wicket definitions and you will find the following listed next to sporting wicket;

a. A wicket that is brown, bald, flat and an absolute beauty for batting.

b. A wicket that takes turn from day one

c. A wicket that bestows the home team with the only advantage it can hope to ram in.

d. A wicket with cracks large enough for Sir Geoffrey and his key.

e. A wicket where the ball seldom bounces above knee-length and allows batsmen, especially the ones from the home team, to come blindly on to the front-foot without ever having to worry about developing…err, little things like good back-foot technique. (So necessary to play quality fast bowling on 'true' wickets.)

f. Wickets that are slight variations of all of the above with an emphasis on 'bald and brown.'

Ask the head of the pitches committee, he'll tell you the country needs sporting wickets. Ask the curator, he'll tell you he can deliver a sporting wicket. In fact, he'll even go to the extent of reassuring you that the brown thing you're standing on is a lot more 'sporting' than it looks. (You'd have to be a real sport to buy that.) So if you've ever wondered why sides that tour India never get sporting wickets, allow me to tell you why? Because when we say sporting wickets, we either mean wickets that will be great for batsmen who know how to play spin or flat-tracks for flat-track bullies like…never mind let's not get into names.

But, of course, such things are too minor and trivial to worry about. After all, it's only the future of Indian cricket that's at stake. And the only thing that matters is us winning@home. Does that mean we'll never have sporting wickets? But then, as you already know, some questions have no answers.

Is a captain only as good as his team?
Is a team only as good as its captain?

You tell me. Is it the captain's fault that the team is not performing up to potential? That he's been given a team with at least a few players he has little faith in? That he can't seem to be able to communicate his vision to the rest of the players? That every innovative move he thinks up is not executed well enough by the players concerned? That his top players commit mistakes even novice cricketers ought to have ironed out of their system? That grown men have to be coaxed and cajoled to come up with that bit extra for their country? That professional players have to be schooled in the basics like pulling together as a unit in times of crises? No, I am not talking about Sachin Tendulkar.

You can't blame Lara for all that is wrong with West Indian cricket. Everything cannot be attributed to the captain. A captain is only as good as his team. And how much-ever moral responsibility Sachin may want to take for India's non-performance Down Under, he'll be the first to empathize with Lara and the just expressed point of view. Sure, the great men that they are, they'll make it a point to not let this be known in public. But at the end of the day, a captain is only as good as his team. Not.

So that means a team is only as good as its captain. Right? I mean, what was Sir Frank Worell's team before he made them into a winning unit? Not much. And Lloyd's West Indian's had just been thrashed, and when I say thrashed, I mean really thrashed, by the Aussies. Mike Brearely didn't have the easiest megalomaniac in the world in Ian Botham to manage and get the best out of. Imran…well, we all know what Imran did with Pakistan. And for Pakistan. (The difference between Imran and now is best illustrated by…now.) In that case, teams are as good as their captains. But then, you also have teams like…oh, doesn't matter. As stated ad nauseum, some questions have no answers.

What happened to Sadanand Vishwanath?
What happened to…?

What does India need most today? No, the answer I'm looking for is not opening batsmen. No, not even a good captain. (Hopefully, we've found one in Ganguly.) Clue: the answer is not Mongia. But close. Well, on second thoughts not quite. Come to think of it, they are poles apart.

Sadanand Vishwanath was one of the few wicket-keepers we've had with a genuine ability to lift spirits on even the hottest of days. After all, at the end of the day, hot or otherwise, that's a damn important part of a wicket-keeper's job. And best illustrated by what Sunny is reported to have said after India created thunder Down Under '87. That the one guy in who really kicked ass on and off the field was Sadanand Vishwanath. Boy, couldn't the Indian team of today do with more such people. Could Tendulkar have done with some of Sadanand Vishwananth's attitude Down Under.

Sadanand was, in one word, fearless. He didn't give a damn. He gave as much as he got. (Sometimes more.) He wasn't great shakes as a batsman. And he more than made up for it. More importantly, he never let the fielders catch forty winks. Never let the batsman occupy the crease in peace. Played the game like his life depended on it. And like most young success stories, had a hard time coping with success. Actually, when I think about it now, he does seem a bit like Ponting. A young cricketer who is today vice-captain of the side. But could have gone the way of a Sadanand Vishwanath. Or a Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. Or a Vivek Razdan. Or a Salil Ankola. Or a Vinod Kambli. (Do we need more bad actors? Or do we need more batsmen and fast bowlers?) Or the way Harbhajan seems to be going.

Why do we allow this to happen to so many of our young stars? Why do we let so many of them fade away? Why don't we try and understand what goes on inside these young minds? Why don't we treat our cricketers more like human beings than as mere money-spinners? Can we afford to lose good players? Are we so flush with talent that we can let one young Indian cricketer after another go down the toilet? More questions. No answers.

Continued: Is some idiot listening?

Armchair Expert

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