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March 6, 2000


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The Armchair Expert is happy

Armchair Expert

India have, not just lost, have been hammered beyond recognition in a home series and, while everyone mourns the death of Indian cricket, the armchair expert smiles?

He smiles because this is not going to be a long article. (Go ahead, some of you can also smile.) This is not going to an article that says depressing things. And this is an article on the state of Indian cricket today that's should, I hope, leave readers feeling good. (Guess, I've already lost most of my readers there. After all, nothing sells like bad news.)

The good news is, Azhar is back in the middle order. A while I was one of the many who advocated keeping him out of the team, I'll be the first to admit that anyone in good form is welcome. And if Azhar has found his hunger for runs, welcome back Azhar. If Azhar feels he needs to prove something to himself, to his critics, there's nothing like a combative spirit in this Indian team. Plus, Azhar can only (?) be a positive influence on players like Kaif who look up to him. (and even, to an extent play in a style similar to his.) And the second Test proved that Azhar is back. Smile. Our performance in the one-dayers is going to be much, much better. With Azhar and Jadeja in the middle order, we're going to see India make 235 plus a lot more often. (By all means, a huge improvement over our performances in the recent past.)

And Kumble, the good old Kumble seems back. Back among his wickets. Back among the wickets. The smells and sounds he's most comfortable with! of the earth. Home food. The cheers from his crowds. Everything. And despite not quite back at his best, he's been more than a handful. He looks a lot better than the pale imitation he was Down Under. Which makes for yet another crucial cog in our one-day wheel falling in place.

So we've got a middle order that looks a lot more secure and one strike bowler back at bowling like a strike bowler. Smile guys! We may have lost 2-0. Conclusively proved we're the worst Test team in the world. And are watching Dravid become someone else., let's not talk about Tendulkar. It's time to be happy. Time to take stock of what's good.

Think positive.

a. Azhar and Jadeja back together in the middle order. (More singles.) Back together on the field. (Boy, do we need that.) Back for luck and ideas for the think-tank. (won't say who for what.)

b. Kumble back at close to his best. Also discovering that he's a reasonably consistent bat. (Something, we need to ensure we don't lose.)

c. There's more to follow.

Still smiling? Don't stop. Because am now going to talk about the 'smile twins' Kartik and Chopra. (See, now you know why I told you not to stop smiling.) They love the action. They think about the game. The want to be in the game at all times. They can take a beating. They are willing to give as much as they get. They've got passion. And they've got big hearts. (Not to mention infectious smiles. I'm smiling.)

A spinner needs a big heart. (Thanks for that one, Prem.) And Kartik's and Chopra's are just the kind of hearts this Indian team needs. (No, it's not meant to sound as clinical as that.) But to get the best out of them, they need a captain who's...well, let's not repeat ourselves here, I'll just say better than the one's seen so far. (Diplomatic enough?)

The good news is...see, I told you there's plenty to smile about, Ganguly is pretty much getting into the job. He's making the right noises. (As already pointed out by Prem. Is this Prem's article?) He's talking to his bowlers. (Sachin's bowlers, so to speak, as he was still captain for Tests.) He knows the trauma that youngsters can go through. And he's intelligent enough to see the utility that Kartik and Chopra bring with their enthusiastic batting and fielding and thoughtful bowling. The fact is, we finally might have found a pair of spinners with variety and the attitude right for the job. And Kumble, along with Chopra and Kartik, could all play very crucial roles with the bat and ball in the one-day series.

And speaking off things to look forward to, the one-day series will see the return of some more good things for Indian cricket. Like the return of Robin Singh. Whether or not, he should have been tried in the Test series is an argument similar to the one about should or shouldn't Bevan be given another shot in the Aussie Test side. (Besides the issue.)

The issue here is, there is no issue. Robin will do good for Indian cricket. Period. He will bolster the batting with his yawn, so consistent, 30s. And his 'I don't care about my laundry bill' brand of do-or-die fielding. And his perfect-for-middle-overs military medium pace. Like Chopra, Kumble, Kartik, Jadeja and 'Now with extra power!' Azhar, Robin contributes every time he's on the cricket field. (Anyone placing bets on India winning the one-day series? Please no bets, we're reformed Indians.)

Which makes one, two, three...eight things to cheer about. (Seven and eight being Ganguly as captain and Sachin back as Master Blaster.) Incidentally, that also makes for Sachin and Ganguly opening the batting, Azhar and Jadeja in the middle order, Kumble, Kartik and Chopra taking care of spin on spinning wickets, Robin filling in the slot of yet another utility player. Leaving us with a wicket-keeper, a number three, a couple of young batters for the future and a mixed bag. (But more or that later.)

Ever heard of Kumaran, Kaif and Sodhi? Ever heard Kumaran, Kaif and Sodhi? You must. They're good. They're determined. They're young. They're positive. They're tough. And they're the right kind of youngsters to encourage. Bringing Kumaran back into the Test side was a good move. It should make him feel that much more part of the team. And along with Kaif and Sodhi, who's probably done enough to fight his way into the one-day side, the future of Indian cricket could be moulded along the right lines here.

We need to keep a close eye on players like them. Like Kartik and Chopra. Not let them fall by the wayside. Help them work on ironing out their weaknesses. And given the time to cement their place in the side. (As pointed out by Ganguly in an interview, post being given the captaincy.)

The more you look at it, the more you start to believe the future isn't that gloomy. There is enough material to bring out a quality product. It's the men in charge who've got to keep this smile from wiping itself out. By picking the right people. And doing something good with what's, so evidently, still right in Indian cricket. Please guys, don't make a mess of what little has been, can be salvaged from the carnage. The mismanagement.! stop!

It's time to be happy. Everyone knows what's wrong. Let's stick to trying to see what's still right. Like, what could be the right team for the one-day series? How about Sachin, Saurav, Azhar, Jadeja, Kaif, Robin, Dighe, Kumble, Chopra, Kartik, Srinath? Perhaps juggle things around a bit with Prasad, Kumaran, Sodhi, Agarkar and Ramesh to get the combination just right.

Give or take a couple of names from the team announced, the cupboard isn't quite as bare as it looks. And the one-day series might uncover a few more young names. Like Sodhi and Bhandari. (Maybe even spell finis to Prasad's career.) The good thing is, there looks a possibility of developing a nucleus for both the Test and the one-day side. With the same captain and a similar Test and one-day fielding side. And speaking of fielding, the core team also looks a pretty good fielding side. Nicely endowed for Indian conditions. (Especially the batting.)

Sachin, Saurav, Azhar, Jadeja and Robin should prove more than a handful for any attack. Here. Kaif is a stroke-player who can bowl some leg-spin for variety. Kartik and Chopra, I've either already told you about or you've seen enough to feel good about. Boy, imagine what Kartik, Chopra, Jadeja, Sachin and Robin smiling can do for this Indian cricket fan. I can't wait to see them happier. (Pity they dropped Kartik. But maybe, it'll teach him to value that India cap a lot more.) Saurav's captaincy is going to be better in more ways than one. (Remember, you read it here.)

Did someone say bets? I bet India's going to take the one-day series.

The kick to the bottom of the cricket ladder, emphasized further at home, is just what Indian cricket needed. What's needed next is a coup at the top is what's needed next. To pun: smile, the only way is up.

Heard later:
"What? 1500 words! I thought you said there wasn't much to cheer about."

Armchair Expert

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