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March 10, 2000


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Lessons for Goliath

Armchair Expert

The Australians have McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Brett Lee, Shane Lee, Pointing and I haven't even come to the Waugh twins or Bevan or...dammit, they have everything. Plus, some say they are born different. And therefore, we shouldn't try to emulate the Australian example.

Agreed, we just don't have that many guns. And maybe, we aren't born that way. (It's a point of view I don't entirely agree with. But, it does have some merit and thus must be considered.) Fine, let's look elsewhere. Maybe at the South Africans.

Well, consider this: Kallis is their first change bowler. Kallis is also good enough to be their opening bowler. Kallis has had enough days when he has looked as lethal as Donald. (Now that's something.) And Donald? Donald can afford to bowl first change for the one-dayers. And sometimes even for Test matches. While Pollock bowls like only Pollock can. And is perhaps the one bowler who can make even someone like McGrath look a trifle erratic. (That's how accurate he is.) Hayward of course happens to be an option that South Africa sometimes, mark my words, sometimes chooses to fall back on. (By the way, Hayward is only one of the top three fastest bowlers in the world.)

From the looks of it, South Africa with Donald, Hayward, Pollock, Kallis and pace bowlers good enough to walk into any other side have more power than India can ever hope to have in the fast bowling department. And bowling does win matches, you know.

In that ca...

No, no, I haven't finished. In fact, I haven't even started about their superhuman, machine-like physical qualities. In one line, supremely efficient. Nothing less than a well-oiled machine. Conclusion: It's going to be just as tall an order emulating the South Africans.

Okay, let's talk New Zea...

You mean New Zealand? No way! What do they have? Hardly much of an opening attack. (I don't even know the names of their bowlers.) And the one really good all-rounder they have in Cairns is injured most of the time. The, it don't matter who the rest of their bowlers are! They just aren't good enough. What can we hope to pick up from people who play cricket only when the rest of the country is not interested in rugby!

But, they did whitewash the Windies. They outclassed them on the field. Bowled them out with enough to spare in all the Tests. And batted well enough to well and truly shut them out of the one-day series. (The last time we were there...well, you know what happened. Maybe there is we can pick up from here.)

They may have bowlers whose names we can't recall. But their bowlers still win them matches. Their bowlers still bowl with more discipline. And their...but cricket is hardly the biggest thing in New Zealand.

Which is probably why they think that much more about the game. They've got to fight for attention. And the one way good teams do that is by playing better. Perhaps the lack of adulation and pampering is what gave them the determination and the passion to whitewash the Windies. (When was the last time that happened?) Compete with the Aussies. (I mean, certainly a lot more than we ever got around to competing.) Ever wondered why? Or you going to stick with ignoring little things that make this cricket's equivalent of a David.

Maybe it's that time of the day again. The time to ask ourselves, yet again, what ails Indian cricket? (Notwithstanding the bright start under Ganguly?) Why is it being run the way it is being run in this country? Why are we allowing it to be run this way? Why are teams that are obviously not as naturally endowed as ours doing so much better? What is it that they have got right?

For instance, how is it that a Twose manages to play McGrath better than Dravid? Or Ganguly? How has he managed to improve so much as a player? How has he managed to iron out some glaring technical inadequacies?

How has Cairns overcome his injury problems? (Unlike a fragile Agarkar.) How has he developed so much variety in his bowling? (Surely, Srinath can do better.) How has he continued to improve as a batsman? How is he beginning to perform more consistently as a dangerous opening bowler? (While, say a Prasad looks to have stagnated.) He's not the fastest. He doesn't have much support. He doesn't have a team of batsmen who'll consistently put up huge scores. And yet, he continues to perform.

For that matter, why is Fleming handling his equally impoverished team better than some of his contemporaries? What can we learn from how Fleming has grown into the role of captain? How has he learnt to deal with the pressures of building a team? How does he juggle his meager resources? How has he taught himself to concentrate harder? (Even more so, now that he has the additional burden of dealing with captaincy. A burden he seems to handle with the poise and calm of the original Captain Cool . Arjuna Ranatunga.) And Nathan Astle? Now, here's a man who has built a successful career out of all out attack as the only way to overcome limited ability.

But on paper, Dravid, Sachin and Saurav seem enough for New Zealand. Only on paper.

Next we come to another David, not Dravid, DAVID. Sri Lanka. The team that opens their attack with Vaas and...and...yes, Wickramasinghe! Or thereabouts. And some other guy called Zoysa. And then you have a Pushpakamara. And a few others who're pretty ordinary and do a great job of what they can do best. Support Vaas and Murali. Okay, on a good day, a couple of them might run through a side. But take the fabulously gifted Murali and the skillful Vaas out of the equation and the Sri Lankan bowling isn't much. Which is precisely why they work together and bowl to a plan. Unlike...never mind.

Their batting too has no stars. Okay, Aravinda is a huge star. Fortunately, he doesn't play like one. Well, so is Jayawardane. But neither does he play like one. Nor does the other star Jayasuria. And the same holds for the likes of Attapatu and Arnold. Huge stars, stars and rising stars with level heads that make up a young and remarkably mature batting line-up. (No ex-captains having trouble here.) A batting line-up that's classy, attractive to watch, always learning and with men who care little for personal glory. It's not right, but it's amazing.

Because the Lankans hardly have an atmosphere most encouraging for the development of cricket. A war in the north. Few teams willing to tour the country. Fans and cricketers not having enough to cheer about or take inspiration from. And a disorganised domestic cricket system. Guess that what gives them the burning desire to be on the field and play good cricket. (And makes them that much better than us.) They learn to value what the game can do for them. (For a country.) And relish every opportunity they get to play it. Perhaps all that matters to them is cricket is the way out of the strife that is Sri Lanka.

It must. They are not supremely gifted physically. None of them of them is 7ft. tall, broad-shouldered or naturally athletic. (I mean 3 out of 3.) They don't run the 100-yard dash in less than 10 secs. (Okay, maybe Chandana and Murali might.) They don't have a bowling attack that will regularly blast out the opposition. Their batsmen don't have the highest averages in world cricket. They're a team not too flush with talent. And one, that has a history of poor fitness standards. Yet, today, the Lankans are a winning combination. A team that bats with conviction, application and aggression. (Again all three.) Bowls, maybe not with much fire, but with plenty of discipline and thought. And - most crucial when you aren't richly rewarded in the talent department - plays to a plan.

Of course, what makes their relatively higher success to failure ratio possible - in the case of both teams- is they've got men at the top who know the value of a plan. (The need for a plan.) Men who've helped them win consecutive series' abroad. Against teams we've lost to at home and on tour. Oh, I forgot, we always lose abroad. (Jalti hai na? We deserve it.)

We don't care who our manager is. We don't care about physical fitness. We don't bother to innovate. We don't think enough about the game. And I refuse to be dragged any further into this depressing morass. The point is, even the little guys seem to be getting their cricket right. All they seem to be doing is putting some thought into their cricket. And getting a lot more out of the little they possess by way of resources. They have to. When you're David - not Dravid, DAVID - you've got to use your head. (Dravid's problem is he thinks too much.) And the sooner the Goliath that is the BCCI, wizens up to it, the better. Or do know what happened to Goliath.


Armchair Expert

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