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March 29, 2000


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Don't blame Ganesha

Armchair Expert

Though the temptation is there to do just that. (It'll also make it a lot easier for me to deal with all the egg on my face.) Fortunately, Saurav didn't do that. In fact, he had some very useful advice for the middle order. And I fully agree with him. You can't expect Sachin and Saurav to do it all. (All the time.) Of course, there's more to blame than just the middle order. But it's definitely not Ganesha.

The fact of the matter is, luck had nothing to do with our dismal performance. And this is not the time to look heavenwards for reasons. Destiny has nothing to do with it. Fate has nothing to do with it. And the title is there just to remind you, and me, about what I said and how hazardous it is to expect simple things like consistency from an Indian team.

By the way, ever wondered what a guy looks like with egg all over his face? Chances are, he'd look a lot like me. Which leaves us with the question: who is to blame for the latest debacle? The answers lie much closer to home. Perhaps, in the most useless pitches found anywhere in the world. (I can't understand why no one has done a thing about the. From, like time immemorial!)

I said India would do better under Ganguly. I said it wasn't just the pitches our team was having trouble coming to terms with. I said the change at the top would be the best thing to happen to Indian cricket. And after having just finished watching South Africa administering the last rights to India's chances in Sharjah, or as some might say 'harjah,' I wish I hadn't. Still, there is a bright side to it. My premature euphoria, and consequent humbling, is sure to have lots of people most pleased. (If the hate mail I get is any indication, I'm not the most popular person on this site.)

Honestly, I thought the signs were good. I thought the new captain would bring about a sea change in the way we'd perform. I thought we'd stop throwing our wickets away. I thought we'd be a lot more competitive. I thought we had the talent to perform at all levels. I thought Sachin would be back with a vengeance. (Unfortunately, he's a mere shadow of the batsman we used to know.) I thought Dravid would deal with the failure Down Under a lot better than some of the others who fell by the wayside the last time we got mauled. (On the twin tours to SA and Australia.) Most of all, I thought Sachin was to blame a lot of things that went wrong in Australia. I was wrong. (There, I've said it.) Evidently, the problem runs deeper. Much, much, deeper.

Guess the beating in Sharjah has proved one thing. (Yet again.) That India winning the one-day series against SA had, perhaps, everything to do with our pitches. Pitches where our batsmen can just plonk their foot down and hit through the line. Where our part timers can use the pace, or the lack of it, in the wickets to bowl slower and lower than anywhere else in the world. Where our toothless seam attack hardly ever comes into play. (Incidentally, is Prasad conserving himself for something? One would expect someone as big as him to be able to bowl at least a couple of balls per over a lot faster than he manages to.) Where our spinners can make hay while the sun shines. Where Saurav's glaring weaknesses against the short delivery never show up. Where Sachin's 'donkey-drops' have the batsmen in a tizzy. (Perhaps, cause they can't believe anything can come off the wicket so slowly. Almost like John Mcenroe wondering, after an upset loss to Ramesh Krishnan, how on earth does play a guy who serves so slowly?) And…well, you've probably seen all that went wrong in Sharjah.

How could a team that looked so positive just a couple of weeks back, end up looking so inept in conditions that are only marginally different from those encountered back home? (Looks like our docile, or as Sidhu for some strange reason keeps calling 'senile,' pitches have really made a mess of our batting technique. Not that any of the people in charge seem to care.) Yes, go right ahead and sharpen those knives. Keep the 'accolades' coming. Meanwhile, I'll do what I do best. Look for what went wrong. (In the process give you more dope to attack me with.)

But it can't be all my fault. For instance, how does one explain Srinath's sudden loss of form, injury and inability to perform after having come off a rest? One would have thought the man would have done a couple of things to ensure he was at his best. He ought to have. He is our strike bowler. He had the time to work out whatever was wrong with his bowling. His muscles. His mind. His fitness. His attitude. His hunger. I just don't get it. I'm a great fan of Srinath but this…maybe I ought to read his interview again and see what exactly drives him. I mean, what is the reason for such an unbelievably lackluster comeback? (Thanks to which we were left with the prospect of almost always going for five or more per over in the first fifteen.) You've just got to look at a guy like Waqar to infer that something is very wrong. Has to be.

Consider this. Waqar was on his way out of the team. Most said he was on his way out of cricket. Worse, he made all sorts of controversial statements that wouldn't have endeared him too much to the people around. He had a lot to prove. So he did. And came back with a bang. The lay-off seemed to have done wonders for him. (Unlike for Srinath.) Hopefully, Srinath will go back to the drawing board and figure it all out for himself. And I'm not about to hazard any guesses. (I got enough 'fan mail' the last time I did so.) Suffice to say, Srinath needs to do a lot more. Because he's not half as bad as he looked. (I just hope he knows that.)

And can someone please tell me what is it about Pakistan that makes them get out of a hole every time they dig themselves into one?

Like India, they make it a point to infuriate their fans. Like India, inconsistency is their middle name. And unlike India, they seem to possess an incredible drive to fight when they are cornered. Now, this might sound like a white lie but after India beat Pakistan into a 'must-win-everything situation,' I did tell a friend of mine that Pakistan would come back. And that they'd make it to the final. (Little did I know it would be at the expense of India. I should have known.)

No, I'm not about to suggest we go in for a unified team. They're too many people with 'extremist views' in this country for us to be able to think rationally about it. My suggestion that Azhar shouldn't be in the team had people accusing me of being a Hindu extremist. Of course, I can't help telling these very people that Azhar seemed so happy with the one 'man of the match' award that he forgot to ground his bat in the last match. And, yet again, ended up being run-out. This after having played about a million one-day matches! Not to mention, his amazing ability to 'get out' flashing outside the off-stump. (Also I think, for the millionth time.)

Hey, chill guys. I'm not about to get into an elaborate player v/s player post-mortem on what went wrong. What I will get into though is an interesting point made by the expert panel doing the post match analyses in the studios.

As usual, they were wondering why our batting form disappears the minute we go abroad. In response to which, Pat Symcox had a very valid point to make. He said that the first time the South Africans came to India they didn't have clue about how to deal with the conditions. So what did they do? Simple, they kept coming back. And kept learning. (Now, we know why they don't look half as inept playing spin bowling as we do playing the quicker stuff.)

When was the last time we went to SA? 1992. When are we going next? Certainly not this year. Which means it's going to be at least 9 years before we go back. One can well imagine how familiar our batsmen will, once again, find the conditions. The lessons learnt the last time we went there will have been forgotten. The players who went there will have been forgotten. The pitches at home will remind us of nothing like what it is in SA. We'll wonder why our much-vaunted batting line-up is floundering. We'll be blasted to the high heavens. And we'll make yet another call for sporting wickets. (Speaking of sporting wickets, I'd like to apologise to Srikkanth and his pitches committee for having taken a swipe at them without knowing of the diktat issued by the board. Makes one wonder whose interests the board is there to protect. Are they here to improve Indian cricket or what? Sorry, stupid question.)

What next?

Next, we're going to play the Aussies in May. (What timing. In the middle of summer! Boy, we're good at this aren't we?) They're coming back less than three years since they made their last visit to the sub-continent. And it's got less to do with their love for our country than cricketing reasons. Perhaps, like the South Africans, they too believe they need to learn to play better on all kinds of surfaces. And they aren't afraid to put themselves on a sticky wicket. For that, they'll probably end up being much better cricketers. The youngsters will have the benefit of a team with more cricketers who've played in these conditions before. And they're sure to do a lot better than we did down there. Is it any surprise that SA and Australia are the top two teams in the world?

And when was the last time we toured Down Under before the disaster that was 1999-2000? 1992. Not surprisingly, there were few seniors left to pass on any of the lessons learnt in 1992. But what's the point raving, ranting and getting all steamed up? I mean, what can be worse than a board that gives orders to continue doing the things that are causing untold damage to Indian cricket. (Boy, I need a drink to calm me down.)

Ciao people! And yes, keep the mail coming. (Hate or otherwise)

Armchair Expert

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