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August 11, 1997


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Of achievement, and inspiration...

Harsha Bhogle

The first Test in Colombo proved, if it ever needed proving, that if you want Test cricket to stay alive, especially in the new hideout of one-day cricket, you must give the bowlers a chance.

Just as batsmen win one-day matches, bowlers win Test matches - and if you don't care for them, you might as well hold a world championship of book cricket.

But it was a great week for Sri Lankan sport, wasn't it? I'd go so far as to say that if they hadn't won the World Cup last March, this would have been their biggest week ever. They were having world records for breakfast, and stunning as the achievement was, there was another which was just as amazing.

Sitting in the ESPN studio, I had my heart in my mouth as I watched Susanthika Jayasinghe go round the bend, get close to one of the legends of women's athletics, and finally beat her in the photo finish. A second place in a World Championship sprint event is like taking a little bite of immortality - and if I was her coach, I'd feel like running a victory lap all over Sri Lanka.

And if Sanath Jayasuriya had tears in his eyes, and on his cheeks, so would a million other Sri Lankans. He had made more runs than Sir Donald Bradman had ever made in a Test innings, and the greatest record in world cricket was staring back at him.

He looked it in the eye and, being human, he blinked. The record was gone - such things have a way of disappearing if you so much as blink.

But nobody can ever take away from him a place in cricket's hall of fame. Brian Lara, Garfield Sobers, Len Hutton, Sanath Jayasuriya, Donald Bradman.... not a bad line-up to be part of! And unlike you and me, he doesn't even have to dream about it.

These are just the kind of events that raise a nation's morale; make you proud just to be breathing the air of your country. And if Jayasuriya and Jayasinghe aren't given the nation's highest honour, there must be a little virus in mankind. Make that a huge virus.

So where does that leave India? In the last four months, the world one-day batting record, the highest Sri Lankan score in one-day cricket, the highest partnership in Test cricket and the highest total in Test cricket have all been scored off our bowling. Go a little further back, and you have a century in each innings by Gary Kristen at Calcutta, a dismissive century by Lance Klusener and some easy 300-plus scores in one-day cricket. I won't be surprised if the word going around in world cricket just now is 'If you want to play yourself back in form, or get a couple of records, just call India over'.

Sadly, when it comes to product development, the BCCI has a blindfold on. That India has a faulty product has been apparent for a couple of years now. Our bowlers can only do well in specific situations, and we've needed to change that. To say that very little has been done is a gigantic overstatement. The truth is that absolutely nothing has happened - and I suspect, even fear, that nobody is particularly concerned. Had the BCCI been a professionally run company, the general manager (Bowling) would have been sacked by now. Along with the general manager (Fielding).

The programme for improvement of pitches, so widely publicised, looks like being one of the most tragic fiascoes of our time. I fear the Academy is going to go the same way. It is a great idea to have young men being taught by a legend like Sunil Gavaskar. But he is never going to have enough time to run the academy the way Rodney Marsh does in Australia. Marsh lives, eats and travels with his boys. We need a director who has the time to do that - and in all fairness to Gavaskar, you cannot expect him to do it.

But we do need a bowling programme. What we do not need is a name that will please people. A few years ago, Frank Tyson came to Mumbai and even in a short stay, produced three of the most successful bowlers there: Abey Kuruvilla, Sairaj Bahutule and Nilesh Kulkarni. We need someone with that kind of commitment and expertise; someone who does his job (doesn't spend more time with the media than with his bowlers, for example), has a drink and goes to bed.

Does that person exist in India?

A final word. If, as is believed, Anshuman Gaekwad is going to be India's next coach, and is he is already in Sri Lanka, can Madan Lal have a game plan at all? And how are the players supposed to react to his suggestions? To his words of criticism?

It seems to me that an India coach gets a letter of appointment, and a return ticket, in the same envelope.

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