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September 23, 1997


Boys to men

Harsha Bhogle

Sadly, the Sahara Cup, edition 1997, will be remembered almost exclusively for Inzamam ul Haq's amazing and terribly immature outburst. Maybe that is how it should be, because it is not every day that a leading international sportsman climbs into the stands with a bat as weapon. But you've got to look at cricket as something that brings joy - a smile, rather than a frown. And there was enough at the Sahara Cup to be delighted about.

Much of the optimism centered around a dark-skinned young man feeling his way around what is, to him, the enchanting world of international cricket. Debashish Mohanty had played only six first class games for Orissa when he was picked for the tour of Sri Lanka, and had only a handful of first class games behind him when he came to Toronto. Not quite your candidate if you were looking to get supporters all charged up.

Yet it wasn't Azharuddin or Tendulkar that people were talking about, but Mohanty. And the defining moment of his fledgling career could well be the huge bouquet of roses - the tribute of an admiring fan - that he carted back to his hotel room after the second game. It is a tribute that, with a little more experience, could be translated into more substantial rewards.

In Toronto, where the tracks were damp and the atmosphere heavy, he bowled like a champion. He swung the ball both ways from a very unusual open chested action, and he bowled a splendid length at most times, pitching the ball up enough to move, but not too far for it to be driven easily.

It was a gesture of confidence from Sachin Tendulkar when he gave him a seven-two field to bowl to, and though that produced the odd wide ball outside off stump, he bowled a largely consistent line, so important for a swing bowler.

Mohanty, though, will have to show in the years ahead how quickly he is capable of learning. He needs to add a yard of pace, and he needs to develop the variety to bowl on flat batting tracks of the kind he will encounter closer to home. The conditions he got in Toronto were a dream come true for a swing bowler, and dreams rarely repeat themselves. But he is a good prospect and the national selectors, so often taunted and vilified, can pat themselves on the back for having got him into the side. Or - let us be fair - we can pat the selectors on the back for it.

Unlike Mohanty, Harvinder Singh was a shade too erratic in his early games, especially the first one. I suspect he got a little too fired up for the occasion, and was probably gripping the ball too hard early on. As a result, it became difficult for Tendulkar to set a field for him. But he clearly has a future ahead of him, because he is genuinely quick, very aggressive, can with a bit more of training produce even more pace, bowls a good away-going ball and strokes one as being a wonderful athlete.

Interestingly, Harvinder appears to have this ability to pick up wickets and I would be very disappointed if there isn't a greater role ahead of him. Besides, he has one other quality that causes him to stand out in this Indian team - a sensational throwing arm. Even though the boundaries in Toronto were admittedly shorter than the norm, it was interesting to see his throws hitting the keeper flat and hard from the deep.

Two future cricketers, and how exciting to see them share the stage with one of the most experienced cricketers in the world. On difficult tracks, Mohammad Azharuddin, leaner and fitter than his 34 years would suggest, looked the best batsman of the tournament with the possible exception, towards the end of the series, of Saurav Ganguly. With his innate ability to play late and pick the gaps, he gave otherwise lethargic scoreboards some work to do. There is no doubt at all that he has to bat at number four, because one day cricket is really all about your best batsmen playing the most balls.

Tendulkar, Azhar, Jadeja and now Ganguly are easily our best one day batsmen today, and if two out of those four bat at five and six, it means too many scoring opportunities are being missed. And that is something the Indian team cannot really afford.

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