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May 18, 1999

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Positives from World Cup opener

Amit Rao

The Indian team displayed some great cricket to pose a very stiff challenge to the talented South Africans. It took some inspired performances from Kallis and Rhodes to finally seal the match. By that time the Indians definitely had won over the hearts of their pessimistic supporters.

I had mixed feelings about India's chances in this World Cup, a bit on the pessimistic side, but seeing their performance in the opening match, I would definitely put them in the top four.

I would like to congratulate Azhar on his brave decision to bat first. My first reaction was to criticize him for that, but I soon realized that he had read the conditions well . Another factor that might have prompted him to make this decision is the fact that India has managed to score famous wins in crucial matches (defeating Pak in both the previous WCs, defeating them at Sharjah after more than 7 years ...) under his captaincy by choosing to bat first. His best bet at putting pressure on SA, was by posing a challenging total and taking a few quick wickets. I guess the way he led the side against SA should put to rest all speculations about his abilities.
Successful captains have always had a lot of consistent performers in their side, be it the current SA side or the West Indies side under Clive Lloyd and Azhar is doing a great job with the resources at hand.

It was very heartening to see that in the opening match the Indians got most of the things right. The only thing which let them down was the fact that they always gave themselves a 50-50 chance of defeating the SA and to be able to defeat a team like SA you really need to believe in yourself. One got a feeling that the Indians were hoping for things to happen rather than going all out for victory, which is definitely understandable looking at their poor run of form. The way the batting order clicked in the first match should give a lot of comfort to the team and from now on they should shed their underdog status and go into the matches with a lot of confidence.

The Indians shouldn't let the assault by Klusener and Rhodes dampen their spirits, Agarkar should just write this off as one of the bad days and keep himself focussed. It would be a great mistake to put pressure on him by trying out Mohanty against one of the weaker sides (it won't give the true picture) and Agarkar is far more useful with the bat. We do miss a player like Klusener or Kallis in the side and the limited bowling abilities of Robin Singh gives less options to the captain. But I feel the team management should display full confidence in the playing eleven and get the best out of them.

Let us all accept the fact that the Indian think-tank has not got it entirely right in reading the conditions in England. Yes, the conditions definitely assist seamers but going by the first round of league matches, even bowlers like Akram have had a hard time maintaining their line and length. We definitely cannot win matches by aiming to pose a total of 250 simply because we don't have a bowling attack to defend such a total. Let's accept the fact that off late Indians have been less successful at defending low totals. In an attempt of trying too hard to get wickets the seamers end up giving a lot of runs.

I would like to present a few simple things that could get the best out of the resources the Indian team has at present:
1. We have a world class opening pair in Sachin and Ganguly. In the first match I got a feeling that Sachin had changed his stance, it looked to me that he was standing up WRT to his earlier stance and was more open chested. Obviously, I am in no position to comment on that, but the best batsman in the world definitely knows what he is up to and we can hope that this gives him good results. I am all praise for Ganguly who has applied himself really well after his comeback and has chipped in with match-winning performances frequently. He is a fighter to the core and after working on his leg-side play, the next thing he should work on is playing with soft hands and his running between the wickets. He definitely made a good beginning in the first match and hopefully can carry it on.

The same applies to Dravid too. After Jadeja's heroic innings against Pakistan both the spectators and the top-order seem to rely on him to do the magic time and again. With the kind of bowling done by SA in the slog overs I don't think we could have got any more runs. That's why I feel that Dravid and Ganguly should have scored the 30 match-winning runs in the first 40 overs itself. I couldn't understand Dravid/Ganguly playing a copy-book defensive shot after getting the very first ball for a boundary. If a boundary is scored of the first half of the over then the batsman should definitely try and squeeze in another boundary in that over.

It's here where Tendulkar really excels as he very often produces 3/4 boundaries in an over. Dravid and Ganguly should be make every ball count for runs, if the hitters click then it's and added bonus. This pair has the tendency to get into a shell against the run of play and in this 3-4 crucial overs are lost. They also made a tactical error against SA. They should have realized that scoring off Donald / Pollock would be very difficult and should have got more form Boje / Cronje.
I was very disappointed to see that Kallis, who was not his usual self, could get three very good overs in the 40s. The Indians should have picked him for some innovative onslaught, which they didn't....

We should definitely try to get some good runs by using a pinch-hitter, and I feel that Mongia is our best bet. Agarkar and Srinath are definitely good, but it's Mongia, who has made the most of small opportunities that have come his way, is definitely more reliable. His ability to go over the top in the first fifteen overs should be fully used. The shot that he played off the penultimate ball against SA was a beauty.

2. Coming to the bowling.: To me Agarkar is a strike bowler and the fact that he is going to be hit around for runs is nothing new. That's why I would like to see him take the new ball or atleast be introduced into the attack in the first 5-6 overs. Prasad can come in as first change and should definitely be reserved for the slog overs.

In the match against SA I got a feeling that Srinath was trying a bit too much, which is good in the first spell, but would have been better off bowling within himself in the subsequent spells.
Azhar should also display more confidence in Ganguly/ Tendulkar and should introduce them into the attack as first change, instead of bowling them as an after-thought. They have definitely made the best of their chances and deserve some more faith from the captain. Moreover this would help him use Kumble more judiciously, giving him short spells (to get a wicket, or against a pinch-hitter) but basically saving him for the slog overs because he has consistently done well here and bowls with a lot of confidence in these overs.

To me, if Kumble can get a good 4-5 overs at the end, and Prasad and Tendulkar can share the rest most of our problems will be solved. Srinath doesn't look very confident coming into the slog overs and he should be used earlier on . Tendulkar will definitely live up to my expectations but he should pitch the ball up, if he bowls short at his pace then he is definitely going to be hit.

3. Coming to the fielding department, the Indians gave the impression that they were up to the challenge and came up with a superb fielding display. The ground feeling was excellent and it was a treat to see both Tendulkar and Prasad throwing at the farther end in an effort to engineer a run-out.

We didn't seem to do anything wrong on the field, but still couldn't stop the flow of runs. Here I feel that Azhar would have been better off setting a defensive field for the last couple of balls of an over. So many times we had the SAs get an easy boundary of the last couple of balls after bowling a tight over. It always pays to push a couple of fielders deeper for the last couple of balls..
This tactical error allowed the SAs to get a four every two overs and the pressure never got to them

We still need to work on a couple of problem areas: a. Good recovery after a dive....and the art of releasing the ball.
b. Secondly, bowlers always lose their cool when it comes to collect the throw inorder to complete a run-out. They should avoid getting excited and stand very close to the stumps, try and gather the ball and dislodge the bails in the direction of the throw. How may times have we seen Indians missing a crucial run-out because they don't get their basics right? I know it's easier said than done but is it unfair to expect these things from a side that is hoping to win the World Cup.
c. It's better that the fast bowlers are fielding in the V when they are not bowling. It's very demanding to expect them cover crucial areas along the boundary after bowling for long spells.

I hope the Indians get their act together and turn out amazing performances one after the other and go all the way to win the World Cup. If we can get a score of about 275 in the crucial matches, which does not seem very difficult seeing their batting display in the first match, believe me we are through!!!

For the players, it's all a matter of believing in their abilities and their abilties as a team.

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