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May 20, 1999


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Mismanagement primary cause of Zimbabwe debacle

R Mohan

It was the worst case of mismanagement in a long time in the history of India in one-day international cricket. It is granted that the day began on a sad note for India with Sachin Tendulkar having to fly home. But then, the team got so disorganised that it threw away the match from a winning position.

The mismanagement began in the morning itself, with the bowlers spraying the ball around so much that a world record of extras was very much on the cards. While such extravagance by way of giving away runs may even be considered pardonable inconditions helpful to swing and seam on a greenish pitch at Grace Road, the extra deliveries the team had to bowl was to cost it dear.

It was amateurish of the team to bowl its overs so slowly as to be penalised four overs and so have only 46 overs to get to the target.

Teams may be getting away lightly in regular one-day cricket, but in the World Cup the match referees may have been instructed to throw the book at errant teams. And India was surprisingly tardy and did not even try to make up for the extreme slowness in the first two hours when only 25 overs had been sent down.

With a largish brains trust in place, it would have seemed a simple enough task for various managers and consultants to warn the team of the consequences of being penalised. The slackness continued but the penalty did not really prove decisive and it was India who turned possible victory into imporabable defeat. India lost because the mismanagement continued unabated.

Failures are common enough in the up and down limited overs game. Had India's defeat come in a game in which it had been outplayed, things may not have seemed so dank. To lose a match by losing control at the tail end of a chase was reflective of a basic amateurish attitude. Eight times out of ten, teams would be winning from such equations as those that India faced with wickets in hand and less runs than balls to face. Imagine losing from position of four runs from eight balls with two wickets intact.

There was little need for death-or-glory stroke play when so few were needed. County teams facing such a simple equation at the finish would have had batsmen walking forward into the ball with the pretence of playing a stroke and running leg byes. These are almost standard tactics in the end game. And here were well set Indian batsmen playing aggressive shots to lose their wickets.

Henry Olonga was brilliant in bowling the penultimate over. It was a great gamble on the part of Alistair Campbell to give the ball to a fast bowler who had sprayed it all afternoon in emulating the Indian bowlers. For him to land the ball on the spot ball after ball in one crucial over in which he picked up three wickets was a near miracle.

Campbell was aware that the remaining runs to the target could not be defended and he had to gamble with a bowler who could swing the game with wickets if he could place the ball on target. To counter him was a seemingly simple task only because India needed so few in the last two overs.

It was a question of putting mind over matter. India may have struggled to do that on an emotional day on which its best player had to leave the World Cup and rush home. Sadagopan Ramesh had managed it in fine fashion for a long while. The left-handed opener has had an entry stamp to the UK on his passport for only the first time, and he was coming in to play his first World Cup well aware that he was only a reserve.

A World Cup debut without time to prepare himself mentally was thrust on him in tragic circumstances. Using the strength of his temperament he managed the task so well as to rebuild India's innings from the loss of three early wickets including that of Sauray Ganguly, the top scorer of the first match, and besides Sachin, one of the few current match-winners in the batting line-up.

Critics may have been averring that Ramesh should have the footwork of the Tamil dance-actor Prabhudeva. But the opener proved that in putting mind over matter a batsman can conquer such technical shortcomings. In the company of Ajay Jadeja, the best rebuilder of broken innings, and one of the best finishers in the game, Ramesh had steered India firmly on the road to victory.

That he perished to an ill-judged aggressive stroke may have stemmed from the lack of innovation that must catch up with him in the course of any one-day innings. Still it was a poor shot which opened up the game for Zimbabwe, who were looking lost as the wickets dried up as the ball got older. There were other poor shots, like those from Robin Singh, at a stage when there were safe singles to be picked up for the asking.

There is no taking away the credit from Zimbabwe for packing all their hope into that one over from Olonga and winning a game that had slipped away from them their record against India - four wins to five with one no result in the last ten meetings - was not a mean one at all. But the match at Leicester will go down as yet another that India lost, only the first to Zimbabwe in a World Cup after six straight wins, beginning with one at the same venue in 1983.

Zimbabwe, who had shocked the world with a victory over Australia in their first ever one-day international in the World Cup of 1983, roared to life once again with a win over a major side, which means their chances of getting a place in the Super Six along with another side from the African continent are rosy now.

The defeat only reinforces the view that India is a one-man army, so dependent in one-day cricket on its star batsman Sachin Tendulkar, that his absence can be very disorienting. Not all is lost though since so many scenarios can be drawn up in Group A, in which three teams, South Africa, England and Zimbabwe, have two wins each with India, Sri Lanka and Kenya yet to open their account.

Mismanagement was without doubt the primary cause for such a debacle.

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