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June 1, 1999


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Upbeat, and hard to beat

Harsha Bhogle, on Real Audio.

A transcript of the conversation Harsha Bhogle had with Prem Panicker on May 31

Good morning, Harsha. Is the party on?

Absolutely. The party started the second the last man got out. If you've been to the Eden Gardens, you'd think that you've seen it all. There were far fewer people here, but the kind of atmosphere that there was after India won the match, you would never ever have believed that you were actually in England.

Yes, Harsha, regarding this whole crowd thing... Harsha, how much of a positive effect is this having on the Indian cricket team? I see that everywhere they go, they are the ones who seem to be getting majority of the support. So..., it's almost like having a home advantage, isn't it?

Seriously, cricket has become a national motive; India can now play anywhere in the world and there will be a lot of support for us, because there are so many of us all around the world... and cricket is in our blood as such. It's amazing how much Indian support there is, and Anshuman Gaekwad, when I was talking to him at the end of the match... and he mentioned how it was a huge factor that they seem to be getting cheered on wherever they are going. In India, they are used to playing in really noisy, crowded stadiums, and so the Indian crowds here are actually providing them with an ambience that is just like home. If India do happen to go further in this Cup, as we all hope that they will, I think somebody's got to take their hats off. I remember how we were concerned at the start of the Cup, that most of the Indian support seems to be coming from a section of people who are getting high on beer even before lunch, but as the Indians start moving to the bigger centres, with higher security, things will actually start getting better. India have particularly enjoyed playing here at Birmingham, even though what happened to Venkatesh Prasad is absolutely scandalous and horrible, but now they will be playing in the bigger centres like Nottingham, Old Trafford and Lord's, and that will be good for them.

Right... and while talking about the team, let's talk about Azhar, the main man. I mean his luck with the toss still seems to be working. I mean, he lost the toss, but it still worked out for him, didn't it?

Well, I think somebody has to take a stand about this luck thing. There's no doubt about the fact that he is a lucky man, but really I thought that the cricket they played against England was some of the finest that I've seen them play in years and years. Not just because they won the match, but because there seemed to be a method to what they were doing... that there was a plan behind the bringing Srinath on for the first few overs, and then a plan to bring Prasad on upfront to take the left hander out, and then bring on Kumble, because Flintoff and Hollioake hadn't played him much, and Kumble prefers bowling to right handers. So .... there was a definite plan that seemed to have been worked out before they stepped out, to even bowl out Mohanty, because he's inexperienced and he gets excited when he gets a wicket, which is a good thing, but in a pressure situation, you want a cool head, so there definitely was a lot of planning. And some of the credit for this must go to Azharuddin. I know its become fashionable to say that India's captain is not good, but I was particularly surprised to see Geoffrey Boycott come out strongly in Azhar's favour today. Well, there was a lot of back room planning, and if he has to get the stick when India loses, he deserves to get a bit of credit, when India wins as well. Today definitely proved that there is a lot of planning that had gone into India's win, which we have not really seen before.

Yes, his handling of the bowling was fantastic, made all the right changes at the right times, and the field placing was aggressive, which you don't often see …

Yes, it was, it was. I think it was realised that England, as such, has a very soft underbelly, and if they got one wicket early, as they went on to get, even though you can argue forever and ever about the quality of that decision, but you're bound to get a few going this way or that during the course of a game, England would start to fold up. As soon as the wicket went, the field placing became very aggressive, which was very good . There were slips present, and as soon as Kumble came on, he signaled to Azhar that he wanted an additional man at slip, and he got it, in addition to the man that was already there at silly point. Looking at all this, India went for the wickets, and I really feel as if to a large extent, India made their luck in this game.

Right, that seemed to surprise a lot of people in the chat room, who were listening to the commentary at our site …the change, the transformation in their attitude, the positivity in which they played. I mean, starting from Azhar, who was very proactive, to that little incident of Jadeja intervening when Thorpe and Mohanty were having that little face off, all the guys seemed to be backing each other up.

Do you see this as a one off thing, as in we had to go out and win this game, or do you see this lasting, as a part of a build-up? What is causing this change?

I was speaking to Jadeja, and I said that I have never ever seen an Indian team take defeat so well. I mean, before, every time they would lose a crunch game, they would take a lot of time to recover. But in the World Cup, the only time they seemed to have been negative was when they were losing to Zimbabwe, not when they lost, but when they were losing, because there seemed to be a lot of negativity in their attitude then. But their attitude after the South Africa game was good, and even after the Zimbabwe game, they identified the fact that, 'well, we did a few things right and a few things wrong', but since then, I have seen them being unbelievably positive. It is really baffling. I have been with this team for such a long time, and I have never seen them take and come back from defeat so well. I mean, two down, the only way they could have got into the Super Six was by winning all three, which they did And now, the attitude is, 'well we won three to get into the Super Six, and now if we win three, we get into the semi-finals', which is absolutely amazing. They aren't saying that 'well, good, we got into the Super Six' , but they are actually looking towards the future positively and that is how they have made their luck. And Ajay Jadeja hit the nail perfectly on the head when he said that this was where Bob Simpson was making a lot of difference in the dressing room morale. He said that as a country we tend to become very negative in our outlook when we lose, but Simpson, he's not been a coach, but the way he's been speaking to people, and his positivity, that is where he has made a huge difference in terms of team morale.

Okay, that's Simpson's role in this whole thing. How about Anshuman Gaekwad? I noticed that Sunny Gavaskar was very positive, very bullish about Anshu today in the post-match interview.

Yes, he was. I think the concept of speaking to players individually, which he did, and using players well, is where he should get a lot of credit. Mohanty has been used by the management really well. They have played to his strengths and given him all the right games. The idea to use him to open the bowling is a great idea, because he's very unpredictable and that is his strength, and the batsmen don't quite know what's coming at them at the beginning of an innings and they're a bit tense. They know that he gets excited when he gets a wicket, so they bowled out his overs early as possible, and that is a huge plus for team management.... and he was used absolutely brilliantly. There are other pillars of strength in the team, like Anil Kumble. For a man who has taken ten wickets, it is unbelievable that he's always around to take the responsibility on himself when there is a lot of pressure on. I think on those shoulders... he has carried the weight of the entire Indian attack on his shoulders for the last six seven years. This example shows you that cricket is going the football way, where the strikers are the glamour boys, and the defenders are the back room boys. For so long now, every time the Indian attack has run into trouble; Azhar has looked to Kumble to pull things back for him. And he has done so time and again. Somebody has to raise a huge cheer for him now, for his contributions tend to go unnoticed so often. I don't think we quite know what a huge jewel we have lying in our midst. The thing about Kumble is, every time he is confronted with a tough situation, he seems to grow taller, and he bowled magnificently today and paved the way for Ganguly to pick up all those wickets. Though I don't mean to take away any of the credit from Ganguly, who has shaped so wonderfully well during the course of the tournament.

Actually, what we are looking at, what seems to be in evidence is that whilst we have talked endlessly about India's batting flowering, but quite unnoticed, India's bowling seems to have tightened its act up after that initial flurry of wides and no balls, and gone is that general air of indiscipline. So, are we looking at the team tightening on all fronts, or is that being far too optimistic in the aftermath of a victory?

I actually think that we're heading into slightly dangerous territory now. Now they will realise that they have reached the Super Six after those initial defeats, they should stop themselves from getting comfortable and saying 'ah well, we've done the difficult bit now we can relax, because it's not that luck has come their way, but they have created their own luck. And if they do start to get a little too relaxed, as Geoffrey Boycott said today, India are finished. I think the key to their success in winning the tournament lies... depends on them keeping the momentum going strong.

Yes, and they can't even afford to relax in the Super Six, can they? Because they have to win all three …

It"s strange, isn't it? The team that has topped the group goes in with 2 points, the team that is second has no points, and the team that is third has four points! And now, Zimbabwe have to win just one game to get into the semi-finals! But then, that is the way things are …but coming back to the point, yes, Indian bowling has shown tremendous discipline, especially Srinath and Prasad. We have talked about how Srinath has bowled wonderfully well, and how well Mohanty has done, and the responsibility that Kumble has carried, but Venkatesh Prasad has done really well as well, hasn't he? He has kept things tight and gave just eight runs in his first five overs, and that is a huge screw to turn on the opposition in terms of pulling back their run-rate. He's had a couple of two for thirties, and if you take away all the slogging from Gough and Fraser at the end, you'll see that he's returned some very good figures. And yes, in that game, Prasad and Srinath, and Indian bowling on the whole, has had a far more disciplined approach as such, which is very, very good and the team management has had a lot to do with this.

So you see the next four days as a time for some fine tuning to happen to the team, because it's virtually like a knock-out now, isn't it? If they lose even one game, they're pretty much out of the competition.

Well, the team management will have a lot to do now. They will have to tell the team that they have taken just one step, and are heading towards the next step and that job is anything but over. The old Indian custom of well, half the job is done, we can relax now, should not creep into the team and that is what the management has to guard against, and if they can do that, then they would have done a fantastic job.
I don't know if you saw my interview with Sanjay Manjrekar, but he mentioned that the Indian camp finally have something to cheer about, and that is a huge feel good thing for the country. In many ways, India must be looking to the team to feel good right now, and it must be such a happy feeling for the country right now.

Yes, I did see that interview with Sanjay Manjrekar, and that also reminds me, we will talk about the team composition and everything regarding that just ahead of the Super Six. But Harsha, what is your gut feeling about the whole Sachin thing? After seeing the last three matches, do you think he should go back to opening the innings, or do you think he should stay at number four? What is the team thinking with regards to this, and what is he thinking?

I remember talking to you about this, and how Tendulkar at number four is a huge comfort layer for the entire team. The thing that is noticeable is that Sachin is looking a little uneasy, and you can't see the performer in him. For someone who is used to putting on his pads and getting out there to face the first ball, it is an uneasy feeling to sit in the pavilion and watch the overs tick by, it tends to make one restless. It is a different thing in a Test match, where you know that even if your openers have gone out and put together a good total, you can still go out and bat out an entire day if you want, but it's not the same in a one-day match. If 30 overs are gone in a one-day game, and also taking into account the fact that Sachin likes to get a sighter for about two overs before he gets into the thick of things, in spite of the fact that a batsman as good as him should be able to adjust to any situation, but I have always noticed that a performer, as such, always wants to be in the thick of things, as quickly as possible. If you take the spotlight away from a performer he tends to get itchy and irritable, and he doesn't look very happy with life. If Sachin has revelled in the spotlight, he should stay in the spotlight. Tendulkar simply doesn't look totally at ease waiting for his turn to bat.

Right Harsha, we will talk again just before the Super Six games …have a good day, Harsha.

Freezing! I have never worked in more colder conditions than this. I had to write my script for an ESPN presentation, and I simply could not write it, because my hands were freezing. I had to do the script from the top of my head, and we had to work in the most freezing conditions ever atop a roof for about three hours. I just got back to my hotel room half an hour back, and I think I'll thaw myself out in a hot shower now, because I feel like I'm completely frozen.

(Laughing) Alright, Harsha, have a pleasant shower …we'll talk again soon.

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Harsha Bhogle

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