Rediff Logo Cricket
March 3, 1999


send this report to a friend

Win matches, not friends

Sanjay Manjrekar

In my last article I had mentioned a few reasons which make Eden Gardens, in Calcutta, special. Add another to that list -- this one not very complimentary.

For the second time, a big international game, in a short period of time, was disrupted by the crowd in the City of Joy. First time, it was during that infamous 1996 World Cup semi-final, when the crowd gave vent to its frustration and brought the game to a halt.

The people who boast of the renowned and, arguably, the best ground in the world, have given a message, loud and clear -- we love the Indian team only when it plays well, and when it doesn't, we will not be "silent spectators".

It is quite shameful, really. And one more reason for the cricketing world to look down upon the subcontinent. Full marks, though, to Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya and his men who eventually got the match going and produced a result on the ground, unlike the World Cup semifinal which was granted to the Lankans by the match referee.

It was, however, a painful sight to see the final act being played in front of an empty stadium.

Pakistan beat India in the first match of the Coca-cola Asian Test Championship to take 17 points. But for the two countries, it was a decider and now the records read -- Pakistan leads India 2-1 this winter.

Many faults could be found as far as the Indian team's performance is concerned. However, the most glaring one for me was how India could allow their arch rivals to come back into the Test match after having them reeling at 26 for 6 on the first day.

Very few teams in the world could have managed that! India did earn a dubious distinction that day. Indian cricket continues to shake its fans and supporters by extreme, illogical performances, this one merely being the latest.

The Indians, virtually unbeatable at home in recent years in spite of visits by South Africa, Australia and West Indies, have now lost to the Pakistanis twice within a month. And remember, Pakistan is definitely not the strongest team to have toured India since 1990.

So why is it then that Indians have suffered the worst results in a Test series at home since 1990? What is so special about an Indo-Pak series. and what happens to India in a series against Pakistan, are the questions on everybody's lips.

I have been involved as a player in this great contest on a number of occasions, and I know from experience that at such times, when the contests run close, the key factor is 'pressure'. And the team that has handled pressure better, obviously, has always emerged the winner when these two teams meet.

Having been part of the Indian team, and now watching my successors from the sidelines, I have no hesitation in saying -- with a touch a regret though -- that when it comes to fighting to the finish, the Indians have lacked more often than their opponents.

During an Indo-Pak series it is temperament that underlines the result and things like talent, and ability take a back seat. And there is no denying the fact that the Pakistanis have produced more players who can rise to the occasion than the Indians have -- and this was amply evident on that last day of the Calcutta Test.

Meanwhile, what of Sachin Tendulkar? You certainly cannot keep the man away from the headlines. He failed in both innings and remember, that doesn't happen too often. But, the talking point even now is the bizarre way in which he got run out. I was on air doing commentary for Star Sports when the incident took place, and that is exactly what I thought -- 'bizarre'.

It was all very unfortunate. Sachin didn't do too many things wrong in that dismissal, but that is what this great game teaches you. You can only give your best, success more often than not is really not in your hands.

I am sure fans of Indian cricket and of Tendulkar want to know whether or not the obstruction by Shoaib Akhtar was international. Let me assure you, it wasn't. And exactly the same opinion was expressed by some cricketing greats who were with me at the time. If there was even an iota of intention in what transpired out there, I can assure you that with the excellent camera crew at our disposal, we would have seen it. In the end, it was just a freak dismissal, and one can only sympathise with Sachin. It was one of the slowest walks back to the pavilion I have ever seen -- and I don't think I have seen him more dejected.

As far as expecting Wasim Akram to call Sachin back goes, it would be naive to expect such things in this era, not in these days of extremely, intensely competitive cricket. Nowadays, cricket rules take precedence over cricket ethics and sportsmanship.

I know that India heads the list of teams who put cricket ethics and the spirit of the game before everything else. We have a history of that. In fact, we had one Indian captain say, at one point, that he would love to have Don Bradman make his 100th hundred against India! "It would be a privilege and honour", he had said.

But that was then. This is now, a new era where results count, far more than the grand gestures. And I think it is about time the Indian cricket team tried to win more matches than friends!

Tell us what you think of this column