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March 9, 1999


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If Imran can...

Sanjay Manjrekar

A good trailer plays an important role in the eventual success of a movie. Make the trailer exciting and get the audience flocking to the movie halls for the real thing.

The Coca-Cola Asian Test Championship (ATC) is the trailer of the intended mega event - the World Championship of Test cricket. However, this trailer has been disappointing, though, of course, not entirely due to the organisers' fault.

Notwithstanding the fact that the first Test match of the championship was thrilling, the dying moments of the Calcutta test match were embarassing. It is for this reason that the Colombo Test between India and Sri Lanka, the second Test of the championship, needed to be a good match to wash down the memories of the City of Joy and revive the championship which had not had a great start.

Mind you, the whole world is watching this new concept of test cricket. But, as the luck would have it, the match turned out to be one of the worst in recent times and certainly the dullest I have ever witnessed. I do feel sorry for the organizers, and especially the curator at the Sinhalese Cricket Ground who tried his best. He had left a healthy cover of grass on the wicket in the hope that it would give the ball an advantage over the bat. The locals said they had never seen such a green wicket at the Sinhalese Cricket Club grounds.

In fact, all those present at the ground were pretty excited about the prospects of the match. The two captains too had decided to let their bowlers have the first use of the wicket. In the end, Arjuna Ranatunga became the victim of a premature April-fool's joke. On a green top, he saw the team he had put into bat get more than 500 runs.

The wicket turned out to be a sleeping beauty!! Yet again it was proved that one can read wicket, but, only to a certain extent! This time, everybody was calling the wrong shots. The mission failed and one had to go through the agony of a high scoring drawn Test match which fortunately seems to be the feature unique only to the island of Sri Lanka these days.

The Indians had the better of the hosts on points and now will have to wait for the outcome of the third Test match of the championship between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Lahore, to know whether or not they need to take the flight to Dhaka. Pakistan have already confirmed their berth for the Dhaka final.

The Sri Lankans would be pitted to a grueling test in the third test match at Lahore. Mahela Jayawardhana seems to be a rare player in Sri Lanka who looks good enough to replace senior stalwarts. I strongly feel that Jayawardhane might just ease the worries of Sri Lanka. Not many quality players are coming through the ranks, is the fact that Sri Lankan cricket is moaning about today. His innings of 242 against India has not only shown his mettle but has also rewarded him with the vice captainship for the game against Pakistan.

In the test match against Sri Lanka, India benefited a trifle by finding a left arm medium pacer in the shape of Ashish Mehra. It would be nice if India could invest time on him. The Delhi boy was quite impressive on a docile track. Surely, another medium pacer has put himself in contention for the World Cup squad.

For VVS Laxman, the five days were not very happy days. He failed in both the innings and has put his head before the axe. I feel sorry for the talented Hyderabad batsman whose translation to opening batsman has, not to my surprise, drawn blank. It is really sad to see the dearth of genuine opening batsmen in India.

There are a few opening batsmen who are scoring runs at the State level. But, their exposure to the job is only recent. It is a fact that the Test hopefuls, batsmen who are knocking the doors of Test cricket, have started opening for their state teams only because they see a vacancy in the Indian XI right up there at the top. You really cannot blame them -- everybody wants to play for his country. But, the only thing they don't have is the luxury of time.

It is here that the selectors have to be very careful, because the fact that a batsman bats at No.1 for his team does not mean he is the opener you are looking for. The selectors need to assess the man and see whether he has the requisites of a genuine opening batsman.

I have often felt that the selectors should be the 'assessors' instead of being mere selectors. Selecting players on the grounds of performance is easy. Any one from the streets can do this job. The important thing is to assess the performer, whether or not he has it in him to do the job expected of him at the international level. And that is the not so easy part.

Any selector who gets this right most of the time is the man who can be said to be a contributor to his country's cricket. Pakistan had one such man. He was never the official Selector, but, he surely was a great 'assessor'. His name was Imran Khan. And, we all know what his contribution to Pakistan cricket was.

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