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May 10, 1999


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'The support the Indians are getting has been sensational'

Harsha Bhogle

A note from Prem Panicker: Thanks for the thumbs-up that greeted the first instalment of our conversation with Harsha Bhogle.

We are still in experiment-mode, but once the World Cup gets underway, you'll get to hear Harsha after every India game, during the preliminary stage -- and from the Super Six stage onwards, after every single match.

Meanwhile, owing to a technical glitch we are working to solve, we are only putting up the transcript of today's chat with Harsha. The audio clip of the same will be uploaded tomorrow (Tuesday, that is). And now, over to Harsha Bhogle, in Harrowgate:

Harsha, good morning, what is generally a polite question assumes significance now, doesn't it? So, to open with the polite question, how's the weather?

And I'll try and give you a polite answer, Prem, the weather at the moment, as I look out of the window is fine, but the forecast is for rain increasingly sweeping across this place for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Now what that means is that while the Indians might get through another practise session, which they've been getting for the last two, two and a half weeks or so, it just puts that game against Nottinghamshire in a bit of jeopardy.

So what we are saying is essentially that the one half outing which they had the other day against Leicestershire the other day is probably the only practise they are ever going to get.

Oh well I hope what you and I are saying doesn't come true, but at the moment it's starting to look more and more like that. Look, the game against Yorkshire really was a tragedy, they should have got the entire game in because it didn't rain on that day. The reason they didn't get a game in was because they scheduled this game at a tiny little ground. It's a small ground at a place called Harrowgate, it's bit like playing in...


...Sholapur or Nizamabad. Or more like Patiala which has a very good ground as well. The ground is pretty, but it's a bit like Lord's, it slopes heavily from one end to the other.


And as a result, the pitch gets caught on the slope. So if it's raining from one corner of the ground, and there it actually rains towards the ground rather than away from the ground, which is quite inexplicable. So even though it didn't rain, the rains from the earlier days was allowing the water to seep through from there onto the ground and really it was very very wet, and though it was bright and reasonably sunny, they thought it wouldn't dry up in time and so the Indians started twiddling their thumbs and then went and had another practise session at Headingley.

Yeah, well, tough I guess. Which means that we have effectively got now, what, five days before India starts its campaign against South Africa. Harsha, how would you evaluate the state of preparedness of this side? Let's start with the batting...

Well, the batting is the only one that's given a clue, really, because the batsmen got one game in against Leicestershire. And the general feeling here is that if you can get a solid rather than a flying start, then you are in a very good position to score runs later on. Very similar thing happened, I saw England play a warm-up game against Essex where they squeaked through by one run... when, all kinds of trouble early on, but then one batsman got stuck, Graham Thorpe made an 88 and they got to 229 or 230. I think one Indian batsman has got to get stuck, and if that's Tendulkar, the thinking is if he is, if he bats the full 50 overs Indian can't lose, really. That's really it for the batsmen, the problem is, that Tendulkar is... he's a very good player obviously, Ganguly I think needs a lot of match practise, Dravid, Azharuddin, Jadeja have had a couple of good outings, but then what happens after that? And what happens in case of an injury? Ramesh hasn't got a game, Khurasia hasn't got a game, and from now on, because there is only one game left, obviously the top XI will play that game, and in practise and in everything that they do from here on, it is the top six that will get priority. So I have a fear that if something happens, the likes of Ramesh and Khurasia are going to get in a bit cold, into the big game.

Yeah, which is going to be pretty crucial if that happens, I guess...

If it happens. And Bob Simpson's been telling them, to be fair, that the reserves need to perk up a little bit because they are all one injury away from a place in the big game which is good philosophy.

Yeah, right. The bowling is what we have never had a look at, at least not in the English conditions, would you have any kind of clue about what state they are at?

Not really, because all I've see is the nets, but Bob Simpson with whom we did a longish interview was saying that he told the team that if anything, the bowlers have stolen a march over the batsmen. Because he believes the bowlers are in a readier state, if I can use that expression, than the batsmen.

Harsha, I don't know, if I was to pick a wild card in this entire team it would be probably Debashish Mohanty. Still harking back to 1987 and the Sahara Cup and stuff like that. How's he looking, and what chances do you see of India ever going in with four seamers?

Interesting you should say that, Prem, because we were sitting the other day at Leicester having a chat with Brijesh Patel who was saying exactly the same thing about the bowlers looking better than the batsmen, and suddenly Mohanty was running into bowl and he said you know, this fellow might be trouble because no one can read him. I don't know how many of our viewers, readers have seen Mohanty actually bowl, he comes in off a very very odd bowling action, he bowls very open-chested. Now the coaching books say that when you bowl open-chested you are more likely to be an inswing bowler than outswing, but Mohanty swings it both ways, and if he can get to bowl at a lively-ish pace, if he can get a good start then he might be a surprise package because no one knows which way the ball is going.

But then would you see four seamers going in?

A bit tough. I have a feeling they've made up their minds about the first team. I mean, he said Mohanty could be the surprise package, but it's difficult to see him getting the first game in, because I think they have made up their minds who the first eleven are.

Again, a lot of people, a lot of analysts, seem to think that fielding is going to be the key to this entire thing, what's India doing in terms of fielding practise and team spirit and stuff like that, how's it looking for them?

Bob Simpson takes a few of them aside and really really grills them. We saw Ramesh and Rahul Dravid and Azharuddin and the others really going through some very strenuous workout and it seems to be all in context of the game, for example, I saw him put two stumps up and he says okay, those are your goalposts and he was telling them okay, we're going to see if I score more goals or you save more goals, he's playing those kind of games but I don't know if he can do that at such short notice, he said he was very very happy with the way the team has improved in the last five weeks, but we'll wait and see when the game starts because that is when we will really know.

Okay. Harsha, the other one, how've the crowds been there?

You know, when the practise sessions were on, I actually did a piece where I'd said how the Indians were very happy to be away from all the pressure and the prying eyes. But the support they are receiving from the Indians here is just sensational. At Leicester, it actually got a bit...

Out of hand...

Over the top. But here in Harrowgate, people have actually driven down from London, which is a good four hour drive, some of them had come here the previous night, they had made their banners, they had done everything, they had come here to watch people play, there was one guy that came, he'd got his little child, couldn't have been more than eight or ten months old, with his little cheeks painted in the India flag, and the child's name was Sachin Ramesh...

Oh, okay... all right!

But it's just incredible, the kind of support they're getting. Everywhere they go they're getting crowds, there's this group of people who have got tickets to three or four of the warmup games and they're going to go and root for us, and they are like India's Barmy Army, and they're screaming louder than I've ever heard anyone scream before. Lots of excitement and I think they are not going to be short of support, that's for sure.

Okay, so it's just like being at home...

A bit, I think only slightly less boisterous...

Okay, out here the thinking seems to be, there's this whole abject pessimism that seemed to characterise our thinking, seems to have shifted to a sort of cautious optimism... the funny thing is, I overheard a couple of conversations, both of them unrelated, at different times, they were talking about how, you know, it could be 1983 all over again, the no hope Indian side taking on the favourites and...

I don't know, Prem, you must tell me that, are we just starting to coat a natural pessimism with hope, whether or not it's real or otherwise? Are we hoping and then thinking that our hopes should come true?

I think we are hoping and then finding reasons to make that hope come true. It's...

Prem, I think India is a fashionable outsider. Everyone here is quite excited about Tendulkar, they believe Tendulkar is a match winner, who can win the match on his own, but the latest odds that the Telegraph has offered has South Africa one, Australia two, Pakistan three, West Indies four, sorry, England four, West Indies five, India and Sri Lanka joint sixth-seventh... so I think India is the fashionable outsider, but just watching the way England are playing, I think India will be very very disappointed if they don't beat England.

Well, anyway, out here it is like, May 15 holds the key to the entire thing, it's superstition- meets-sentiment time, because a lot of guys are like okay, if we can beat South Africa on the 15th we've won the Cup, which is simplistic thinking really, but that's...

*laughing* I'd warn you against that. I think if we beat South Africa we've got a great chance of going all the way through, not only to the Super Six but one step further, because the momentum will take you there. You know there is one aspect we are not counting for, which is the weather. If it rains for two days, it depends on, say, if your game against South Africa is washed out, you probably tell yourself, I've saved a point, but if that happens against Kenya, then what do we do?

Yeah, that's right...

So I think this is a very dynamic tournament. You've got to keep reassessing yourself all the way through to the 29th of May when India play their last game...


So Harsha then, not much likely to happen in terms of practise and stuff like that over the next four or five days so when do we talk again?

Well let's have a go, Prem, after the game in Nottingham, hopefully, I mean that's a big ground, a good draining ground, I think India will go in for every possible opportunity they get. But I've got a slightly.. I've got an outside thought, Prem, which is, everyone's talking of Tendulkar and Azharuddin and Srinath, there're two other guys I think we should keep in mind, a certain Mr Duckworth and a certain Mr Lewis.

Right yes, those two gents could well be the man of the tournament, or the men of the tournament... whatever... Right, Harsha, then, it's a wrap and I'll talk to you in what, two days time....

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Harsha Bhogle

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