Rediff Logo Cricket
March 18, 1999


send this report to a friend

Applause for Azhar

Sanjay Manjrekar

Heard some great news the other day. The Indian cricket team for the World Cup will be leaving for UK on the 23rd of April 1999. Considering the fact that India will be playing its first match of the tournament on 15th of May, the team will have a full three weeks before the real thing begins. I think that is really good, it must be one of the best decisions that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has taken.

But am I overreacting? Maybe. Although the advantages of going to England in good time seems very obvious, even such simple cricketing decisions are not often taken by the administrators. I have been on tours of Australia and South Africa -- important tours in different, testing settings. And our preparations meant a two-week one-day tournament in Sharjah or a week's camp at a venue where the conditions would be directly contrasting to the ones we expected on those tours. The latest example of this was a week's camp conducted at the Cricket Club of India on dusty, turning tracks as a preparation for the New Zealand tour. It is for this reason that the performances of Indian teams on such tours are predictable -- they are directly related to the preparations. Poor preparations, poor results!

This time though, the Board has backed the players, and given them enough time to prepare for the Cup. Three weeks time is, I feel, appropriate. It is now up to the Indian players and the coach to make real use of these three weeks, and get themselves ready for the requirements of playing in the World Cup.

There is thus no problem with time. However, I am just a little hesitant about the venue chosen where the Indians will have their preparatory routines. Leicestershire, India's home base for the preparation camp, is where the side, on the tours of 1986 and 1990, made news for all the wrong reasons.

Chetan Sharma in '86 and Ravi Shastri in '90 had scuffles, major and minor respectively, with spectators at the Liecestershire county cricket ground during India's side games.

I was witness to the encounter Ravi had in 1990. It was a minor incident, but it made news all right. On both occasions there were some locals who were the instigators, overconfident youngsters of Indian origin arrogantly demanding courtesies from Indian cricketers. Let's hope '86 and '90 does not repeat in 1999. We really don't want the Indian team making news even before the tournament begins.

It is good to see Mohammed Azharuddin being nominated to lead the Indian side till the end of the World Cup. Till the nomination was announced, Azharuddin was finding himself at the receiving end of a barrage of criticism with regard to his captaincy. I could not understand this, especially the allegation that, he does not motivate the team enough. Poor body language, poor results.

Let's face one fact. Azharuddin, since he was appointed captain in 1990, hasn't changed. He was never a motivator. His body language is the same for the last ten years as captain. Yes, he has given poor results recently, but since he took over from Sachin Tendulkar, India has won more matches than it has lost. A section of the media that went after Azhar maybe just wanted a change.

Now the situation becomes very tricky. If responsible people want change, why don't they nominate the allternative choice? If you prove that the option is better than the present, your argument is valid. I think that's a more mature approach. Otherwise, it is terribly unfair to Azhar, and would amount to simply running him down for the sake of change.

Personally, I feel that any change in the captaincy at such a delicate juncture of India's cricket would be catastrophic. At the moment, Azhar is the right man for the job. Furthermore, I can't think of any country in the world which would make the mistake of changing their captain given the imminence of the World Cup, particularly when he is a certainty in the team. Change in the leader at this point would mean you have divisions -- a discarded captain on the one hand nd the newly appointed captain with additional pressure on the other. This will not be very healthy as far as the balance of the team is concerned.

This is the line of thought followed by all countries participating in the World Cup, and it should be ours as well.

Sanjay Manjrekar

Tell us what you think of this column