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May 18, 1999


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India lost a golden opportunity

Sanjay Manjrekar

Jacques Kallis is the emerging star of the South African side. After that maiden Test hundred against the Australians, the young batsman from Cape Town has made steady and sure progress at the international level. Today he looks a potentially great batsman. Kallis happened to be playing for South Afica here at Hove, so his was the team that emerged victorious from this big opener for both teams, in the World Cup '99.

Saurav Ganguly
Saurav Ganguly
Pic: Graham Chadwick/Allsport
The Indian team came to the ground this morning to find bright sunshine welcoming them. The wicket also gave the Indians a reason to smile for not often does one see a 'white' dry wicket at this time of the year in England. The outfield was nice and quick. Everything very much like back home. The Indians could not have asked for better cricketing conditions going into their first game in the tournament in England.

The moral of the whole exercise today to me was India played extremely well. The South Africans did not play to their potential, but still won comfortably in the end. That just goes to show the relative strengths of the two teams.

Everybody who watched the South Africans play at Sussex's lovely ground got to see the reason why this team is looked at as the favourites for this tournament. They saw a team playing way below their best but still getting the better of a competent side like India. South Africa are bound to improve from here and get better. I leave it to your imagination what they will achieve when that happens.

India ended up on the losing side having lost a golden opportunity to upset a rusty South African outfit, but I am sure the Indian coach won't have too many harsh words to say to his team. His team played well in a nerve-racking first game of a mega contest. He would look at the positive outcome of the match - the success of his opening pair Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly.

Any uncertainty about their batting positions would have vanished. Both had good starts. Ganguly managed to go a distance but failed to see what would have been his most deserved hundred because of the brilliance of Jonty Rhodes.

Rahul Dravid
Rahul Dravid
Pic: Graham Chadwick/Allsport
Dravid carried on with his form on this trip. Azhar looked out of touch to start with, but managed a decent outing in the end. The batting was generally good and if that ideal score of 275 was not achieved it was due to the inability of India to convert the ones into twos. This will always be a handicap for the Indian team in the tournament when they play strong teams.

The bowling unfortunately was not equal to the task. The Indians were searching for the fifth bowler in Robin Singh, Ganguly and Tendulkar. They could not find him today and that ultimately proved fatal.

In all, it was a tacky performance by both sides playing their first game. Both teams were good in patches, but to beat a team that kept throwing in dangerous batsman one after the other was always going to be a tall order for the Indians.

Finally, the gain from this match is when the Indians play any other opponent in the tournament, they all know now it is not going to be as tall an order.

The 'ear piece' issue unfolded quite dramatically. It was quite prominent, moreso since the television cameras are so good and don't miss anything these days. It appeared something like plaster that cricketers carry on their faces and you tend to ignore such things. But once the suspicion was raised, and later confirmed, everyone was taken aback including me.
Obviously, there is nothing in the rule book which stops you from doing it but the authorities took the right decision under the circumstances since this World Cup is no place to experiment. It is a long step forward and the authorities need good time to discuss and understand its implications before passing their position on it. Still, it is something about which the cricket world should prepare itself for. It is a long step forward as far as cricket is concerned.

Since their entry into international arena, the South Africans have been experimenting and introducing innovations. Now this is only the latest measure to have been introduced by them.

Now, coming to our next game against Zimbabwe at Leicester on Wednesday, India start as favourites, especially given the way they performed against South Africa. They did not make many mistakes at Hove and must take heart from that performance.
As for the crucial question of fifth bowler, I don't think India should be experimenting too much at this stage. There is no reason for the team to be chopped and changed only because we lost to South Africa. Leicester, it must also be remembered, was the 'home' for the Indians during the acclimatisation period of three weeks before the start of the tournament. There is a first-hand understanding of the conditions and the team has familiarised itself with it and that should come handy.

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Sanjay Manjrekar

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