Rediff Logo Cricket
May 19, 1999


send this report to a friend

What now? What next?

Prem Panicker

At this moment in time, a young man, all of 26, talented beyond the imagination of his contemporaries, already successful beyond his wildest dreams, finds himself facing that most humbling moment in a person's life.

That moment when you sit strapped into an airplane seat, helpless, inert, numb. Waiting for the plane to waft you home. Waiting for that one last look at a father you loved, who helped shape you, and who, suddenly, is not there for you any longer.

I remember being in that situation, taking a similar flight -- though mercifully, of much shorter duration than the one Sachin is now taking. It is not an experience I would have wished on anyone. My sympathies, and yours, and those of every fan of cricket -- not just Indian cricket, Indian fan, because Sachin's appeal transcends all boundaries -- will be with him, surely. But grief of the intensely personal kind is a bit like being on top of the Everest. It is cold, it is cruel, and you face it all alone.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Within an hour of the news breaking, I get here and find my mailbox flooded -- and though the writers are many, the questions are the same. Will Sachin rejoin the team in England? And what will India do, in terms of team composition, during his absence?

To the first, the short answer is, no one knows. The only one who can answer that is Sachin -- and it would be inhuman to put that question to him at this point in time. Sachin has to deal with this his way, and just about the only thing we can do is to leave him to his grief, to his time of mourning, without burdening him with our expectations.

The other question -- about India's revised strategy, is more within our purview. Harsha Bhogle, who is in Leicestershire with the Indian team, told me at 1300 IST that as of now, the team hasn't taken any concrete decision, though Sadagopan Ramesh has been told to keep himself ready to play.

What we can do, at this point, is analyse the options -- and for now, keep that analysis confined to today's game, against Zimbabwe. The longer range planning will obviously need to wait, the team will want to focus on today's game against Zimbabwe -- a game that is more crucial than it looks, because India needs to put points on the board here.

Playing Ramesh is the obvious, knee jerk, thing to do -- an opener for an opener, what could be more natural? But frankly, there's a catch. During the three weeks they have been in England, practise opportunities have been few and far between, thanks to inclement weather. Therefore, whenever opportunity offered, the management has concentrated on letting the top six batsmen get a full quota in the nets. this in turn has meant that the likes of Ramesh and Khurasia have hardly held a bat during their time in England. And in any case, the frontline bowlers, after bowling to the top six, have been way too tired to bowl at the reserves -- a problem we had written about even before this team left for England. But never mind that for now -- spilt milk isn't on the agenda for this piece.

The point is, Ramesh lacks practise. And if you recall the few outings he did have in ODIs with the Indian team, he was singularly unsuccessful -- in direct contrast to his Test outings. So you are talking of a man lacking both form and confidence. Does that sound like the description of a man you want to play at a key moment like this, when the pressure to perform, to make up for Sachin's absence, will be all the more intense? The answer, to my mind, is no!

Of course, Ramesh could still be played today. And he could still surprise us with a brilliant innings. But when you analyse a situation, you play the probabilities, and by that yardstick, playing Ramesh at the top could be a bad move.

So what then? The answer, as I see it, is -- play Srinath at the top with Ganguly. No, not Mongia -- anyone who has watched him play will have observed how he invariably pushes at the ball with bat well away from the body. On the sub-continent, that works. In England, with the ball dancing around, it won't take the likes of Brandes and Olonga too long to sort him out.

Srinath, in contrast, plays very straight. And if you recall the times he has been sent in at three on seaming, quick tracks to protect the latter batsmen, you will remember that he not only played with very good technique, but showed that when needed, he could not only thump the ball around, but also work it into gaps and rotate the strike very well.

That is why I would go with Srinath at the top -- sent out with instructions to play freely, to not worry about his wicket -- after all, his job is not to bat 50 overs, it is to ensure that the innings gets off to a rapid start, and then let the likes of Saurav, Rahul and Azhar take it from there.

Srinath at the top of the order frees up a slot lower down, and for that slot, I would pick Khurasiya. True, Khurasiya has had as little practise as Ramesh has had -- but on the plus side, he will be coming in during the middle to late overs, not right at the top when the ball is doing things. And besides, he has great temperament, and plays with admirable fluency. So he fits right into a lineup that reads Srinath, Ganguly, Dravid, Azhar, Jadeja, Khurasia (the last two to switch places if say the fourth wicket falls before the 30th over).

That leaves me with five places to fill. Still sticking with the batting order, I would have Agarkar, Kumble and Mongia, at numbers seven, eight and nine. Mongia goes down the order because while, in the final overs, he does produce the odd good hit, he is awful at batting with the tail, tending to take a single off the first ball he faces and going across to the other end, leaving his lesser rated colleagues to face the music.

That leaves me shy two places, and one is obviously filled by Prasad. Number eleven? I would go with Debashish Mohanty. That gives me four seam bowlers, each different from the other. If one of them has an off day, as happened the other day, then I have cover in the form of a regular bowler, as opposed to a part-timer.

This gives me 50 good overs from regular bowlers. And I have Jadeja and Ganguly to bowl a few in case of need (remember, we need to budget for the fact that Sachin won't be able to turn his arm over). So the lineup, as we have it, has five regular bowlers and two irregulars. It has five regular batsman, plus the keeper, plus three bowlers who can hit the ball around a bit when they want to.

No Robin Singh? Yeah, right, no Robin Singh. The 'all rounder' hasn't, in recent memory, been able to bowl ten overs. That in turn leaves the bowling suddenly fragile -- and that fragility is too great a risk to take in England, where you are talking of bowlers, rather than batsmen, being the key to winning games.

Thus much by way of analysis -- within a couple of hours, we will know what the men who count -- to wit, the team management -- actually decide.

Meanwhile, think again of a young man who, in course of his life, has given us all immense pleasure, incalculable pride. Think of him taking that lonely, heart-numbing flight. We can't do much -- but at the least, we can in spirit be there. With him. For him.

 Name: Email:
 Post a message:

Prem Panicker

Tell us what you think of this column