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April 30, 1999


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Sense and sensibility

Sanjay Manjrekar

The Indian cricket team is now in England, many thousands of miles from home. More importantly, many thousands of miles removed from the massive, unprecedented ballyhoo that is being created around this year's World Cup.

 Usha Uthup, Manisha Koirala and Azhar at the Pepsi concert
I am staggered by the sheer extent of hype being created -- it is almost as if the World Cup is being held after 10 years, and not three years and a bit.

I was not a member of the 1983 team, nor am I a member of the 1999 team, and yet there is not a single day when someone doesn't approach me, asking me to be part of one or other event aimed at cashing in on the popularity of the game, the tournament and of course, the players.

 Gilbey's Green Label - Sign Lagao - India jitao
Frankly, I think it has crossed all limits this type. Apart from a few, most Indian players wisely stayed away from this circus, and they must have been vastly relieved when they boarded the flight to England on April 23rd -- a flight that would take them far away from this madness and allow them to play some cricket.

Even Leicestershire must now seem a welcome, peaceful place after all that the Indian cricketers have experienced in the last few weeks in India.

As mentioned earlier, the Indian party has sensibly chosen to arrive in England three weeks before the real thing. I can't begin to emphasis the importance of these three weeks, to tell you how very critical it is. The three weeks before the tournament are, in fact, as important as the three weeks of the tournament itself -- and I do fervently hope that the team management feels as I do about this.

 Ajay Jadeja, Cyrus Barucha and Rani Mukerjee at the Pepsi concert
I remember stressing on this aspect, in a chat with Sachin Tendulkar, when we met shortly before his departure -- the point I was making to him at the time was that it was imperative for the team to use the time to do more than just get acclimatised. I would like to see the team's think tank, which should comprise of more than just the coach, captain and vice-captain, use the time at their disposal to devise a basic plan -- a plan on how to approach the World Cup in England.

The beauty of England is that the usual international approach is not always successful there -- that basic plan needs alterations. It is here that the Indians should look positively at their recent performances in the one day internationals that were played on the subcontinent.

The point is, it does not matter how successful India was, since the conditions in the subcontinent and in Sharjah are at complete variance with those in England. And the same is true of failure as well -- Azhar and his boys should throw all their memories of bad performances in the sub-continent out of the window. Forget the good as well as the bad, sit down together, and chalk out a plan with the World Cup, and English conditions, in mind.

 Azhar, Srikkanth and Usha Uthup at the Pepsi concert
Indian coach Anshuman Gaekwad is on his toughest assignment yet. Take it from me, his is not a position to envy. From April 24 onwards -- that is, the day after landing in England -- he needs to start looking to get his Indian package ready, and suitable to the conditions there. Also, he needs to look at each player in his squad, assess how that player is reacting to the conditions. Some players have been there more than twice, and they should be left alone while the coach concentrates on the newcomers and the relatively inexperienced ones.

It is vital for Gaekwad to be close to the younger players, to give them more of his time, make them feel important and integral to the team. In England, it is the good 'team' that will win, not a collection of great players. Individual brilliance can win you games in Sharjah and on the sub-continent, but in England, the only way you can win is with 11 competent players playing as a team.

The question is, can India be that team? Wisden certainly seems to think so!

Photographs: Jewella Miranda

Editor's note: Since May 1 is a holiday, the World Cup site will be next updated on May 3. See you then.

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Sanjay Manjrekar

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