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April 24, 1999

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Asian World Cup hopefuls shrug off problems

Three former champions from Asia embark on their respective World Cup campaigns amid the uncertainty of a non-functional board, controversy, communication problems and debate over leadership style.

Among the three countries, defending champions Sri Lanka seem to be the worst affected. There were grave doubts on their participation following a Colombo court order restraining the controversially elected cricket board from discharging its official duties.

With the committee members of the Sri Lanka cricket board suspended, skipper Arjuna Ranatunga's team was left with a non-functional employer and the grim prospect of missing the tournament. Certainly not the way for a team to begin its title defence.

After much trepidation and timely intervention by sports minister S B Dissanayake, who appointed an ad hoc and panel to manage the board till the issue is resolved, Sri Lanka finally left for England on Friday.

North of Colombo, fresh controversy earlier this week pricked Pakistan cricket's upbeat mood when coach Javed Miandad suddenly quit his post citing family commitments in Karachi.

Miandad's resignation was unexpected, since Pakistan had rediscovered its winnings ways during the last six week. A coach usually does not quit when his team is on a winning spree like Pakistan is currently enjoying.

This sudden development fuelled much speculation. A Mumbai-based tabloid reported on Thursday that charges of financial misbehaviour and allegations by mates against Miandad forced him to quit.

Indeed, money has always been at the root of all ills besmirching Pakistan circket. Just when the heat on the betting and bribery scandal seemed to be dissipating in the flush of victories under Wasim Akram's charismatic leadership and awesome personal form, Pakistan cricket is back in turmoil.

Miandad's quitting is surely a setback. Although the Pakistan Cricket Board has appointed South African Richard Pybus as assistant coach, he is hardly the man, cricket qualifications notwithstanding, to replace Miandad. Language barrier is Pybus' first hurdle. So technique and strategies will have to wait. Unless of course, he is a master in Urdu.

Effective communication, apparently, has also been India's problem. This has been highlihted by an unrelenting Indian press lately. Their criticism of skipper Mohammad Azharuddin stems from his reticence and lack of semaphore on the field.

Azharuddin's taciturn style of leadership came into sharp focus during the three-nation one-day tournament in Sharjah recently. Vice-captain Ajay Jadeja, handling the reins in place of an injured Azharuddin, had mesmerised fans and critics with his talkative captaincy. His ever smiling face became a cynosure of all eyes.

Three victories and Jadeja's personal contribution of three wickets in one over against England conferred Brearley-esque wisdom on Jadeja. This made matters worse for Azhar. However, he bravely played in the final when he could have easily opted out and watched Pakistan roll India over.

This is exactly what happened. The media crucified Azhar. A needless debate and an atmosphere of jealousy was created by comparing the styles of two captains. Most critics conveniently forgot Azhar's splendid past record as captain.

Last year's hero had suddenly become a villian after a few defeats this year. This unwanted comparison and the rumour subsequently that Jadeja would be promoted as captain for the World Cup has certainly hampered the Indian team's mental preparations.

A captain looking over his shoulder and changing his style, as Azhar did in the final at Sharjah where he put his arm around a mauled Ajit Agarkar, is not what India wants. With his trump card Sachin Tendulkar back, Azhar should continue with his proven style of leadership.

The question which now arises is: will the three former World Cup champions rise above their problems and perform to their respective potential ?


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