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Sanath Jayasuriya is a genial soft-spoken fellow, it is only his
cricketing vocabulary (i.e. when he speaks with his bat) that
is loud and violent.
He is not given to courting controversy or slagging
opponents or being discourteous. Thus, when he
said "New Zealand are our main rivals" in the forthcoming
Coca Cola Trophy, Saurav Ganguly must have flinched from
India has never owned a one-day reputation, not even after
winning the 1983 World Cup; we have played well on
occasion, but it has been a flickering form.
The recent past provides hard evidence. Inspired
performances ended with an unremarkable defeat to New
Zealand in the International Cricket Council Knock-out final
in Nairobi last October.
In the Sharjah series that followed, they lost all three times to Sri
Lanka, including being dismissed for a lowest-ever total of 54.
In India, they jousted with the Aussies but lost the final;
after spanking the opposition in Zimbabwe, they lost their
bearings improbably against the mediocre West Indians.
Once upon a time, of course, form meant nothing in one
day cricket; it was the day that mattered. Australia, and South
Africa to an extent, have disproved that theory: it is an art,
they have shown, that can be mastered, the so-called
`glorious uncertainties' whittled down to a minimum.
With two years, not a long time, left for the 2003 World Cup
it is that task that awaits India.
India is in the midst of its busiest season, 14 months where
they will play 22 Test matches and 41 one day internationals.
Of course, it is too much cricket, and one day events like the
Coca Cola up are of scant value.
Still, this overkill offers some opportunities to India. First,
to experiment. In that context
Sachin Tendulkar's absence (though now it seems he may be
out for only 3 matches) is a blessing. The psychological
weight Tendulkar brings to this team is enormous, and
Wasim Akram would pointedly say, "When Tendulkar is out, I
can see shoulders droop in your dressing room".
Yet Australia has won Test matches without Steve Waugh,
an equally powerful character, and it is time for other players
(young ones like Badani, Yuvraj, Sehwag, Khurasia, Sodhi) to take responsibility, to prove the point that the power of the
team is always greater than a single individual.
It is also a time for India to rotate, to decide on a pool, and
use them accordingly, especially in the one dayers, else the
side that goes to the 2003 World Cup will require walking
sticks and wheelchairs. In this rotation, medium pace/fast
bowlers deserve priority, for South Africa's
fast, bouncy wickets demand virtues of speed. In that context,
picking spinner Rahul Sanghvi over Harvinder Singh who did
little wrong (despite the deadness of Sri Lankan pitches)
Finally, Ganguly must be appointed for a long period. It is
no point Chandu Borde, chairman of selectors, saying, "We
are quite happy with the way Ganguly has led the side" and
then nominating him captain series-by-series. At the
moment, barring Dravid (and believe me his time will come)
India has no other captaincy contenders (Tendulkar not so
quickly again, Kumble's form uncertain), and every unsettl
ing aspect (Ganguly is not pleased with constant debate over
his leadership) hurts the team. Like a jigsaw, you can't keep
fiddling with pieces.
Ganguly backs his players, in private through notes, and
publicly, as he does with Amay Khurasia. He, and John
Wright, are also demanding, which is what they will have to
be in Sri Lanka. They are not overly burdened with talent
(thin bowling, average wicketkeeping, uncertain batting), but
then neither are their opponents.
The absence of Chris Cairns, possibly the only Kiwi worthy
of a world XI, is significant, but they will be bolstered by their
Nairobi win, a powerful reminder they own the requisite
ability to take on the best. For a tiny country, whose worship
of the All Blacks leaves little time for other sports, somehow
they seem to eke out new players. Thus alongside the familiar
names of Fleming/McMillan/Parore/Nash are Franklin/
Mills/Oram/Vincent. Untested yet ambitious.
The Kiwis are not elegant (except on Fleming's good days),
exciting or inspired (McMillan occasionally), but industrious
and look to exploit the opposition's vulnerabilities. India is a
better team, man for man, but needs to show it.
Sri lanka is the best of three, aided by home advantage.
They have had a fractious few years, with team re-building, match
fixing allegations, and chaotic officialdom. The only vital
constant has been coach Dave Whatmore, whose quiet
presence and ability to mesh Western discipline with Eastern flair, is often overlooked. Ranatunga aside, Whatmore's
influence on their 1996 World Cup win can never be
In Jayasuriya (not the player he was but then such
explosiveness always has a quick expiry date, but he still
possesses substantial gifts), Attapattu, Arnold,
Jayawardene, they have batsmen who can stay and
accelerate, strokemakers who are delightful and dangerous.
Bowling wise, Vaas is still clever and quick, and though the brittle Zoysa
is out again, Dinusha Fernando is worth a long look. As for
Muralitharan, there is not much to say, except that had he been
born in England or Australia, Shane Warne would not be so
quickly regarded as the world's best spinner.(Note: Warne's
Test bowling average is 26.32 and strike rate 64; Murli's is
25.62 and 64; Warne's one day average is 24.96, strike rate
35.2 and economy 4.24, while Murli's is 25.39, 37.9 and 4.01.)
Sri Lanka just seem to have a better sense of one day cricket, more ebullient, a trifle more disciplined, more threatening with the bat.
Each team plays each other thrice, which is a money making exercise not much else; better to play each other twice and have three finals.
India should reach the finals; then having lost so many recently we will discover if they have the character to overturn the odds.