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Some days ago, VVS Laxman, nursing his knee back to health in Australia, said,
John Wright believes 'we can be the best team in the world'.
He said it's what they believe in the dressing room too.
No, VVS Laxman wasn't on Valium, or caught in some hallucinogenic trance. It's
why he also quickly chipped in to add, 'yes, we are inconsistent, too'.
Reading James Joyce's Ulysses is one stretch is easier than figuring out this
Indian cricket team. Are they wimps who have the odd good day, or warriors in
Let's just say this: in the next five years, any one day trophy they win is
because God's in a benevolent mood and they're due; but in the next five years,
they could --though this too takes the optimism of a over-zealous patriot ---
become a competitive Test team.
They came back from a Test down to humble Australia; they won a Test in Zimbabwe
(in India's context, like the blind man who recently climbed Everest) and drew
the series; they were a Test down in Sri Lanka (again abroad) and have levelled
Ganguly's record tells you he's a winning captain; his teams ability to rebound
tells you their faith in him; and his 98 not out tells you reports of demise are
clearly exaggerated. Sack him? Get a grip, dudes.
Changing this team for the third Test, with Laxman and Tendulkar and Nehra out,
serves little purpose. Rating them individually is harder. But in order of
1) Dravid: The key to his team, everyone's captain in waiting. His demeanour
reflects in his batting --- a steady maturity, a silent but furious ambition.
Says both his timing and feet movement are better, and plays according to the
demands of the pitch. The fulcrum.
2) Ganguly: Ends a run of 13 mediocre scores, but one fine innings is not enough
reassurance, especially against faster bowling. Still, his instinctively
aggressive nature (he takes risks, some must fail) is essential to this team's
desire to win.
3) Das: Hasn't had the greatest tour, and when he's there too often the
scoreboard moves slower than a grandfather's clock that hasn't been wound. Needs
to accelerate slightly, but an opening partnership is the key to any Indian
resurgence and he has the technique Ramesh doesn't.
4) Harbhajan: Although Prasad and Zaheer took 9 wickets between them in Sri
Lanka's second innings, and the islanders play spin better than the Aussies, he
has that X factor, the ability that is to alter matches. Usually good for a few
runs too, something India's tail has never been known for.
5) Kaif: Too few Test matches old but players think highly of him, and with
Tendulkar gone, there is too much reliance on Ganguly-Dravid, and he needs to
step forward. This is a risky rating, but Kaif's due a big score to advertise
his class and I feel its not too far off.
Zaheer: With Srinath gone, he's India's primary strike bowler, and though still
learning his craft, has the pace and aggression that Prasad doesn't have, though
not the guile. If Sri Lanka start well in the third Test they'll be hard to
stop; by playing through injury displays a quality of courage not usually
apparent in this team.
Ramesh: Has the demeanour of one of the sleepier, original Musketeers, but bats
with the flourish of D'Artagnan. Subject of endless debate: what counts, runs on
the board, or how you get them, and 47 and 31 in the second Test provides part
of the answer. Needs to be lucky.
Prasad: The workhorse on his last gallop, always disappointed that he's been a
shadowy figure, always the first to be dropped, keen to emphasise his best days
not over. Ego is a great motivator, and with his magnificent slower ball (cynics
tell you they all are), and steady line and length, could provide one last
Dighe: Gets the job because of two reasons: no one else is good enough, and he's
a street fighter who likes the taste of blood after a good scrap. Considering
his batting's on and off, his wicket-keeping slightly better this series, it's a
Badani: A man personally I have high hopes for, considered more a one day
player, being undone by poor shot selection, he has great desire, and is new,
but needs an innings of substance to stay in the team.
Harvinder: The unknown quantity, stays in because of lack of fast-bowling
Prediction: A lot depends on what pitch the rattled Sri Lankans go for. A
lifeless pitch would mean a dull end to a effervescent series. India escaped in
the second Test despite some uninspired first innings batting; a repetition
might be fatal.