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Second Test: Confidence Is The Key For India
by P. Rajan

India's romance with cricket is alarmingly passionate, it is also expectedly illogical: somehow when the game begins, reason steps back. Our view of the game is tempered less by the aesthetic and the intellectual, and more by the emotional.

It is why we swing wildly between utter contempt for our team and undying love.

It is why as a cricket nation we are also susceptible to hype.

Much like Anil Kumble was considered the equivalent of Shane Warne (he never was), and Dravid/Ganguly/Tendulkar were valued as the best batting line-up in the world (come now, by what measure?).

Yet for all the hype it has taken us 15 years to win a Test outside the sub-continent. And having won that Test we are likely to puff up with virtue, though Zimbabwe, peopled with farmers sons playing a semi-professional game, can hardly be classified as a world-class opponent.

India's worthiness as Test team is two years away (tours to the West Indies and South Africa will decide that), but winning the second Test against Zimbabwe, thus at least displaying consistency in courage and method, will be at least of some significance.

It is good fortune that we have a captain, despite his dismaying form, who chose introspection rather than chest-beating after the win. "We've got to be more consistent in playing good cricket abroad," he said, and indeed he was right.

Barring a spell of some inspiration by Ashish Nehra, the new fast bowler, the bowling scarcely lifted the spirits. Harbhajan, who we have been quick to cast as Prasanna re-born, is merely an apprentice in his craft and hardly master, and his figures 2/45 and 2/44 prove it.

Srinath's game spirit is locked within an ailing body though his experience makes him indispensable, especially since Zaheer Khan, who tends to bowl short and swing the ball only one way, has not been able to translate his aggressive demeanor into wicket-taking.

Zimbabwe's one poor innings of 173 in the first innings sealed their fate, and having studied India's frailties with the ball they will be kicking themselves, and marshalling their forces for a more effective Second Coming. That said, one expects Harbhajan, and Srinath, to have a better second Test.

But India's bowling has rarely been spectacular; we have lacked the pace to intimidate and been blessed in recent times with only one spinner (thus attacking only from one end and praying from the other). It is the bullying batting, especially at home, that has been India's weapon, but still it continues to confound.

On one level it is heartening that India's first innings was propped up by a 66 from Harbhajan and a 47 from Dighe, suggesting our tail is no longer content with a timid wag. Yet without being cynical I'd suggest it was an aberration.

Without diminishing their skills, Harbhajan and Dighe surely flourished partially because of mediocre Zimbabwe bowling; therefore, what does that say about the top order?

Dravid and Tendulkar expectedly were assured, but it is Das, though dropped numerous times, who is rapidly becoming headline material. He is no Gavaskar, though they share physical similarities and thus a compactness, yet his temperament is admirable (to Das' great credit he listens well to his coach, has asked Gavaskar, Tendulkar and Dravid for advice, suggesting a player eager to learn rather than one who is merely satisfied being in the team, which one might add is a common malaise.)

However, Ramesh's woes are troubling, though his scores in his last four Tests ----2, 44, 0, 30, 61, 25, 2, 17---are not completely disgraceful. Ramesh if anything is a prisoner of his style. He stands and plays, his feet movement minimal, his method technically unsound, and while that has fetched him some elegant runs, his dismissals always look like the result of lazy, unconcentrated shots (a bit like David Gower, whose dismissals suggested he was not really trying, though 8000 plus Test runs suggests otherwise).

Ramesh's place is on the line, specially with the ambitious Badani, who has expressed his willingness to open to Wright (which impressed the coach that his player was willing to adapt), ready for battle.

India needs at least a 80-90 run opening partnership and an early Ramesh dismissal immediately puts the top order under pressure. Laxman's skills are evident but scores of 28 and 38 do him no justice; he scores freely and with abandon but needs to discipline himself to wait for the right delivery to hit. A big score in the offing.

Ganguly's problems lie in his head and his technique and scores of 8, 1, 23, 48, 22, 4, 5 in his last seven innings are arming critics who believe he is a limited batsman. Winning Tests has stifled discussion over his form, but eventually, much like Mark Taylor once, it will be impossible to escape. He must score.

There is little to say about the Zimbabweans, simply because India is the better team, and victory or defeat in the second Test rests solely with them.

Zimbabwe will play better, though injuries to Streak and Olonga will be a factor; they may lack natural gifts but not those of pride. But India should win simply because they have broken a barrier, they have shaken off their leg irons and stand unfettered.

They have the confidence and often in sport that is the magical elixir.



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