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KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS LOW ABOUT INDIA AND BE REWARDED
by P. Rajan


Follow this team, I always say, at your own peril.

Keep your expectations minimal and you will favourably rewarded; invest emotionally and expect consistent excel lence and you will be dismayed.

As mentioned last week, Indias reputation as a batting team is a myth. Two scores below 250 in the second Test versus Zimbabwe, on a reasonable wicket versus bowlers often referred to colloquially as halwa, is prime evidence. John Wright asks for patience, for them to be circumspect (everyone knows that on bouncy wickets the Indian must wait, choose the ball to score on), instead they play like amateur Las Vegian gamblers with too many Jack Daniels warming their stomachs out for a wild night on the town.

Even Tendulkar, the setter of standards, and presumably a setter of examples, chases a wide one when he knows better. Laxman bats like a man late for dinner with Pamela Anderson, and instead of reinforcing his reputation he dismantles it. Ganguly continues to sink, and he must know eventually his authority will diminish with every poor innings: how can he demand more of others when he produces less. It was left then to a young fellow from Orissa, who spends his days asking these others for advice, the steadfast Das, to show how it can be done. Imagine that.

All players in all sport adapt. In golf to courses, in tennis to clay and grass, in basketball to away arenas and unfamiliar rims, gymnasts to equipment: it is part of the challenge, a mandatory adjustment in any chase for greatness, but India is like the student in the last row reading comics. And never learning.

History was theirs for the taking and they spurned it; an easier chance will not come soon.

That said, hard as it may be, panic and overreaction should be locked away. A new coach cannot alter a teams established mindset, and amateur pose, so quickly. He has done fine work in moulding them into a team, they are less fractious, increasingly alert in the field, more organised, better prepared. The only thing he cannot do is play for them. It is hard work teaching this team: first Wright must get them to unlearn their vices before they can learn new virtues, and that is a lengthy process.

This much certainly he must have told them: the Tests have gone, at least in the one dayers find redemption.

After much unnecessary argument and raised voices, Ashish Nehra has been retained for the one dayers, and my grandmother could see his utility. Inexplicably, Yuvraj Singh has not been picked: while not as sensational as initially described, he is athletic, capable of mayhem, and young (relevant, since the World Cup 2003 must be the target). However, Virender Sehwag, known as the Najafgarh Tendulkar (the suburb of Delhi he hails from) because of his explosiveness, the lithe and promising Ritender Sodhi, the untested Dinesh Mongia (not related to moaning Nayan) and rehabilitated Harvinder Singh are in.

Here, unlike the Tests, opening has not been an issue, Ganguly-Tendulkar once the equal of Waugh-Gilchrist, though the captains form has tilted the equation the Australian's way. Then Laxman, Dravid, Badani, Sehwag, Dighe. And four bowlers.

I find Dravid oddly the most significant because all the others are free-stroking, quick to score, but more vulnerable to dismissal, while he grafts, anchors, brings cement to an unsure structure. Another such player, a superior version to Dravids doggedness, say in the mould of Bevan, who stays, run, rotates, keeps the scoreboard ticking, is missing.

The batsman must score, either first or in chase, because the bowlers, or such has been the case, will go for runs. Srinath and Agarkar especially are prone to sacrifice discipline for ambition and that is fatal; Harbhajan abroad will be interesting to watch; and if Ganguly might (and why not, its another option) bowl himself, Tendulkar, only for his unpredictability, must be given his few overs.

It did not matter much in the Test series, yet it needs to be repeated: the competition is not knee-trembling. Zimbabwe lost 1-4 to India in one dayers last year, and Andy Flower's absence through injury is a further handicap. However they retain home advantage, easily save 25 runs through fielding and if they replicate the tight bowling of the Test series, it could make for a good contest.

The West Indies, who once owned one day cricket now are an embarassment to their history, losing the one day series 2-5 to South Africa some months ago at home. The West Indies have cut and culled and exchanged players but accomplished little, but there is a sense that sometime, somewhere, the young players must flower; the wait continues. Lara, a diminishing batsman, by his own exalted standard, is capable still of constructing phenomenal innings, but they are few, and one man alone can carry his team only some distance.

India should have the edge, they have the experience, and the ability. They are also possibly a better one day team than a Test side, though that is hardly saying much.

They should win. But I'd keep those expectations low



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