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India in South Africa
by Sreelata Yellamrazu
Jan 08, 2007
The curtains draw to a close on another overseas tour. The tour to South Africa was a test on many levels. Mixed feeling is the mood best described as team India returns to receive the music back home.

The problem ailing Indian cricket is as multi-faceted as the men that comprise the team. It would be unfair to say that Greg Chappell's prediction (that the West Indies had forgotten how to win) has backfired on him and has turned into a full-blown predicament. Yet with the World Cup only an arm's length away, India far from paints a rosy picture. Scarier still, the line up appears nowhere close to settled and some of the decisions taken on this tour to South Africa have been downright nerve-racking.

If the mind needs a jog, cast one eye back on the match situation in the one day internationals when Dinesh Kaarthick was pushed ahead of Suresh Raina, Dinesh Mongia and Wasim Jaffer, all of the latter suffering a fallout in the aftermath of the early loss. The team line-up went from being extra flexible to a veritable clueless one. It did not help matters that for much of the series, Rahul Dravid stood out as the only one holding a hand out to stop the opposition from barging in.

The first Test win, therefore, came as a bolt from the blue. South Africa was perhaps a tad complacent and understaffed, blinded by the visitors' recent debacles. India fought back in Johannesburg and people appreciated their effort, even from behind astonished and widened eyes. But despair would soon follow where Indian cricket went. South Africa was up against it. The truant weather and light played havoc on the minds of the hosts in Durban. But their perseverance, when they were blinded and when the road appeared nowhere in sight, paid off as India caved in even when the prospect to stay in the lead appeared only a road corner away. The balance had been tilted and the swing spelt confusion. Only too predictably, India fell by the wayside, even as the hosts were rewarded for absorbing pressure de rigueur.

The tour had a different story to tell. The rise of one young man coincided with the fall of another. If someone were to suggest a couple of years ago that Irfan Pathan would become the Indian management's bane rather than boon, he would have met with guffaw. The tragic part of the tour has been the case of Irfan Pathan. There is so much emotion, passion and anger involved that it is hard for even the most objective of cricket experts to express the issue without bias.

It is hard to gauge on what basis Pathan was left out in the one day international at Durban and on what basis they decided to carry him on as a passenger and why the board had woken up so late in the day to the treasure chest that Pathan could prove to be in the World Cup? Was Pathan a pawn and now a liability? It is a glaring and horrific view of how young talent is shrouded by euphoria, and instead of being nurtured, is thrust with responsibility that should not have been his in the first place, not with the boastful batting line-up like India's!

Not long ago, the cricketing world was astounded by the exclusion of Sreesanth from the Champions Trophy at home. Today his selection stands vindicated as the only man to come into contention for comparison with Javagal Srinath for the most number of wickets on an overseas tour. Sreesanth's antics are indubitably over the top. His assertiveness can be mellowed a bit and harnessed even more. These seemingly supercilious issues become more endearing when one takes into account that he appears a genuine striver in the game.

Sreesanth has made a mark, wickets are only a confirmation. It must be reiterated here that Sreesanth's batting should never meet Pathan's fate. An all-rounder's tag is rarely bestowed and Pathan's situation has only shown why so.

Sreesanth's flaying his bat in the air after smashing Andre Nel in the first Test in Johannesburg was not exactly an enthralling view. But when one understands the overrated reaction, it is just perhaps a reflection of the aggressiveness reposed in one individual instead of being harnessed as a team fraught with complacency. The crux of India's problems is the lack of assertive approach, and the ability to every once in a while, leave their comfort zone. It may not translate into more wins; but it will ensure more heart rendering battles and enviable glory, even in defeat.

In the midst of the chaos surrounding Irfan Pathan taking the flight back home, there was a feeling that perhaps the yardstick to measure performance and who should go or stay was not quite the same for all men. Perhaps it is only fair since it is the individuals that make the team. But so also goes the maxim- no individual is above the team. If Pathan was sent back as a last resort to rejuvenate him, patience was becoming a premium with Virender Sehwag.

There is no discounting Sehwag's natural flair and talent. But his inclusion in the side questions the parameters of minimum qualification to retain a position in the eleven. This is not an attack on Sehwag. If Australia was mindful of each player's feelings and their own prejudice, it is hardly likely that Australia would have touched the peak it has. What is significant is how long a player must be persisted with in the absence of a weighty contribution and how then additional responsibility is distributed on the team. If it is weighing the team down, then there has to be a way. Otherwise, queries about Dravid's captaincy will crop up time and again and could well cost him his job.

South Africa had a host of problems. The biggest contention surrounded Graeme Smith. Cricket followers are well aware of his aggressive, self-assertive captaincy style. Besides selection woes, Smith's batting has betrayed him in recent months. It threatened to reel him in under it. Speculation lay rife that Ashwell Prince would perhaps play a far greater role if Smith's wane form continued much longer. It took the last one day international, digging deep in the second Test in Durban and successive heroics in Cape Town that saved Smith an early career blow. But there's no telling what the hard end of the stick would have yielded!

If there is anything this tour has taught, it is this: the life of a cricketer can be glamourous, gruelling as well as gruesome!
 
More Views by Sreelata Yellamrazu
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