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An incredible fortnight
by Sunil Gavaskar
Apr 18, 2007
The last few days have been quite incredible. Reliable sources, anonymous sources close to one party, sources close to other parties and all kinds of sources have made it a resourceful week. The biryani is there but without the rice and only the masala. The Rogan josh is there with just the ‘josh’ and not the Rogan. Allegations have flown back and forth and speculation has been rife and fuel added to the fire with nary a thought about Indian cricket. Inspite of having lost in the first round and the so-called ‘disgust’ of the general public towards cricket and cricketers, the front pages are still having cricket-related stories, even on the morning after the SAARC Heads of State meeting began the previous day!

India were beaten by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the group stage of the ICC World Cup 2007 and did not qualify for the Super 8 series. Instead of giving credit to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who played the better cricket on the day, we in India are bent upon finding excuses to justify these losses. No credit whatsoever to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for playing better, but just any excuse to help us feel better as to why we lost to teams we shouldn’t have.

As this is being written, comes the news of Greg Chappell’s instruction to the BCCI that he is not seeking an extension of his contract as a coach of the Indian team. It’s a very gracious letter that he has written, and in taking the action that he did, he may well have helped in stopping some more bloodletting and shrieking in the media. Perhaps he knew that his days were numbered, perhaps he was simply fed up with all the scrutiny and the fish-bowl like existence in a cricketer-mad country like India. Yes, the word used is ‘cricketer-mad’ and not ‘cricket-mad.’ Certainly, the Indians may follow the game, but they only follow their heroes and not other teams, and one has to just watch KBC with SRK to realise that they don’t know much about the game.

India may have lost in the World Cup, but the biggest loss is the retirement of Anil Kumble from the limited-overs game. He played in only one World Cup game and so did not get the chance to go out on a high, but there is no question that ‘Jumbo’ made an incredible contribution to the Indian team in Tests as well as limited-overs cricket. Thankfully, he is still available for the Tests and India has some big series coming up this year, where Kumble’s skills with the ball will be an essential factor in the chances the Indian team hopes will be theirs.

What Kumble brought to the team apart from his incredible bowling skills, was a fierce desire to succeed. He was certainly more hostile in his attitude towards the opposition batsmen than the quicker bowlers. Certainly, he was more at the batsman than his Karnataka teammates Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, who being new-ball bowlers should have been naturally aggressive, but often were not. In Kumble’s company, Harbhajan Singh flowered and learnt some of the ‘aggro’ that modern bowlers prefer. They made a terrific duo, and when they were bowling together, the opposition batsmen had a real tough time, especially if there was some turn and bounce in the pitch. With India having an inconsistent batting line-up, especially overseas, the Indians seldom played both the spinners. But on Indian pitches, both were automatic choices in the team, and they would come on to bowl even before the ball had reached ‘teen-age’ in terms of overs. Hopefully, before Kumble decides to hang his boots in Test cricket, he will have passed on his fierce desire to win to the younger players, for it is that quality that makes him so much different from the others. That will be his biggest contribution to Indian cricket, and not just the wickets he got and the number of matches in which he spun India to a win.

He will no doubt continue to be low-profile off the field, but give the ball in his hand and he turns into a totally different personality, hardly recognizable from his off-field one. He has had a magnificent career and will be immensely satisfied with what he has achieved. If there is a tinge of regret, it could be that he came close to a Test century, but wasn’t able to get those extra runs that would have got him he ton. Like his leg-spinning contemporary Shane Warne, Kumble was more than a useful batsman, who somehow was not quite able to fulfill that potential. Warne too missed out on a Test century, being dismissed just one agonizing run short of the three-figure mark. He was out caught on the deep mid-wicket boundary and still has no clue why he played that shot, when a push to mid-off or mid-on could have got him the run for the century.

But then, that’s what cricket is all about. A batsman struggles to get off the mark and that single is so crucial for him so as to not be dismissed for a duck, while the one who gets to 99 also strives to get that one run that will get him into the century club. At that stage, when he has got to 99 quite easily, that one run becomes the hardest run of all.

That’s why the unexpected can happen in this game and take all by surprise, but that does not mean that there is no effort from the losing side. It’s just that it isn’t good enough on the day. That’s what happened to India in the World Cup. Two bad days, and the sooner everybody understands that, the better it will be for Indian cricket.
 
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