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Blast from the past
by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Dec 14, 2007
Ah! the good ole times - the 80s - when cricket was still as pastime, and times were a luxury that everybody could afford! Cricket series consisted of at least 5 tests and about the same number of ODIs, if not less.

Most of the home series (except against formidable opponents (read WI)) turned out to be the same way. A couple of interesting days, few and far between, individual records in 5 for's, centuries and double centuries, a minor incident here and there, but on the whole, tame, and dead rubbers. Captains were pretty so conservative that no one took the initiave/risk to force results. They were contended with keeping their unblemished records, and importantly, their places in the team intact, and played and planned accordingly. Whenever the Board felt that the whole situation was getting a little too comfortable and the team was getting too complacent, it invited the minnows (Sri Lanka, before it exploded in the 90s, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, who were pretty weak everywhere except on their home turfs), won a couple of series and gave the audiences just enough taste to keep them interested and on the leash.

After achieving the intended effect, things fell back into the same rut. Yet another series, yet another team, yet another dead rubber, yet some more record breaking performances. Thanks to Australia and their meticulous and ruthless attacking ways since the 90s, test cricket received a much needed shot in the arm, and it is no exaggeration that the cricketing fraternity owes Australia for the excitement and the enthusiasm that it has infused in the traditional version of the game. Otherwise the charade of dull and drab would still be claiming victims to this date.

That does not mean to stay that all is well with the world and the game has rid itself of the lethargy and the pointless meandering, a charge (sometimes, quite valid) that is often levelled by the critics of the game. The just concluded series provides ample evidence that all hope is not lost and that dullness can still creep back into the game, provided its intentions are genuine and its efforts are sincere.

All that it needs is a little cooperation from the administrators, the curators and some fortuitous injuries to the key players. After a long time, an entire series is served up some docile and subservient (as though to prove a point of its subservience, the balls kept really low) pitches, and an outcome of any kind could have been possible on those surfaces only if the players laid down their bats and balls and engaged in a hand to hand combat.

Just what the curators could have been thinking preparing such lifeless wickets could be anybody's guess. In the current cricketing scenario, a tour to Australia, apart from the quadrennial cup, is the only reason why players choose to push themselves extra hard to get into right shape and right mode. And if the administrators do not force the hands of the curators into preparing sporting pitches - bouncy, if possible, providing a good practicing platform for the players, they should equally refrain from pointing fingers at their performances, should they not match up to the expectation. And what is this fascination with the wickets that perennially keep low (the colloquial euphemism being, wickets with 'variable bounce').

Just what good could come out of such wickets, when even experienced players fail to predict which ones would bounce to a playing level and which ones would sneak under the toes of their bats? It is not a test of their talent nor is it, of their tenacity. Instead it makes players rely purely on their luck. What is the point in shaving off all the grass before the commencement of the play, knowing fully well, that in a few weeks' time, all that the players would hear is the famous chin music of the leather buzzing by?

Even a win under such conditions (regardless of which side won), would never give the players the artistic satisfaction that they so deserve for toiling so hard under such sub-standard conditions. And to add to the woes (of the audience), if both the teams are devoid of any real ammunition in the bowling departments, and all that the players are playing with are blanks and squibs, the result does not amount to more than a staged play.

If anything, this series should serve as a strong wake up call to both the boards to protect their valuable resources and prized investments from breaking down before important series. These are not regular niggles that are could be brushed off as commonplace work-place hazards. These are serious breakdowns or premier frontline lineups and this is probably first time in cricketing history that the mainstays on both sides chose to catch the action from the sidelines.

The unnecessary and completely avoidable workload that Sachin and Dhoni had taken upon in the meaningless final one day caught up with them in the final test. And here is a point to ponder. What if that very reason costed the Indians the test match and thereby the series? Would it have been worth engaging in the futile and the pointless? This is where the Indian Board (and the Pakistan Board too) need to take a lesson or two from the Australian and South African Boards. It is public knowledge that Jacques Kallis was quite miffed at his exclusion from the T20 tournament. But the Board's point is more valid here, as it didn't want to risk its key player in a dog and pony show. The players' natural instinct is go out in the middle and play, regardless of the importance of the fixture. But it is up to the Board to decide which battles to choose and what games merits what caliber. That it all ended well for the Indians doesn't mask the possibility that the tables could have turned the other way catching them offguard and blind-sided.

If there are any shining moments to pick out of such a watered down event, it is the resurgence of Ganguly and emergence of Misbah-ul-Haq. That neither of them were truly tested by fire with stifling lengths and probing lines, does not undermine their contributions, for, they are the reason why the rubber reads 1-0, as against 3-0 in favor of the Indians or 2-1 in favor of the Pakistanis. Interestingly, both these batsmen are going to tested successively against the Australian bowling, which is when the seal of authenticity could be applied without any disclaimers or hesitations. But for the fact that India has won a home series against Pakistan after 28 years (keeping its tradition of knocking down such decades old records alive), neither team can term this outing a comprehensive victory or a colossal loss, by any stretch. Now, if only the Indians can stretch their winning streak to Down Under and overcome the final frontier in their another decades long search for a series win, that would surely shut some wagging tongues and restless fingers, and finally accord the credit where it is due.

 
More Views by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
  The road to rebuild
  India can win from anywhere
  No clear cut winners and no outright losers
  India's lower order works twice as hard!
  India-South Africa series have been Even-Stevens
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