India needs more than a ‘Dada’

Mathew Varghese
(Sorry, this article is dated. We will get out of the time machine soon!)

An SOS sent to a former captain after his international career seemed over, shows the crisis that the Indian cricket team currently faces. The selectors had no place for deposed skipper Sourav Ganguly 10 months ago, but now he is the anointed saviour of a team struggling to even put up a fight let alone win.

It surely has not been a great start for chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar, who has been in office only for a month now. While announcing the team for the One-day internationals (ODIs) in South Africa, Vengsarkar had stated that there was not enough talent in the reserves. And after watching the team’s performance in South Africa, any Indian cricket lover would have shuddered to think what to expect of a team only five months away from a World Cup.

Vengsarkar had to hold himself in check and at the recent selection of the Test team for South Africa, he suggested that the performance of players such as S Badrinath, V Yohamahesh, Y Venugopal Rao and other domestic players were being closely monitored. The ‘Colonel’ as he is known, was also sent to South Africa by BCCI supremo Sharad Pawar after the team received a drubbing in Durban, to supposedly express the country’s displeasure over the team’s performance.

The displeasure did not have much of an effect as the results indicated. Skipper Rahul Dravid showed up injured and VVS Laxman was called to go to South Africa in time for the fifth and last one-dayer; the same Laxman who was not considered fit enough by the selectors to play in the one-day version of the game. Laxman did not have any luck, scoring a first-ball duck.

The team’s performance, to say the least, has been woeful, and calls for changes; but why are the game’s administrators not to blame? There is talk of a performance-based pay for players but no such talk for cricket’s governing body. This is the same body whose administrators spoke of professionalism while going into raptures over crores in the coffers from sponsorships and other license rights deals bargained by the BCCI.

The administrators, especially the selectors, need to be held accountable. If Sourav Ganguly could be considered to play in the Test series versus South Africa, why was he not picked for the ODI series? He did not do anything phenomenal in the interim domestic matches, and it is widely known that Ganguly is India’s second-best one-day batsman after Sachin Tendulkar. In spite of Dinesh Karthik’s match-winning performance in the Twenty20 game, one would still question if his domestic performances warranted a place in the side as a specialist batsman. Even the move to use a Test opener in the form of Wasim Jaffer on the bouncy South African wickets backfired.

The question is if Wasim Jaffer is even going to feature in the squad for the World Cup in the West Indies, where the wickets are nothing like the ones in South Africa. Coach Greg Chappell apparently had this great vision for the team in the path to the World Cup when he was interviewed for the post. Somehow the vision did not materialise. The ODI side did have a great run starting with the home series against Sri Lanka but the poor patch that the team hit has been one of the worst ever for an Indian team. The foundation that had been laid seems to be in shambles.

Nearly 30 players have been tried out in the last 15 months, including eight newcomers. Of them, only Munaf Patel and S Sreesanth might seem worthy enough to still command a place in the side. The bigger problem is that India’s “youngsters” never seem to grow up. Mohammed Kaif is much senior to fellow UP team-mate Suresh Raina, but both suffer from a common malaise – the inability to score.

Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan are the perennial strugglers in the team. To see the same Pathan who picked up the wickets of Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist at crucial junctures in his second Test match, being carted around like an ineffective left-arm spinner, belies the repeated faith reposed in him by coach, captain and selectors alike. Ajit Agarkar may have failed to be the ‘next Kapil Dev’ but his performances compared to the other bowlers in the side do not justify the treatment meted out to him.

Yuvraj Singh’s injury also puts him in doubt for the World Cup. Singh had been performing well of late. Mahendra Singh Dhoni also looks set to play the World Cup; being the top scorer for the team in the South Africa series still enabling him to be the first-choice wicket-keeper ahead of Dinesh Kartik. But the biggest problem that afflicts the Indians is Sachin Tendulkar’s form; and it is sure that India’s performance in the World Cup will hinge on the highest run-getter in international cricket. Hopefully, the team’s poor performance should not erode into Rahul Dravid’s run-making ability.

Going by the form of the others in the batting line-up, Ganguly deserves a place in the World Cup squad, more than the place in the Test team. S. Badrinath instead could have been tried out in the Test series in South Africa. India has only one more ODI series at home against the West Indies and Sri Lanka, after the African sojourn. One can only hope that the Indian team does a turnaround like they did in the 2003 World Cup after the dismal tour of New Zealand. Maybe, they can even go one step further and win it all.

But the greater threat is the future of the game in the country. Players like Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble cannot be easily replaced. Our domestic setup does not bring up enough talent. The transition from domestic to international cricket should not be the long leap it is now; we need to learn from Australia in that respect. Hopefully, the pushing incident that Pawar suffered at the hands of the Aussie players would spur him to ensure that Australia never take centre-stage again. The only reciprocation that he can make is by bringing in policies for the betterment of Indian cricket. Hopefully 1983 will repeat itself and we might become world-beaters again.

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