Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It wasn't entirely unexpected

I could be accused of being wise in hindsight here, but let me say honestly that I expected India to struggle in the West Indies. Don't ask me why, but I just had a gut feeling that the team was not going to live up to expectations or rankings. Something about the side doesn't seem right. I'm being very vague here, but that sums up how I felt at the onset of the one-day series. Of course I did not expect them to be hammered 4-1. On the contrary, I expected to limp to a 3-2 win or something similar. That India finished on the wrong end of a couple of close games pretty much sealed the deal for Brian Lara's side. In the aftermath of the stunning world cup triumph in 1983, many analysts pointed to the win over the mighty West Indies led by Clive Lloyd at Berbice, where Sunny Gavaskar and Kapil Dev two of their best innings. In fact, some of the players involved themselves pointed at that game as being a real confidence booster. India were thumped overall, but given their dismal one-day record thus far, it was a seminal moment. The next world cup is still quite some time away, so this may not be as critical to the team's fortunes, but it seems ominous somehow and brings soaring expectations crashing down to earth. I didn't expect miracles here, but the win in Pakistan was quite creditable, especially the manner in which the wins were secured, often reducing the Pakistanis to despair. This after the disastrous Karachi test. It's now back to square one. It's funny how the tables can turn so quickly. The same worthies who were hyping up the Chappell-Dravid 'combo' are now singing a different. The reality is that both our batting and bowling look fragile and the bowling has looked fragile for quite some time now. Some magnificent batting performances helped paper over those cracks, and now that the batsmen didn't do the job, the team struggled mightily against a West Indies side that is easily the worst among the test nations barring the real minnows. No doubt there will be a lot said about how well the West Indians played, and I do think they have some great talent in Gayle, Sarwan and Bravo, but to me it is still a pathetic side that was roundly trashed by one and all in its own backyard. That we could win only one out of five is nothing short of catastrophic. Sachin Tendulkar still remains the one player who can single handedly win a game and can also instill real fear into the opposition. Virender Sehwag did play a couple of substantial innings, but the fact is that was a pleasant surprise considering his wishy-washy form in one-day cricket in recent times. With Sourav Ganguly having waned as a batsman and now hounded out of reckoning (why should he be made a pariah?), we seem to have a real problem of lack of solidity. The one silver lining, if that phrase can indeed be employed in the context of such a pathetic performance, was the bowling of Ajit Agarkar. I have had some uncharitable things to say about the Mumbai bowler, not entirely without justification, but he has redeemed himself in recent one-day series and bowled superbly right through the Sri Lanka and South Africa series. He harassed the out of form Sanath Jayasuriya no end, which is more than can be said of any Indian bowler with the exception of Javagal Srinath. The experiment with Rahul Dravid at the top of the order, in my opinion, is a hopeless gamble. Unlike other converted openers, Dravid is neither a natural striker nor one who can rotate the strike fluently regardless of the state of the game or the nature of the surface and can get bogged down every now and then. That he has emerged in recent times as one of the premier one-day batsmen in the world is a testament to his determination and skill, but to expect him to perform this role is going one step too far. He may yet prove us wrong, but I will be surprised if that experiment is not jettisoned before the world cup. One other question. If VVS Laxman was found to be out of tune with the requirements of the contemporary one-day game, especially given his proclivity for trouble with running between the stumps, how does the rotund Romesh Powar get into the scheme of things? Cricinfo even had an article romanticising his portly built, suggesting he was one of the last amateurs. What utter nonsense! - NK


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