The best-laid plans...
Dabhol Pawarkatkar - 04 March 2002
Sometimes, as Robert Burns theorised, the best laid plans
backfire. That is exactly what nearly happened with India at
Delhi on the final day of their Test against Zimbabwe. The pitch
was a typical Kotla wicket; no self-respecting herd of cattle
would go anywhere near it to whet an appetite. It was tailored to
be a spinner's paradise, and it behaved exactly as it was
supposed to on all five days. But the problem was that the
Indians nearly threw the game away with some extremely
uninspiring, insipid and boring batting.
Much more strangely, each delivery from the Zimbabwean bowlers,
especially Ray Price, was treated like a hand grenade. True, the
nasty nature of the pitch meant the batsmen could be forgiven for
thinking that it was not just dust exploding from the surface but
a real explosion. But so much for being the best players of spin
in the world; Saqlain Mushtaq, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ashley Giles
and Ray Price have, over the past three years or so, thrown that
reputation out of the window.
More credit to the Zimbabweans for slugging it out till the last
moment. They played wonderfully...or perhaps India let them play
wonderfully. The greatest batsman in the world, nearing a
dizzying batting average of 60 that would put him alongside a
certain Donald Bradman as the only batsmen with more than 5000
Test runs to have that kind of batting average, was reduced to
doing nothing more than attempting to ensure that he did not get
out to Price. I am not implying that Tendulkar chickened out,
just that he did not look comfortable facing up to Price.
The folly of serving up half-baked, crumbling, under-prepared
wickets has been exposed thoroughly by this inept performance.
What exactly have we gained from this series? Deep Dasgupta's
keeping remains as bad as ever, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble
will continue to bamboozle batsmen only at home. Admittedly,
Sourav Ganguly came back to form, Rahul Dravid came back into the
team, and Virender Sehwag showed signs of being surely destined
But Zaheer Khan bowled his heart out, as did Javagal Srinath, and
what did they get? Wickets on which the ball reached the keeper
on the second bounce (even accounting for the fact that it was
Dasgupta behind the stumps) on the very first morning of the
Test. There was a shocking lack of an attempt to try and groom a
few new players (aside from Sanjay Bangar), when, of late,
selection committees the world over have not balked at dropping
senior players to prepare for the future.
India still lacks a quality opener to partner Shiv Sunder Das, a
quality wicket-keeper, a good backup seam bowler, an alternate
leg-spinner and a left-arm spinner. Good Test sides are not made
only because of those who perform on the field, they are also
made because those who are not in the playing eleven put so much
pressure on the chosen few and force improvements in individual
and team performances. Sadly, there is no one in sight giving the
likes of Harbhajan, Kumble, Zaheer, Srinath or any of the batting
pillars a scare or two.
These cracks cannot be papered over for ever. As Malcolm X
famously said, "The future belongs to those who prepare for it
today." It really is up to those in charge of Indian cricket to
prepare for the future, lest we get left behind in the past, as
has been the case at hockey, where the best we can do now is
murmur "When we were kings ..."
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