ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 9, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 41


Twelve months ago the Indian cricketers were in the dog house! Indian cricket was in turmoil as they were eliminated after the first round of the World Cup. It was Bangladesh who destroyed the opportunity for India. Their coach Greg Chappell had to stomach most of the blame and left with his cricketing record tarnished. The situation could not have got any worse.

Their recently ended tour of Australia did not start on a good note, in December last year. They were beaten soundly in the opening test. There were murmurings then that it was going to be a one sided contest and the Australian summer would be a failure, looking at it from all aspects of the game.

The Indians did not take that opening blow lying down. They worked hard to regain lost form and lost pride. As the series progressed they inched their way forward, until they were rubbing shoulders with the home team. Outside the actual playing side, two aspects helped their cause. Some of the players adopted a very aggressive attitude while the others obviously supported them. Secondly, the longer they kept playing in Australian conditions the more they adapted and the better they became.

Pitch conditions in Australia and South Africa are vastly different to those in the sub continent. Similarly weather conditions in England and New Zealand are vastly different to that of the sub continent, particularly during the first half of the season. Current tour itineraries do not provide for much practice and side games. A tour of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England, by teams from the subcontinent must give the players more playing opportunities.

Dhoni - hardly three years in the big time now leading India and Ishant Sharma a teenager with great potential, changing the face of the game.

Going into play international after a couple of games is not adequate. Time demands are such that it is not easy to fit in many games, but even two or three additional games with practices in between is of tremendous benefit for the players to come to grips with pitch and weather conditions. The Indians were touring for two and a half months. It was only after about the first month that their performances began to improve. They had traveled, played at different centers and experienced varying conditions and thereby overall the performances began to improve.

Similarly, going back to Sri Lanka’s last tour of England in 2006 that was another case. They lost the opening test by a big margin. Then came back and batted well in the second innings of the second test to achieve a draw and went on to win the third test. By the time the ODI’s came around the players were well and truly acclimatized and swept the board winning all the games. It is a point that must be taken into account when arranging future tours to those countries.

The Indians have stretched themselves to be openly aggressive to the Australians. They also target some of the players. In return the Aussies also seem to fire up when confronted by certain Indians. This series it went beyond control. Umpire Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson were also dragged in and became part of a major controversy which even threatened the continuation of the tour.Aggression in the game is necessary. It cannot be overdone. It cannot be demonstrative, in particular to influence spectators and millions of TV viewers around the world. The Indian aggressiveness is not evident when they play Sri Lanka. This means they put on a show when competing with the Aussies. At first it seemed they were getting carried away with their acting and the cricket was suffering. In the latter stages their aggression was controlled and it did have a positive effect and the Aussies felt the heat.

Master batsman Sachin Tendulkar has played for some eighteen years and hardly ever been wrapped in any major controversy. He must have been a calming influence on the junior players through this hectic tour. In the end it was his two majestic innings that paved the way for India’s success in the one day final series. He got out to a strange soft dismissal in the second game. That was the only blemish in two games. He had done sufficient by then and although not by much, his team ended as the ultimate winners.

The biggest satisfaction for the Indians was their recently caped and younger players coming good. The only experienced players were Tendulkar, Pathan, the two Singh’s Yuvraj and Harbhajan and Captain Dhoni. Even Dhoni has been around only for a shade over three years.

Robin Uthappa, Gautham Gambhir, Rohith Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Piyush Chawla and S. Sreesanth all contributed towards the success. Add Ishant Sharma, the tall paceman to that list and that is an awesome collection of players for the future. A point to make is that their domestic game is producing quality players of this caliber. They have taken a leaf out of the Australian book, giving opportunities to good young players and building plenty of reserve strength. India is on the move in the right direction. Sri Lanka take notice!!

* Ranil Abeynaike is a former Sri Lanka cricketer and curator of SSC

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