Back to the future
The time is ripe for the captain, coach and selectors to build Team India for the 2007 World Cup, writes Abhijit Chatterjee
The Indian selectors are no longer looking for short-term gains. The 2007 cricket World Cup is their top priority. A fairly new captain will lead a youthful Team India in the upcoming one-day series against Sri Lanka. Kiran More and Co. have preferred untried players over some of the seniors, which clearly shows that their aim is to build a team which can serve Indian cricket in the long run.
The selectors have opted to give captain Rahul Dravid a stint of 12 matches (seven against Sri Lanka and five against South Africa). Hopefully, the two series would enable him to settle down in the job he will probably have to do right till the 2007 World Cup.
For too long has Dravid remained under the shadow of Sourav Ganguly. Even after the series in Sri Lanka, where he led the squad, Dravid was asked to step down and the job of captaincy was handed back to Ganguly for the Zimbabwe tour. Not that it made much difference (India lost in the tri-series final to New Zealand).
Now that Ganguly has been ruled out of the squad not only by injury but also due to form, even if the selectors are not willing to say so, this is the time for Dravid to assert himself, draw his gameplan and inspire his young team to execute it.
As far as Ganguly is concerned, his return to the national squad depends on a number of factors — he has to regain his form and exhibit it in domestic matches before he is given an opportunity to play in an international.
It’s Chappell who is calling the shots, going by the exclusion of VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan. Laxman, who led India A during the Challenger series in Mohali, produced knocks of 48 and 110 but still failed to make it to the squad of 15. In his place comes Delhi’s Gautam Gambhir, yet to play a single one-day match, with scores of 10 and 21 in the two innings he played in Mohali.
Laxman is a slow starter, but once he gets going, there is no stopping him. The much-vaunted Indian top order is woefully out of touch. From Virender Sehwag — who did play a good innings in the Super Test in Australia — to Sachin Tendulkar, all top-order batsmen have not been among the runs of late. In the Challenger series, Tendulkar struggled in all three innings. Given the quality of the opposition (Sri Lanka) it won’t be surprising if Laxman is called up in the later games to give some stability to the Indian middle order.
Zaheer’s patchy form is surely a cause of concern. But there are reports that his attitude, more than his performance, is the reason for his exclusion. However, the selectors might still have to turn to him if the likes of RP Singh and rookie S. Sreesanth are unable to deliver.
Chandigarh’s VRV Singh could have been given the chance to perform at the highest level, but the selectors probably didn’t want two rookie fast bowlers bowling in tandem in an international match. VRV’s time will come but it should come sooner than later if the Chandigarh youngster is to make a place for himself in the squad well in time for the World Cup.
With the likes of Mohammad Kaif waiting in the wings nursing an injury, middle-order batsmen like Venugopala Rao and Suresh Raina, as also JP Yadav, who has the potential of becoming a true allrounder, have very little time to settle down in the squad. But to be fair to them, they must be given adequate opportunity to blossom if Team India’s vision for the 2007 World Cup is to become a reality.
The Super Series turned out to be a super turn-off. The concept was interesting but its execution was flawed. Far from being a competitive cricketing contest it ended as an one-sided affair with Australia steamrolling the ‘world class’ World XI without breaking into a sweat.
The ICC thought of holding this series to somehow end Australia’s domination of world cricket. The ICC bigwigs were confident that a star-studded world side could take on and even beat the Aussies. As England had already done that a few months ago, the outcome of the Super Series seemed a foregone conclusion. However, cricket lovers were completely stumped by the way the World XI stars "performed".
To ensure that the players took the series seriously, the ICC gave the series official status. But a brilliant display by the Aussies, coupled with an inept one by the world team, put paid to what was expected to be a thrilling contest.
Bringing together disparate players, who at other times are at each others’ throats, is easy but making them play as a team is harder. These are hard-boiled cricketers who are at the top of their game. Non-performance in such a series is least likely to tarnish their image or career statistics — they are already demigods in their country, if not the world.
Hence, motivating oneself to give one’s best for an "alien" team is difficult. For Australia, things were completely reverse. They had suffered a rare series loss to England and their players were under fire and under intense scrutiny. Several careers were at stake and another jolt would have sounded the death knell for the great team’s confidence. With their backs to the wall, the Aussies came out firing on all cylinders, showing scant respect for the world team and beating them convincingly.
The Super Series is supposed to be held every four years but if this is how the world side is going to perform then the ICC has to make a choice — either to give a quiet burial to such tournaments or try to make changes.
First of all the world team selection was flawed. Why select the the best players who have nothing to prove, like Brian Lara or Rahul Dravid. Give a chance to the likes of Mohammad Kaif or Yuvraj Singh. Such players are hungry for success and hence more motivated. With a good showing, they can convince selectors back home to make them regular member of their national sides. So they can be expected to give their best.
The selection of a captain is also very crucial. At the moment Michael Vaughan and Stephen Fleming are considered to be the best Test and one-day captains, respectively. Both of them were ignored. With the recent victory in the Ashes, Vaughan proved he is an astute tactician and his experience in tackling the Australians would have been invaluable.
Even the ICC has been disappointed by the result of the series. It is uncertain about making the Super Series a regular fixture. John Wright’s idea of having the best team take on the second best can also be considered.
The question is: will there be a team like today’s all-conquering Aussies in another four years? Australia will remain a dominant side, but not as impressive as the present one; England have the potential to become the number one team, and their tour of Pakistan, India and the return Ashes series will show whether they have it in them to reach the top. Under a new captain and with new faces, Greg Chappell-guided India can be a threat.
One thing is certain — in 2009, there won’t be a team as strong as the Australia of 2005. A team like Australia comes once in a generation. The gap between the teams will narrow down. So the need for a Super Series may not be felt.
Narain Karthikeyan’s first Formula One season both began and ended with a bang. He announced his arrival on the biggest track of them all by finishing 15th in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, where he was mobbed by excited Indian fans. In the concluding race, last week’s Chinese Grand Prix, he survived the biggest crash of his career.
Karthikeyan said the best moment of his first season was the opening race in Australia, and the low point was probably Canada, where he and team boss Colin Kolles had open disagreements and his car hit the wall.
"Things got a little bit messy in the middle part of the season with me and Kolles," he said. "But I think both of us came out and said we were interpreted in a different way and then everything calmed down.
"I made two mistakes in the season, where I hit the wall in Canada and Monaco, but 11 out of the 19 circuits have been new to me.
"I think compared to any other Formula One driver, this was for me a huge learning experience," he added.
"It was quite a tough season and I had my moments. The qualifying (11th) in Japan was quite good, I had a good race in San Marino and in Spa, I had a very exciting race."
Karthikeyan also claimed a little piece of motor racing history by becoming the first Indian to score points in Formula One when he came fourth in the six-car
US Grand Prix fiasco in Indianapolis. "Points are points and I am the first Indian to score them," he said. "I take everything as a positive and hopefully I can build on this for next year." — Reuters
Driving on the Formula One circuits was a big learning experience for debutant Karthikeyan
fter a delay of several months, the Indian Open is ready to tee off. The prestigious golf tournament will begin on October 27. In its 41-year history, the Indian Open has seen many brilliant performers and exciting contests.
P.G. (Biloo) Sethi of Delhi is the only amateur to have won it (in 1965). Ali Sher, also of Delhi, a hardcore caddy-turned-professional, is the only Indian to have won the title on two occasions, both at the Delhi Golf Club course, in 1991 and 1993.
Four other Indians have bagged the crown, two being caddy-turned-professionals—Feroz Ali (Kalka) and Vijay Kumar (Lucknow). The other two are Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa. Arjun won the title in 1999, while Jyoti came up trumps in 2000. Both are in good form and are strong contenders for the crown this time.
As Biloo Sethi shocked the professional field of golfers, the legendary Peter Thomson (Australia) went on record as saying that the Indian would be become a renowned name in world golf if he turned professional. Sethi, however, declined becoming a pro.
Sethi, a Major, was also a fast bowler of repute who hoped of playing for India. When England came in 1955, he thought he would get a call, but it did not come. He felt disappointed and decided to quit. Cricket’s loss was golf’s again.
When Ali Sher won the title, some called it a fluke victory. He silenced the critics by winning again in 1993. He was one of the unfortunate professionals who did not get a proper tax waiver.
In 1995 at Delhi, Mike Cunning showed his exemplary behaviour when he imposed a penalty on himself for something nobody had seen. He might have lost some money but he won a lot of respect. He was the real winner, although the title was bagged by Jim Rutledge (Canada).
Cunning had finished on 289, but the card said 288. He corrected it to 289, signed it and handed it in. The person checking it counted it as 288. The cheque was made on the basis of 288, not 289. The cheque was for $ 5,083. It was given to Cunning, but he declined to accept it.
Cunning had doffed the shot on the last hole but Gaurav Ghei (the marker) had not seen it. He put down four for him. Cunning corrected the total but he did not notice the four instead of the five.
The American played superbly in 2003 and eventually won the title with a tally of 270 (18 under). It was the best score since the tournament began in 1964. Last year, in March, 2004, Mardan Mamat (Singapore) won on 18-under 270.
Past winners Arjun Atwal (left) and Jyoti Randhawa are among the favourites for the Indian Open
With their comprehensive victory in the three-match one-day series and the one-off Test against a much-vaunted World XI, Australia have re-established themselves as the supreme power in world cricket. They have shown that the Ashes loss to England was just an aberration. The indomitable spirit of the Aussies saw them making a mockery of the much-hyped contest. Their performance has made the Australians the hot favourites for the 2007 World Cup.
Y.L. Chopra, Bathinda
The Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly spat was most unfortunate and detrimental to the interests of Indian cricket. Chappell’s remarks in an e-mail to the BCCI were unreasonable and uncalled for. Ganguly has successfully led the Indian team for the longest spell. He deserves a graceful exit. As far as Chappell is concerned, he has not done Indian cricket any good so far.
Surendrajit Singh, Phagwara