The failure to finish off matches has dwindled India’s hopes of winning the Test series against the West Indies, writes Abhijit Chatterjee
INDIA'S cricket coach Greg Chappell has some explaining to do when the team returns from the tour of the West Indies. India not only lost miserably in the one-day series to a distinctly weaker team, but have also played below par in the Test series so far.
When the team departed for the Caribbean, it was said that the Indians had the best-ever chance of winning a series in the West Indies after a long, long time. It is of little use now complaining of the pitches or the weather, or even poor umpiring. The team’s performance has been much below expectations, except for occasional flashes of individual brilliance.
The way Harbhajan Singh bowled in the third Test at St Kitts, the coach certainly owes an explanation why the spinner was kept out of the team in the first two matches. True, Harbhajan has gone on record saying that he was not fully fit for the second game but the statement looked more of an afterthought.
Harbhajan’s bowling in the West Indies has been a revelation. His five for 147 in the West Indies first innings was indeed a stupendous effort, given the fact that Anil Kumble went wicketless after sending down 47 overs (three more than Harbhajan). Moreover, Harbhajan was thrust into the line of fire after missing the first two Tests.
Chappell has been talking of innovations ever since he has taken over. But in the match at St Kitts, when West Indies skipper Brian Lara gave India a target of 392 runs for a possible victory, India began with a bang but then gave up the chase abruptly. Instead of making an attempt to go for the runs with some imaginative changes in the batting order, the Indians decided to play it safe even when there were so many wickets in hand.
The way Virender Sehwag started off, it seemed that the instructions were to go for the West Indies bowling. Once he was out, the team was willing to play the waiting game. The Indians seemed to have forgotten that the hosts would not give up without a fight. The latter did fight hard in the second Test when it seemed that the Indian bowlers would run through their second innings without any difficulty.
One Indian player who stood up to be counted at St Kitts was Hyderabad’s VVS Laxman, who knew that he had to deliver if he was to remain in the squad after his poor performance at St Lucia (why other batsmen don’t face similar pressure after a couple of low scores is difficult to understand).
Laxman’s century in the first innings — his 10th in Test cricket — helped India save face at a time when the "strong" Indian batting line-up had looked fragile. In the second innings, he came up with a knock of 63 off just 108 deliveries when India had an outside chance of forcing a win against the run of play.
With Sachin Tendulkar
waiting to make a comeback in the Indian team, now that he has fully
recovered after the shoulder surgery, the coach will indeed have to do
some introspection to see what is best for the team. Time and again the
axe has fallen on Laxman despite the fact that he is one of the most
graceful cricketers of the modern era. This victimisation has to stop.
few goals more
When Germany outplayed Costa Rica 4-2 in the World Cup opener, many football lovers licked their lips in anticipation of a month-long goal feast. Alas, that hasn’t happened. At the end of the second round, 132 goals had been scored in 56 matches, well short of the corresponding figures of 147 and 149 for the 2002 and 1998 editions, respectively.
As many as six goal-less draws have already been played, while there were only three last time and four in France ’98.
The "revolutionary" Teamgeist ball — rounder, smoother and more accurate through the air than any football ever made, as claimed by Adidas — was supposed to be a boon for strikers and a bane for goalkeepers. However, the world’s top forwards have often failed to make its optimum use.
The much-vaunted Brazilian team managed just seven goals in three group matches (In 2002, they had struck 11 in the first round). Italy and England got through to the quarterfinals most unimpressively, with none of their strikers being at their best.
Some of the goalkeepers, on the other hand, have done their job quite well. Switzerland’s Pascal Zuberbuehler saw his team bow out of the World Cup even though he didn’t concede a single goal (not counting the penalty shootout against Ukraine). Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Ricardo Pereira (Portugal) and Dida (Brazil) have also kept goal-hungry forwards at bay.
Another factor that has kept the goal tally down is the virtual absence of any whipping boys. Only three matches of this World Cup so far have been won by a margin of four goals or more — Argentina ran over Serbia & Montenegro 6-0, Spain crushed Ukraine 4-0 and the latter, in turn, thrashed Saudi Arabia 4-0.
Minnows like Togo and Trinidad & Tobago made their opponents toil for every victory. Even in clashes between fairly matched teams, defensive tactics, poor finishing and good goalkeeping have resulted in low-scoring matches. Moreover, the record number of yellow and red cards indicates that there hasn’t been much clean, free-flowing play, with the Portugal-Netherlands match being the best, or rather, the worst example.
The way things are going,
the overall goal tally for 64 matches is not likely to cross the 150
mark. That would neither please FIFA nor the billions of football lovers
around the world. After all, goals are to football what jewels are to a
Look at your feet", screamed a renowned coach when a budding batsman executed a powerful cover drive. Pat came the pupil’s reply: "Sir, don’t bother about my feet. Look at the ball".
Budhi Kunderan, who died in Scotland on June 23 of lung cancer, was boldness personified. He was more unorthodox in his batting than in wicketkeeping.
Even when he opened the
innings, he concentrated on dominating the bowling. In wicketkeeping, he
was dashing and sometimes superb
Kunderan was a contemporary of Farokh Engineer, who was even more flamboyant. They were both daring and carefree. Had they been together at the crease, it would have been difficult for spectators to make out who was on strike.
Kunderan arrived on the Test scene with a bang. Coming in place of Nari Contractor, who was indisposed, he indulged in some robust hitting. He scored a quick-fire 71 in a total of 149 in the fourth Test against Australia at Madras in 1959-60. This was his second outing. What made him the darling of spectators was that he treated bowlers like Davidson and Meckiff with scant respect.
In the first Test against England at Bombay in 1961-62, Kunderan excelled behind the stumps. He claimed five victims — three caught and two stumped. It was then a record by an Indian wicketkeeper.
However, Kunderan was shockingly sidelined for the next four Tests. No one could explain why was he treated so harshly. In his place came Engineer, who was indeed a worthy wicketkeeper and dashing batsman. But why should Kunderan have been excluded after his record-breaking effort?
Kunderan went on to shine against England in 1963-64. He scored a hurricane 192 — then the highest score by an Indian against England — and claimed six victims behind the stumps. In the series, he headed the batting averages. In all he played 18 Tests. His exit came surprisingly.
Born in Mulki (Mangalore) on October 2, 1939, Kunderan was an even more prolific performer in domestic competitions. His highest was 205 for the Railways against Jammu and Kashmir at Delhi in 1959-60.
In just over a week’s time, one team will lay its hands on the coveted FIFA World Cup trophy. However, the tournament is not only about the performances of teams but also about individual accomplishments. FIFA has four awards to honour players for their heroics.
Of the four — Golden Shoe, Golden Ball, Yashin Award and Best Young Player Award — the football fraternity is looking forward to the newly instituted award for young footballers. The aim of this award is to recognise the impact made by young footballers in their first World Cup.
Who can forget the manner in which Iker Casillas, El Hadji Diouf, Landon Donovan, Samuel Eto’o and Park Ji Sung burst onto the scene in 2002?
This time, players like Lukas Podolski (Germany), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Luis Valencia (Ecuador) have carved a niche for themselves through their skills, style and charisma. Relatively little known before the start of the World Cup, they have now become household names.
Polish-born Podolski is partnering experienced Miroslav Klose in the German attack and has already struck thrice in his first World Cup. He scored his first World Cup goal against Ecuador and got two against Sweden.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who is playing with big names like Luis Figo, is considered as the hottest young talent in world football. He prefers to play a more free role — complete with a wide variety of tricks such as step-overs — than usually expected from a winger. He scored his first World Cup goal against Iran off a penalty kick. He is not known for his on-field acticities alone. He was named the sexiest player of Euro 2004 by Gay Krant, a Dutch gay magazine.
Luis Valencia is regarded as the future of Ecuadorian football. The attacking midfielder has earned highest votes so far in the FIFA poll for the award. Though he failed to find the net in the World Cup, he scored two goals in a qualifier against Paraguay, helping Ecuador win 5-2.
Lionel Messi, who is often touted as the new Diego Maradona, witnessed Argentina’s opener against Ivory Coast from the bench. In the next match against Serbia & Montenegro, he helped Hernan Crespo score a goal within minutes of entering the game as a subsitute and later scored one himself to seal a 6-0 victory. Before the World Cup, he had already proved his worth by winning Golden Shoe and Golden Ball awards in the FIFA World Youth Championships, where he helped Argentina win a record fifth title.
It was a mission accomplished by the Indian hockey team. Coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran had set the target of a podium finish in the eight-nation Azlan Shah tournament, and his players didn’t let him down.
The eight-day competition, that included Olympic champions Australia and European powerhouse Netherlands, besides Argentina, New Zealand, South Korea, Pakistan and Malaysia, was the last opportunity for Bhaskaran to test his side against big teams before the World Cup in September.
Bhaskaran, who was appointed coach earlier this year, took the team to Monchengladbach, Germany, the venue of the World Cup, for a four-nation tournament in April. India finished third in a field that contained Argentina and Spain, besides the hosts.
"Over the next three months, we will be working on rectification of our mistakes and weaknesses that showed up in the Azlan Shah tournament," Bhaskaran said.
For India, the biggest positive from the sojourn in Kuala Lumpur was the emergence of a trio of young forwards in Shivendra Singh, Hari Prasad and Tushar Khandekar.
India’s overall performance in the Azlan Shah tournament was also affected by the lacklustre show of two key players, skipper and full-back Dilip Tirkey and midfielder Viren Rasquinha, both back in the team after a six-month break.
"The two players need to improve on their physical fitness, though one must make allowance for their long absence from international hockey. They have three months from now to the World Cup to get back to peak fitness," Bhaskaran said.
He conceded that the absence of a quality centre-half who could hold the ball and dictate the flow of Indian moves was a key issue.
Bhaskaran’s gamble of rotation of players in the field that called for switching positions was a definite pointer to his tactics in the World Cup.
"I tried out various combinations and if I can get a couple of more ball players like Tejbir Singh and Arjun Halappa, I think our team will be in much better shape for the World Cup. The only problem now is lack of time. We have just three months," he said.
The coach pointed out that drag-flicker Sandeep Singh had been improving steadily.
Apropos of the news item "Dutch clinch title; India finish third" (The Tribune, June 26), the Netherlands recorded their maiden triumph in the Azlan Shah hockey tournament by outclassing defending champions Australia 6-2. The Dutch players elevated the competition to an extraordinary level of excellence. Never in recent memory have the Aussies been subjected to such embarrassment.
India prevailed upon New Zealand and finished third. India last finished on the podium in this tournament in 2000. A hard-working midfield contributed immensely to the outcome. Right-half V.S. Vinay put up a flawless show. Equally impressive were Prabodh Tirkey on the left and Vikram Pillay in the centre. Goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza also performed splendidly. A couple of saves he effected were superb.
Iqbal Singh Saroya Mohali
Focus on ODIs
The Indian cricket team plays Tests like one-dayers and vice-versa. One-dayers are of greater significance for India as the next year’s World Cup would be held in the Caribbean. Hence, the players should concentrate on the shorter version of the game in the near future.
Y.L. Chopra Bathinda