IN THE NEWS
State of disgrace
Team India’s preparations for the World Cup have been thrown into disarray with a string of humiliating defeats, writes Abhijit Chatterjee
Whom does one blame for India’s miserable show in the one-day series against South Africa? How can a team which not so long ago seemed strong contenders for the World Cup fare so poorly barely three months before the mega event? And even if one makes wholesale changes in the squad, can India pull something out of the hat to reverse the downslide?
The batsmen and the bowlers, of course, have to take the major part of the blame for the poor show, but coach Greg Chappell cannot defend himself with the dictum that it’s the players who have to perform for a team to win. His coaching, if one may call it so, his strategies and also his future vision have all taken a bashing as India slumped to their worst-ever rout in recent times. The 4-0 drubbing (thank God the first match of the series was washed out) was the first whitewash that India suffered in an ODI series since the one in Sri Lanka (1997-98) when the visitors were crushed 3-0. And now one hears of whispers that the players lack motivation and have attitudinal problems which are difficult to iron out. Isn’t it the coach’s job to motivate the players to excel. But has Chappell been able to do this?
With this defeat, Indian cricket has come full circle and is now looking down the barrel with the World Cup round the corner. A new coach obviously cannot be summoned at this stage and nor can new players, who might be able to come up to the expectations of both the team management and the national selectors, be picked and trained for the big event. Dilip Vengsarkar, Chairman of the Selection Committee, has gone on record to say that although the country has a big base of first-class players, there are not many of them who can be pitchforked into the highest level of the game.
It is for this reason alone that the selectors had to summon players like VVS Laxman, who was rushed to fill the void in the one-day team after skipper Rahul Dravid was injured midway through the series, and deposed captain Sourav Ganguly, who has been inducted into the Test squad in the fond hope that he can do what the youngsters failed to do in the shorter version of the game. It is in the interest of Indian cricket that these two players perform in the three-match Test series because if they do so, the short-term problems facing Indian cricket can probably be sorted out.
It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly went wrong with the team, but the statistics speak for themselves. Not only did India do poorly in all ODIs but they also failed repeatedly to bat the full quota of overs. In the last match at Centurion, they managed to play 50 overs only because of Sachin Tendulkar’s uncharacteristic half century. Sachin himself would not be very happy with his 97-ball 55, but then compared to the effort of the others it was indeed a gritty knock. There is no doubt that Sachin is no more the batsman of old and he cannot fire on all cylinders every time he comes out to bat. He will have his good days and bad days and the team management has to understand this.
But the Board of Control for Cricket in India has also to take some of the blame for the debacle as it failed to organise a camp before the team left for South Africa. True, the players did ask for some rest after the tri-series in Malaysia and the Champions Trophy, but the powers that be should have realised that the strips in South Africa would be altogether different than those in the subcontinent. The board should have held a camp at a centre with a grassy track (say the PCA Stadium at Mohali) to prepare the team for the gruelling tour of South Africa. Instead, the players were allowed to attend celebrity events and television shoots.
At the conclusion of the one-day series, Chappell gave no excuses for the miserable show. He even discounted the fact that the team did not attend a pre-tour camp at home and the effect it had on the overall performance. He was frank enough to say that it was up to the team to fight back, but he was ominously quiet to the fact that his constant shuffling of the batting order was, to a large extent, responsible for the lack of self-confidence among the players.
India’s dismal show in the series can be gauged from the fact that only one batsman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was able to score more than 100 runs, 139 to be exact, in the four matches. Dhoni, not at his best, had an average of 34.75 and a strike rate of 95.86. Behind him was Sachin Tendulkar, who looked a pale shadow of his former self but redeemed himself somewhat with the fifty at Centurion. He had an unimpressive average of 23.24 and an ordinary strike rate of 58.12. Rahul Dravid was able to play just two matches in which he scored 81 runs (average: 40.50, strike rate: 63.28). At the fourth position was Irfan Pathan with 55 runs from three games (average: 27.50, strike rate: 42.85). One name missing from the top performers (if one may call them so) is that of Virender Sehwag. His poor form with the bat in the series saw the selectors stripping him of the vice-captaincy so that in case Dravid was unable to lead in the first Test, the job would be done by Laxman.
If the batsmen performed poorly, the bowlers were no better. On at least two occasions, they had the opposition on the back foot but were unable to land the knockout punch. Except for Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble, no bowler was up to the mark.
Where does Indian cricket go from here? It’s a difficult question, but the answer has to come from the players more than the coach. The team members must return to the basics and try not to repeat their mistakes.
THE only bright spot for Team India in the nightmarish one-day series against South Africa was the return to form of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan. Irfan Pathan’s continuing slump and the fragility and inexperience of Munaf Patel put the burden of opening the bowling attack squarely on Zaheer’s shoulders.
An overweight and hopelessly out-of-form Zaheer had been dropped after the series against Pakistan early this year and he was brought back on the basis of a good performance in English county cricket and a decent track record in South Africa.
With Pathan showing no signs of regaining his touch, Zaheer was the only bowler who could deliver the goods for Team India, and he did with fiery opening spells which rattled South African top-order batsmen, particularly captain Graeme Smith.
Zaheer had him leg before wicket four times, including the Twenty20 match. It was only in the last one-dayer that Smith finally got going. Had Zaheer not got him cheaply earlier, things could have been lot worse for India. Zaheer finished the series with six wickets at about 30 runs apiece — the best figures by an Indian bowler.
Zaheer has often thrived on seamer-friendly pitches. He was the pick of the bowlers in the series between Asia XI and Africa XI in South Africa last year.
With team morale hitting rock bottom, Zaheer has to carry his form to the Test series to inspire the players.
HIS idol is none other than Tiger Woods, and the aim of his life is to step into the champion’s shoes one day. Budding golfer K Raghav Bhandari, all of 14, knows he has a long, long way to go, but he seems to be on the right track.
Raghav, a Class VIII student of St John’s High School, Sector 26, Chandigarh, is the Indian Golf Union’s (IGU) number two player on the junior circuit after Bangalore’s Chika Rangappa.
"I need to win two tournaments to become the number one. Hopefully, I will be able to do that," he says confidently.
Thanks to his high ranking, he will represent the country in the Asian Junior Masters to be held at Kolkata next month and the Asia-Pacific Golf Tournament scheduled to be held in Hong Kong in May next year.
Interestingly, Raghav, who started playing golf in 2001, did not like it initially. "My father, Vivek Bhandari, an advocate in the Punjab and Haryana High Court and a golf enthusiast, used to wake me up early against my wish and take me along to the course," recalls Raghav. However, he gradually developed interest in the sport and put up good performances in a succession of events.
In 2002, he participated in the IGU tournament at Jay Pee Greens, Noida, where he secured the second position in Category D (below 11 years). The next year, he again finished number two in the country in the same category. In 2005, he won top positions in three IGU tournaments. He also remained second in the Northern India Junior Sub-Junior Tournament held at Army Golf Club, Dhaula Kuan (Delhi), the same year.
In 2006, he maintained his winning spree and secured his number two IGU ranking. He stands a good chance of becoming the number one if he wins the All-India Golf Tournament at Bangalore and the Western India Golf Tournament at Mumbai to be held later this month. No wonder he has been practising for over three hours daily at the golf course.
Raghav has also been Chandigarh Golf Association (CGA) junior golf champion for the past five years.
Raghav believes that practice alone does not make a golfer perfect. He also reads books written by the world’s best golfers and watches CDs related to the sport to improve his game.
"I have been lucky to play with the likes of Jeev Milkha Singh and Harmeet Kahlon, who provided me with valuable tips," he says.
Jeev’s recent exploits in Asia as well as Europe have also been a source of inspiration for Raghav.
When he is not on the course, he is busy practising at his miniature course at his house, where he has installed state-of-the-art equipment.
"The game has not only made me disciplined but has also helped me to develop my personality," says the teenager.
Koneru Humpy, who became the toast of the nation by winning India’s first gold medal at the 15th Asian Games in Doha, has now set her sights on winning the World Chess Championship, which she said, will be her biggest challenge.
The 29-year-old Humpy won the coveted gold medal in the women’s rapid chess tournament and promptly dedicated the win to her parents who have always been a source of inspiration to her.
"I am very happy with this gold medal. My ambition was to get the gold and I was confident of getting it, particularly after I started off well," said Humpy, who became Asia’s youngest International Master in 1999 and India’s youngest Grandmaster in 2001.
"The win is because of my father, who coached me, and my mother, who was always next to me to give me emotional support," she said.
The Vijayawada-based player was composed and relaxed as she went into the final day and was aware that excitement or trying too hard could have an adverse effect.
"I was in fighting spirit in the last few rounds and I feel chess is gradually becoming an important sport in India.
I have won many medals but this win in the Asian Games is very important," she said.
"I hope this win will also help more youngsters to take up the game. If you have the required talent, you can have a good future," she said.
Humpy, the recipient of the Arjuna Award in 2003, regards Judith Polgar as her idol and has learnt a lot from her during her career.
"I admire Judith. She is a very good player, competing against men in open tournaments. I want to follow her example and play in men’s tournaments too," she said.
The gold medal at the games was all the more special for Humpy as rapid chess was never her forte.
"Earlier, I was not so good in rapid chess, but I practiced a lot and now I am really good at it. Of course, you can keep improving and there is no end to learning."
On her main rivals in the Asian Games, the unassuming chess wondergirl said: "I faced tough games against Chen Zue of Qatar and Zhao Xue of China, but came up trumps."
After the games, Humpy will take part in the Singapore Masters tournament next month. — PTI
THE Indian cricket team badly needs a change in leadership both at the team and board levels, besides a change in the selection process. Defeat is no doubt part of game, but it is very hard to digest a succession of defeats.
The outburst of MPs as well as cricket fans shows how gravely the debacle in South Africa has stunned the nation.
Despite the huge amount of money spent by the BCCI on the players and the large number of working hours wasted by people to watch the game in the stadium or on TV, Team India has come a cropper time and again recently.
It is for the cricket board to investigate and take corrective measures to stem the rot.
Ramesh Chander Rabra, FARIDKOT
Indian MPs are not justified in blaming coach Greg Chappell alone for India’s humiliating defeat in the ODI series against South Africa. Among these MPs, only former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu has criticised the functioning of the BCCI and the team.
Indian pitches are woefully inadequate for training players to face top-class fast bowlers on bouncy pitches.
Why slam Chappell alone? Team India has been let down by the irresponsible and cavalier attitude of so-called star players like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag.
LR Handa, GURGAON
Kudos to Pakistan’s Mohammad Yousuf for breaking the 30-year-old record of West Indian legend Vivian Richards, who amassed 1,710 runs in a calendar year. Yousuf made 1,788 runs in 11 Tests and struck a record nine centuries during the year.
Subhash C. Taneja