A resilient team

THE recent Australia-Pakistan Test in Colombo threw up an engrossing contest, and in the end, the famous Aussie resilience and that ability to fight back shone through yet again.

The Australians indeed are a combative bunch of cricketers and they have a fine skipper in Steve Waugh, who keeps the pressure on the opposition, irrespective of the situation. The Aussies rallied well under their captain.

There were stages on the last two days, when it did appear that the Pakistanis would be able to run away with it, but each time the match appeared to be slipping out of their hands, the Aussies managed a fightback.

The resilience of the Australians keeps coming to the fore time and again, and they have pulled off several victories such as the win in the Colombo Test. The Test had several outstanding performers.

Shane Warne was of course, the match-winner, and he is one spinner who has been able to perform in all conditions, except perhaps in India, where the Indian batsmen, led by Sachin Tendulkar, handled him exceptionally well.

He is an enormously confident customer, who is always prepared to take the challenge up to the batsmen. It is a matter of time before Warne crosses the 500-wicket mark, and it will be a wonderful achievement for this outstanding leg-spinner.

It was Shoaib Akhtar's super quick spell that brought Pakistan into the match. I had always felt he was a much hyped-up cricketer. However, this was a time, when he rose to the occasion.

The Pakistanis have also done well to invest in youth, and they do have some talented, young shotmakers, who showed they are not over-awed by the big stage. In fact, the Indians have done very much the same thing and the rewards are there for all to see.

Like one-day cricket, Test matches can be fascinating. There are so many changes in fortunes, that predicting a winner can often be hazardous. This was just the case in the Test at Colombo's P. Saravanamuthu Stadium.

However, it was sad that the people of Pakistan, where the series was originally scheduled, did not have the opportunity of travelling to the ground to witness the match. It is so important for the fans of the host country to see the stars in flesh and blood.

The ICC deserves credit though, taking into account Australia's apprehensions about playing in Pakistan, and finding out another venue.

The concept of Test matches being staged in a neutral country should always be kept as the last resort.

The Indians too in recent months have developed that desire to win, and I am convinced the side has the ability to win on a consistent basis, away from home.

In the last two 'away series' in West Indies and England, India scored Test victories in Port of Spain and Leeds and Ganguly's men have shown that they can get the job done.

They now have to win outside the subcontinent on a more regular basis, and only that will make them a formidable force. The Indian batting is in safe hands, with the youngsters only adding to the side's depth.

Importantly, the side now has a potent pace attack, that is so essential to win matches abroad, with Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra, having it in them to bowl sides out. And if there is some turn in the pitch, Harbhajan Singh & Co. can always get into the picture.

With the youngsters coming in, the Indians are a much better fielding side now, and there is more fighting spirit in the side now. Both in England, and during the ICC Champions Trophy, the Indians showed that they could find their way out of trouble.

However, there is an urgent need to groom an all-rounder and this is where Sanjay Bangar becomes so important. It will be in India's interests, if it persists with this gutsy cricketer.

Bangar has already shown that he has the ability to make runs under pressure situations, at the top of the order. His greatest asset is his temperament, and though not a player blessed with a great amount of natural talent, you can trust him to battle it out till the end.

Just the kind of cricketer India requires, at least in terms of attitude. In the Headingley Test, where India levelled the series, Bangar, in conditions where the ball was moving around, put up a stiff resistance, and it was his partnership with Rahul Dravid that set up a platform for the Indian win.

There was both seam and swing movement for the English paceman that day, yet, Bangar coped with the challenge more than adequately. If he can get the job done at Leeds, then he should be persisted with in India, where things become that much more easier for an opener.

However, the Indian think-tank, needs to get the best out of Bangar's bowling ability . At present, he bowls to a consistent line and does not provide easy offerings to the batsmen. He is a useful support seamer, but then, a genuine all-rounder would have to do much more.

It is here that Bangar could have a talk with someone like the great Kapil Dev and the suggestions he receives could help improve his bowling. I guess, he is a willing listener.

To be effective at the Test level, he has to add at least a yard of pace, and here, the physio and the fitness trainer, could chip in with their bit, enabling Bangar to build more muscles, develop his shoulder, and get stronger.

He has the basic ability with the ball, he gains lateral movement, can get the ball to reverse swing on occasions, and if he adds some more firepower, Bangar could solve the all-rounder puzzle, at least for the next couple of years.

During the Leeds Test, he did provide India with a couple of crucial breakthroughs, getting the ball to seam around quite nicely. However, it is in less conducive conditions where he will need that extra speed to prevent the batsmen from launching into him from the front foot.

In a country that been in constant search, often a futile one, of an all-rounder, a cricketer like Bangar deserves all encouragement. He is a simple, unassuming player, and I quite like his approach to the game.

It is important that we back the players with the right credentials. Bangar certainly gives nothing away on the cricket field. He has had to wait for his big break, and realises the value of an India cap. He is a hard-working cricketer, and, if given the opportunities, could deliver the goods for India.