Determining our mindset

RAJU BHARATAN

Sanath Jayasuriya ... a titan cut to size?-S. SUBRAMANIUM

HOW this game taunts the genuine achiever! Here we were, arguing that Sourav deserved a better send off. And there they sent out Sanath with a flea in his ear. TV, as the ruthless leveller, evidently feels fulfilled only when it pulls down the very one it's turned into a superhero. Of Sourav, it could perhaps be said that he had it coming. But Sanath — with what lack of feeling was he sent packing. Successive ODI scores of 27, 0, 15, 16, 8 & 19 offered reason for concern. But could they not have waited at least till the seventh ODI was over before cutting such a humble titan to size?

But no, Sanath Jayasuriya had to get the instant tele-message that he'd let down Sri Lanka as never before. For the viewing public, in the Emerald Isle, to enjoy the dubiously vicarious thrill of Sanath's being left with no face to show in that final ODI. What if the same Sanath, embarrassingly, came good seventh time out? So eliminate him from the Sri Lankan fray altogether — as a TV-devalued liability — by way of spot viewer appeasement. Well might Sanath Jayasuriya — as one till recently status-symbolic of the axiom that the meek shall inherit the earth — think it pertinent to repeat with Cardinal Wolsey: "Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the King, he would not have given me over in my grey hairs."

In the grey zone between East and West, meanwhile, did Sourav find himself. As Zaheer Khan, of all favourites, arrived as Sourav's Duleep Trophy tormentor. To get his own Sourav to `duck' twice took some Zaheer doing. But Zaheer's enlightened self-interest now lay in tele-distancing himself from Sourav. Even as Zaheer strove with might and main to win back his Test slot, did you discern that all the Greg-ODI experimenting was at No 3? Wasn't that the precise spot to be foreclosed, since one-down was where Sourav would have batted had he regained ODI favour? So in came Irfan Pathan at one-down (as India's neo-left-hander) to Nagpur-deliver with a career-best 83 off 70 balls (4 sixes, 8 fours). Next, Jaipur-promoted to No 3 stood Mahendra Singh Dhoni — to uplift Indian spirits with that unbeaten 183 off 145 balls (10 sixes, 15 fours). Who says Sourav alone is capable of big-hitting vs Sri Lanka (that Taunton 1999 World Cup 183 off 158 balls — 7 sixes, 17 fours)?

No way am I trying to belittle Rahul's remarkable captaincy achievement. After all, wasn't the whole nation a thralled tele-witness to the vintage way Rahul had his super-youthful team backing him to the hilt in the field? The Greg trail that Team India so blazed, Rahul should be sustaining against South Africa.

If only to ensure that Sourav's name does not ODI-crop up again! Remember, Sourav (during those seven ODIs vs Sri Lanka) was only out of public sight, not out of Rahul-Greg mind.

This much became manifest from the way Yuvraj Singh was next handpicked to occupy Sourav's No 3 niche in the Pune ODI. That the Yuvraj experiment came unstuck (10 off 10 balls, 2 fours) did not alter the fact that the underlying idea was to demonstrate that there were any number of claimants to Sourav's one-down perch. Why, Greg had even Virender Sehwag, as stand-in captain, taking up that No 3 position (22 off 22 balls, 4 fours) in the `Rajkotla' ODI. The juggling was carried to near-absurd lengths as Irfan Pathan (35 off 23 balls: 2 sixes, 4 fours) yet again batted one-down at Vadodara. The TV plea that this was done to please Irfan's home crowd (with the series clinched 5-1) flew in the face of Gregorian cricketing logic.

Zaheer Khan trying to win back his Test slot.-V. GANESAN

All credit to Greg and Rahul that almost everything they attempted worked. This bespeaks a captain-coach wavelength underlining a totally new spirit animating Indian cricket. Yet here was Geoffrey Boycott telling us that "Dravid is no captain at all"! Wonder how many of you heard Geoffrey persist in this astonishing line of TV reasoning — carried out at near midnight hour? So dismissive of Rahul's qualities as captain was Geoffrey that viewers were left pondering how such a shrewd judge of the game could lose all perspective where it came to Sourav-rooting. Geoffrey, was it really necessary to so run down Rahul to uphold "The Prince of Calcutta"?

But that is the way the mike unveils on TV today, every second channel flaunting a third opinion on India's captaincy. In the bargain, Sourav came to be roundly denigrated as "selfish".

Now, whatever you accuse Sourav of, you just couldn't dismiss his tenure as selfish, could you? In fact, it is the zonally selfless eye Sourav brought to spotting talent that created openings for Sehwag, Yuvraj, Kaif, Irfan, Balaji, even Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar in their salad years. But, now, only the Bulawayo Test politics Sourav played was pinpointed. As if India captains before Sourav had not indulged in politics at all! Even Tiger Pataudi does not escape targeting here — I will spare you the sordid details for now.

Point — each India captain reaches a stage where he looks a momentary misfit in the team. But is that any reason to forget everything Sourav, for one, accomplished? Crawford White summed up this typical TV-attuned Indian mindset tellingly when, in writing of Ajit Wadekar's downfall, he observed: "What horrifies me is why there should be such an abusive reaction" (to India's 0-3 whitewash during the 1974 English summer). "After all, Wadekar and his men have brought more sporting glory to India over the last few years than any Indian team in history.

They have beaten the West Indies, and England twice, in successive series. Such was the acclaim for these things that they received a glorious motorcade welcome on their last return from England. Surely there must be some appreciation left for these efforts. Surely it is grossly unfair to throw every sort of encouragement away at the first sign of failure."

I flesh out this Crawford White quote because Rahul, as the all-winning captain vs Sri Lanka, was repeatedly heard urging viewers not to get carried away. Rahul rationally ventured to prepare the nation for a possible turn of the tide. Rahul felt impelled to caution a nation in the grip of euphoria all over again. Ideally it is a Rahul-Greg wave that should be abiding. Yet Rahul is too seasoned a hand not to know all about the topsyturvydom that is cricketdom.

The captain has come on by leaps and bounds as a one-day player. But to expect miracles from Rahul, all along the line, is not ODI cricket. Indian cricket is on a roll as I write this. But the other side of the green — none knows it better than Rahul. India happily has a truly mature captain in charge. Yet even Rahul & Co are but human. Youth is only half the battle. The run-up to the 2007 World Cup is no piece of cake. Telly-crazy India needs to learn the virtue of measured restraint even as the nation celebrates the rout of Sri Lanka under a reacting rather than an acting Marvan Atapattu.