How 'emerald' is our 'isle'?

Published : Jul 28, 2001 00:00 IST


IF the game is indeed greater than the individual, the Sachinless India of Sourav should have provided proof positive of it by now - in the determinant week in which this Saturday of reckoning views us (at colliding Colombo) try Triseries conclusions with Sri Lanka, following the face-off with New Zealand on Thursday. India sans Sachin is like playing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, so how "Emerald" is the "Isle" for us right now? Has Amay Khurasiya dispelled the impression that Sourav paid him the left-handed compliment only because (right then) the Indian captain was not quite confident of bringing off the big shots himself? I do remember Bishan Singh Bedi telling me - around the time Sourav staged his June 1996 Lord's Test comeback for India with that super 131 - that Amay Khurasiya was the most exciting striker of the cricket ball in our country.

Amay at least has nothing now to lose. Yuveraj Singh, on the other hand, must strike while the ball is red, for it is a myth to reason that your fielding alone could sustain you in the Indian team. A fielder of Eknath Solkar's calibre (55 holdings from 27 Tests) made this not-so-catchy discovery too late in his cricketing life and times. Where Yuveraj's Nairobi bat has been venturing to rediscover the fluid touch fetching him that 84 (against Steve Waugh's Australia) during the Saturday of October 7, 2000, in the Mini World Cup turnabout encounter, Venkatasai Laxman faces a challenge falling in a plane altogether different from the one in which his feather-touchdown at Eden came with 59 and 281. Sri Lanka is the ideal batting platform for Laxman to put his injured finger on what went wrong in Zimbabwe. Went so wrong that Rahul was able to regain all the ground that Laxman looked to have cut from under his feet. Rahul's style and science are such that even Laxman is left admiring this technician's approach from the other end.

But matters do not end with living and learning, in the middle, from Rahul. For, at that other combative end, Laxman could well find Sachin materialising, anew, around this time in Sri Lanka - knowing, as we do, "Tehalkar" Tendulkar for the restless spirit he is! Sachin has the supreme gift of being swiftly bored, watching others perform on TV, when he himself could go to Colombo and crucially deliver telling blows against Sri Lanka, come the Wednesday of August 1. By which I mean that Laxman needs to have lived down Zimbabwe to "strike a balance" by the time this sees the light of print. The early-2001 Test and one-day series alike in India (20 & 12; 59 & 281; 65 & 66; then a stunning one-day-to-day sequence of 45, 51, 83, 11, 101) were tele-evidence of Laxman's providing the healthiest competition to Rahul and Sachin. So much so that Steve Waugh saw, in Laxman, a "live" TV threat to Sachin, zeroing in on the tour of Zimbabwe (with its seaming wickets) as, for this Hyderabad swinger, the acid test. Test scores of 28 & 38 at Bulawayo, then 15 & 20 at Harare, saw VVS fail to pass the Zimbabwe light-meter check. His 18 (off 22 balls) on his return to Harare for the one-day decider had Laxman perishing tamely, rather than bravely, after a fair look at the Windies bowling.

I know Laxman, by temperament, is one to follow in the footsteps of G.R. Visvanath rather than those of Sunil Gavaskar. International cricket, for Laxman, could never be, I suppose, the passion and mission it is with Sachin. But viewing votaries, VVS, judge your India commitment by how concerned you look when you get yourself out. Sunil Gavaskar hit the bail on the head when he observed that "every failure must hurt like hell" for you to score next time out. I sincerely hope VVS has done enough in Sri Lanka, by now, for Zimbabwe to abide as an aberration. From someone so wristy and willowy as Laxman, Great Dickensian Expectations we now have, that is why we turn the mirror of critical-analytical scrutiny so harshly on VVS's benign countenance. Take a look, Lax, at how Rahul treated your meteoric rise, in Indian esteem, as a vibrant wake-up call to reassert his own batting bonafides. Even Sourav must know that either Britannia now rules the Sri Lankan waves or the Indian captaincy cause is lost for all South Africa to come. Sourav could not rationally expect Amay, left-handed, to cover up for him the way Krish Srikkanth, right-handed, did for Sunil in the December of Gavaskar's career.

August augurs that Sachin is still far from the December setting that Sunil reached, in mid-1987, with that vintage 188 for the Rest of the World at Lord's to cherish. So, before Lilliputian Sachin bounces back as the Brobdingnagian all over again, Sourav and Laxman alike have to get their act together, drawing their impetus from Rahul. It is all very well to temporise and note that in Sachin's sudden disappearance lies the big chance not only for the team's established order. So far, only briefly has Sachin not been really missed by India - when Laxman, as the thoroughbred lagging inexplicably behind, made every post, from Eden to Chepauk, a winning one. The one-dayers vs Australia that followed witnessed Laxman sustain the aura of the run millionaire. That, becomingly, brought the Indore best out of Tendulkar as one in "The Upper Ten." If no part now of the TV set, Sachin still is very much in our mindset. Could Sourav, Rahul and Laxman (alongside the aspirants to telestardom) be trusted to do enough, in Sri Lankan terrain, to make us momentarily forget Sachin?

The only parallel I can recall to India's going without Sachin is the West Indies being without Vivian Richards - in March 1988 when running, at home, the gauntlet of Imran Khan's Pakistan. Gordon Greenidge (who took over from Viv Richards as captain) had never, with his public education background in England, been considered, by the West Indies team, to be "one of the boys." In fact, Gordon Greenidge, by early-1988, had begun to lose interest in his career, weary of being viewed as rating "second best" to Viv Richards. So apathetic had Greenidge grown that he did not seem to retain the urge to join even The 6000 Club. With 5769 runs (ave. 48.07) then from 134 innings in 80 Tests, Flash Gordon was viewed to lack the motivation to add substantially to his tally of 14 hundreds and 30 fifties for the West Indies. Viv Richards by contrast - with 21 Test hundreds and 30 Test fifties in a tally of 6767 runs (ave. 52.86) from 137 innings in 92 Tests - was still at the peak of his powers. I focus on Richards-Greenidge's Test figures here because, though it was the one-day West Indies-Pakistan face-off (in March 1988) that came off first, the three-Test series to follow vs Imran's Khan's formidable touring team was the one being balefully eyed as the Battle of Bouncers by the cricketing world.

Things looked hunky-dory enough for the West Indies as Viv Richards was named captain and even played the first one-day international. However, as Viv scored 15 off 20 balls, it was noticeable that he was not, physically, quite at ease - centrestage. It was as Viv Richards, after that, went in for some swift surgery that Gordon Greenidge seemed to regain all his lost zest for the game! The West Indies had won that first one-day international under Viv Richards. Now, as Gordon Greenidge led with insight and imagination, Viv Richards was hardly remembered. In fact, under Greenidge's elder-statesmanly captaincy, the West Indies proceeded to make a clean 5-0 black sweep of the one-day series. Greenidge's 35 off 64 balls (5 fours) in the second one-day international; his 27 off 37 balls (4 fours) in the third match; and - with the series already clinched 3-0 - his 51-ball 66 (3 sixes, 7 fours) in the fourth game (after Pakistan had totalled 270-plus) left Gordon's imprint on the rubber as a leader of men. His 26 not out off 23 balls (4 fours) in the fifth and final ODI came with the air of a man who knew that the West Indies had been as decisively dominant under his leadership as under that of Viv Richards.

In such a setting, Viv Richards' saying he was going to be back for the first Test (at Georgetown) sounded a statement singularly ill-timed! Viv finally stayed off, discerning perhaps that he still lacked the match fitness to take on the rejuvenated Gordon. But as Pakistan, thanks to Imran Khan (match figures: 37.2-2-121-11), won that opening Georgetown Test by nine wickets, Greenidge (17 and 43) shed some of his lustre, resigning himself to the Viv inevitable. Once Viv Richards resumed command in the two remaining Tests (at Port-of-Spain and Bridgetown), Gordon Greenidge (1 & 29; 10 & 35) looked to be losing his bearings afresh. Gordon was "just not there" as Viv Richards (49 & 123; 67 & 39 upon his return in the second and third Tests) batted imperiously enough to help the West Indies draw the series, 1-1, after the Port-of Spain match had been all but won, following his hitback hundred. (Pakistan, at 341 for 9, was still 30 runs away from it all.) True, the West Indies went on to clinch the final Bridgetown Test by only two wickets, but Viv Richards, by then, had stamped his authority on the series and was, indubitably, the game's numero uno still.

That is the position Sachin has to retain - depending upon how things now go in Sri Lanka. The West Indies, early in 1988, could manage (at least in the one-day series) virtually without Viv Richards. Could Sourav's India, in mid-2001, likewise manage without Sachin? Or does Sourav need Sachin to rejoin the team, in the final phase, to bale out India - all over again - in the "Colombone" of contention that is next Wednesday's interface with Sri Lanka? This Saturday's keynote contest against the same Sri Lanka should help us get a visual feel of how much punch our men pack when Sachin is no longer in the ring. A ringside view of the "Colombout" is what Sachin thus gets to "monitor"! Wide-eyed stares Sachin at the small screen, "remote-controlling" his future from the Anjalic ambience of his new West Bandra home - looking almost a ball's throw from his Kalanagar Road to renown.

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