I am baffled at the treatment meted out to Murali Kartik

K. SRIKKANTH

The World Cup represents a huge challenge for Indian cricket and, there is hope that the National side would perform much better in Southern Africa, where the pitches, from what I understand, will favour the batsmen more than the ones in New Zealand.

There could be bounce in the surfaces during the World Cup, but we are unlikely to witness as much lateral movement as we have seen in New Zealand. Actually, the bounce should encourage strokeplay.

My feeling is that the Indians will be a different side in the World Cup, and I expect them to make it to the last four. The side has the ability.

Coming to the selection of the Indian squad for the World Cup, it was on expected lines. However, it would have been so much better had Murali Kartik figured in the side, as the second spinner.

V.V.S. Laxman was probably unlucky to lose out to Mongia, but if you ask me it was a 50-50 selection, and you can argue both ways. Laxman, undeniably, is the more talented batsman, but Mongia scores with his fielding, and also a useful left-arm spinner.

Laxman did not help his cause by not making runs in New Zealand and I am disappointed at his performance, considering his talent level. However, he should not get disheartened by his omission since he has so much cricket ahead of him.

Mongia has received a golden opportunity to rejuvenate his one-day career, and the Punjab youngster should not let the opportunity go waste. He has to apply himself more than what he did in England and Sri Lanka, where he tended to play far too many strokes early on. The fact that he has come in for a major batsman like Laxman, should only make him more eager and keener to perform well.

Back to the exclusion of Murali Kartik, I am baffled at the treatment meted out to this promising left-arm spinner. He was easily our best bowler in the home series against the West Indies, when the bowlers of both sides were getting clobbered on placid wickets.

He operated with so much control and craft in that series, that I was surprised that he hardly was given an opportunity to present his case in New Zealand. Kartik neither figured in the only first class tour game nor the Tests and was soon catching the flight back home.

My point is he should have been a logical choice in the one-day squad since he made his comeback to the Indian side in the shorter form of the game and performed exceptionally well too.

Instead, the same bowler was picked for the Test match leg of the tour, and did not receive a chance and then was dropped from the one-dayers. Can you beat this? I hope Kartik does not get disheartened at the shabby treatment meted out to him, since he is too promising a cricketer to be left out for long.

However, I am happy to see Parthiv Patel being retained in the squad, and he can take the burden off the over-worked Rahul Dravid in the lesser games, during the league stage.

The opening slots can also be flexible, and if the team-management expects the pitch to be seaming around, then it wouldn't be a bad idea at all to have Sachin Tendulkar at the top of the order. He is the best batsman in the world and has the ability, technically, to cope with any condition.

The team has still to grabble with the problem of the all-rounders. Sanjay Bangar has had his moments, yet you cannot at this stage trust him to bowl his full quota of overs. Ajit Agarkar can bat and bowl with purpose on his day, but is far too erratic.

In a scenario, where the side plays seven specialist batsmen, then men like Ganguly, Tendulkar, Sehwag, and Yuvraj should be able to chip in with a few overs.

It would be in India's interests if youngsters like Sehwag and Yuvraj bowl a lot in the nets, so that they are prepared for the occasion when the captain asks them to bowl.

India's strength has always been batting and if the side plays to its potential then it can upset the calculations of a lot of teams. Like I said earlier, we should be able to make it to the semifinal, and beyond that it would be a case of the `better team on that day.'

However, the Indians will have to iron out some chinks quickly. Some of the fielding we saw in New Zealand was deplorable, and there is an urgent need for the Indians to set this aspect of their cricket right. Matches are won and lost on fielding, and though not everyone can be a Yuvraj Singh or a Mohammed Kaif, they can at least be safe fielders.

Another area we have often ignored is running between the wickets. If you look at sides like Australia, they are able to keep the scoreboard ticking along even when they do not play the big strokes, since they can pick the ones and the twos well.

Even if our cricketers cannot always do that, they can at least avoid getting themselves run-out during crucial junctures. Fielding and running between the wickets are vital areas and a side can only ignore these two elements at its own peril.

In the Indian bowling, I am happy to see Javagal Srinath, who should be playing in his fourth World Cup, in the squad. He is a quality bowler, and having been his room-mate on his first tour of Australia, in 1991-92, I can tell you that he is a committed cricketer, who gives his everything for the country.

In fact, I played with Srinath in the '92 World Cup, and even then, he displayed so much promise, bowled with so much fire. The coming event should be the final World Cup for Srinath and I am sure he would like to go out in glory.

Zaheer Khan, the left-arm paceman, has made rapid strides, and along with Srinath, is likely to provide a testing time to the batsmen. The pace attack should revolve around this pair. I expect Harbhajan Singh to play his part too with his off-spin.

The Indians have it in them to deliver in South Africa. I wish skipper Sourav Ganguly and his team all the best.