It is now or never

BHARATAN

NAJAFGARH was India and India was Najafgarh as (with 108 from 119 balls: 9 fours, 2 sixes) Veeru Sehwag brought down his balla with the same charismatic aggression as Zakir Husain his palms on the tabla. Such sweet music was the sound of his shots to Sehwag that, sadly, the chunky fellow felt fulfilled enough, weighing a ton. Indeed Veeru's Napier thrust looked just the foil to Rahul's rapier thrust. But Veeru kept coming and coming, leaving Rahul with no go but to go. Thus do we ruefully hindsight that 2nd ODI as Veeru's day here but not India's night in New Zealand.

The pity is that Veeru let Indian tongues Sehwag even after blazing a comeback trail all his own. For imagine an Indian victory on the Last Sunday of The Year (2002), when All India was a captive telewitness to Veeru's bravura. Such a win would have had the impressionable Indian audience forgiving Sourav & Co all their shortcomings during the 12 months past. In fact, that peak Sunday viewership had glimpsed, in the Sehwag embraced Mohammad Kaif (24 off 38 balls), the vision of Ajay Jadejazz as a `finisher'. This when Kaif's Gang Leader was in the dock with a duck. When his Lord's Running Mate Yuvey chose to `zero in' on Vettori in a display of Punjabiat calculated to leave even Sherry tongue-tied. Kaify still all but brought India home at Napier — all over again. This time in the ever rotund company of Sehwag.

Coca-Colap up with Sunny must Sehwag the home truth: " Never leave the job to others when you can finish it yourself!'' In this third-eye light, Veeru should have just stayed 108-put in the crease, letting Bajji run himself out to the pavilion. Yet how Fevicol stuck do we remain on the 2nd ODI when this mag unfolds with the 5th (Wellington) ODI over! Over to South Africa, no matter what be the rub of the New Zealand green.

Two Tests and two ODIs lost in swift succession distress me only so much and no more. As long as such setbacks ensure Messrs Sourav, Rahul, Sachin & Sehwag peaking at the right time in the Veldt. Meanwhile, just watch Aishwarya Rai peak on Fujifilm. As the `Luckpatni', here is a beauty willowy enough to reduce you to Ash! The grey areas in our cricket the Black Caps have underscored. For all the subtlety Martin Crowe brings to his commentary, he comes across as one keener than even Sir Edmund Hillary to see New Zealand climb! The NZ Establishment went so far as to `get at' John Wright while he was still Indian coach. John is paying the price, right now, for the New Zeal with which the Kiwis took on India from the word go. It was John's job to take the fizz out of any such New Zeal. John had failed to do that until the advent of the 3rd ODI on New Year's Day.

Only Jagmohan Dalmiya's India could send our team for a World Cup campaign with a coach accountable only till March 31, 2003. After that date with destiny, trust Selector Kirti Azad to BJPick on John Wright.

The `Team Samsung' thereby ceasing to be the Team Ramsung. `INDIA FIRST' acquiring an altogether different connotation in such a narrow screen setting. It is now or never, but do we see Sourav's India winning in South Africa? We have only to field the way we did during the December 29 Napier ODI to Kareena kiss goodbye to the World Cup. That slogan of "men in blue, do keep looking cute'' had the Kapoor Hepcat looking that much less of a Chocolate Charmer as we watched Sourav's India beaten `black' and blue in two ODIs as in two Tests. "Haar jeet to lagee rehtee hai — Koii pressure naheen!'' suddenly sounded a mere Pepsop. As the Devdas of Indian Cricket, V.V.S. Laxman (20 off 39 balls) still looked woefully undecided, his left foot moving out to meet Chandramukhi even as his right foot remained grounded, still rooting for Parbati!

An element of fatal double think there was about India's entire batting in the early part of the NZ tour. South Africa demands a far more certain approach. `Super Six' after six we need there, in match after match, from the super blades of Sourav, Sachin, Sehwag and Yuveraj. If we do make it to the `Super Six', we don't want a repeat of the situ by which Skipper Azhar was secretly told by the coach — going against the team decision — to opt to bowl first just when moving out for the toss. We don't want to insert an opposition like, say, Australia. Just to find ourselves up against a target of 283 and have Geoffrey Boycott back — only to tell us: "I don't see India making it!'' We want Sourav to lead from the shirt-front. We want action. We want results. There is no alibi for yet another World Cup loss --- fifth in a row.

The row with Sony has seen EspnStar raise its NZ coverage to a new high. `Cricket Ka Asli Badshah' EspnStar thus remains, given that high-water mark of `1000 Days of International Cricket'. But the counter image of `A Thousand and One Nights' is what Sony and Ruby seek to carry to the World Cup. The voice of Sourav's India has to rise above the din if it is to be heard as the healthy sound of bat meeting ball in a victorious vein. The nation will settle for nothing less than "Ek Cup Aur''. Even a player of Sachin's calibre, coming EspnStar oversold, has to stand up to Glenn McGrath and be counted. It is `Cup Double' or Quits.