LOTS OF WORK FOR INDIA TO DO IN A LITTLE TIME

GREG CHAPPEL AND RAHUL DRAVID... tough days ahead.-

There are 40-odd team meetings left for Rahul Dravid to revitalise his team. If, as is rumoured, Dravid is viewed as closer to Chappell than to his team, then that needs immediate rectification, writes ROHIT BRIJNATH.

If India's world revolves the World Cup, then here's how it stands: There are 140-odd days before the cup to find enough scotch-tape, nails, rope to somehow hold this one-day team together considering it's now lost 4 of 5 in the Caribbean, 2 of 3 finished matches in Kuala Lumpur and 2 of 3 in the Champions Trophy. (It's incredibly comforting that we actually won the last Test series we played, and overseas at that.)

In one sense it is reassuring that this is the same one-day team that set a world record for successful chases (i.e. this is a temporary blip, a minor planetary alignment issue), in another sense it is distressing they have failed to build on that form. That surely cannot be part of the process.

There are approximately 15 matches left to get our quick bowlers to figure line and length is not as complicated as Fermat's last theorem. Overreaction gets us nowhere, but India's public is entitled to its team at least knowing the basics. Furthermore, is there something in the Penal Code we are unaware of which forbids bowling coaches? If Australia can have one, humbly so can we. There are 50 practice sessions or thereabouts remaining for our batsmen to remember that taking singles is, incredibly, not a bad idea. We can pick on Mongia, and persecute Raina, but it's intriguing that not a single batsman in a batting country is in form. We staggered to 126-6 against England, limped to 223 against West Indies, and sweated to an inadequate 249 against Australia. And this is at home.

Furthermore, the occasional whinging about "insecurity" must cease. India's cricketers are outrageously well paid (and good for them), but occasionally forget that there is no guaranteed employment in professional sport, and no hugs after scoring a duck.

There are about 30 contemplative moments for Sehwag to have his hand read, lie on a couch and finally figure who he wants to be. Flasher-basher-dasher or good one-day player? Sehwag needs to be as smart as he is gifted, and figure there are more ways to make runs than impersonating Conan.

Match-winning is not just about decimating attacks, but staying the course. And with Tendulkar out of sorts, one opener at least must appear reliable. Sehwag is widely considered "captain-in-waiting", but he must be worthy of even this title, and a flat belly and being the vice-captain to Dravid that Rahul was to Sourav would be a fair start.

There are 85 meditative sessions for Greg Chappell to consider his philosophy's workability: does it need to be refined, does his salesmanship of it require tinkering. Great coaches (and Chappell's coronation is some distance) do not dust-bin core ideas in a panic, but something is awry if his team is not responding.

Admittedly, the altering of a cricketing culture and mindset and habits, all so deeply embedded, is an arduous process and we remain an impatient cricket country. Alex Ferguson took a while to forge a dynasty at Manchester United. But Chappell perhaps needs to do some changing, too, and this requires humility.

There are 40-odd team meetings left for Rahul Dravid to revitalise his team. If, as is rumoured, Dravid is viewed as closer to Chappell than to his team, then that needs immediate rectification. He can't bat for his team, but must go to bat for them; he can't find his bowlers' length but somehow he must get them in line. He is a hard-working, thoughtful captain, and he must investigate why his fighting spirit is not imitated by his team. Of course, maybe, perhaps, we're not losing because of whining, or lack of discipline and direction, or inadequate practice, or a coach's philosophies, but because we're just not talented enough. Or the players are not ready enough.

This gargantuan, well-fed, passionate machine that Indian cricket is, well, it's failing. We're top of the class at making money, having elections, preening about TV rights, berating the ICC (not always wrongly). But at developing players we get a F.

Considering our human and financial resources, we have the most stuttering production line in sport. The BCCI must think, a billion people, a passion for cricket, talent has to emerge. (Already we are pining for dear old VVS. Returning to the past to prepare for the future may seem a strange idea, but could Laxman do worse than some of his youthful peers has become an argument hard to refute.)

Since Kapil Dev (Test debut 1978), we've produced one great fast bowler, Srinath; since Nayan Mongia (Test debut 1994) we haven't produced a pure 'keeper of super standard; since Kumble (Test debut 1990) we've produced one capable spinner, Harbhajhan; since Sehwag (Test debut 2001) we haven't found a potentially great Test batsman.

And wait, in two years Tendulkar, Kumble, Dravid will be gone, then what? A West Indies-style collapse into cricketing oblivion? It is not the absurd thought it appears.

Certainly the most honest comment of the past year came from chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar last week, who said: "To be honest, India doesn't have exceptional talent now. There are good first-class players, but they are not up to international class.'' It is outrageous that he is right. The reasons are older than some of the faces on the board. Vengsarkar told this writer, on a day when Shane Warne was routinely turning out for Victoria, that "we play so much international cricket, they (the Indian team members) don't play zonal matches.

"But that's very important for India's growth because other players cannot improve without (the India players) playing. Who's taking wickets or scoring runs, you cannot judge them unless they are playing against senior players. At least for one month they (India team players) should play domestic cricket."

If not, we produce flawed cricketers, mentally and technically unready, and international sport is scarcely a toe-testing place. Inexperience is a weak explanation for failure. As Vengsarkar says: "At the highest level there is no sympathy. Once you get there, you have to compete with the best. You induct players when they're ready for international cricket, whether they're 15 or 21 or 18 it doesn't matter. Once inducted you expect the same results from them as any cricketers, you can't say you're young or just started."