Quite a few gains

Published : Jul 21, 2001 00:00 IST

AT the outset, let me make a plea on behalf of the Indian team. Let us not be very harsh in our assessment of this team's performance in Zimbabwe. There may be nothing to show in the shape of a trophy; nothing to show in terms of a title victory, but there were quite a few gains and that is what we have to look at. Indian cricket needs positive steps to keep the team moving in the right direction.

The Indians did prove a few things. They proved they had the potential to play well consistently. By winning a Test overseas in 15 years the team showed it had the skill and desire to prosper outside the sub-continent. The heartening feature of the tour has been the discovery of a couple of bowlers who have shown the guts to serve the team well in difficult situations.

If you assess the cricket on this tour, you would notice that India dominated play on all days of Test cricket except that one hour at Harare in the second Test. I am not the one to defend their loss but let us take the positive things out and support this young team.

If I have to find a major fault in this side, it is the failure of the players to perform well under pressure. There is a big question mark regarding India's performance when faced with pressure. After doing the hard work, they could not finish the job and that was not good for a team as talented as this. Losing four of the last five one-day finals does not speak well for the temperament of the side. It is quite similar to the situation that South Africa faced when they won everything on the road to the final. And then they succumbed to the pressure.

The greatest gain from this tour has been the discovery of players like Ashish Nehra and Reetinder Singh Sodhi. The fact that Zaheer Khan was able to handle the job well is a good sign for this young bunch of pace bowlers. Hemang Badani is another youngster who promises a lot and needs to be groomed. For Harvinder Singh, it was a tour which taught him a few things in professionalism.

It is this competition within themselves which augurs well for Indian cricket. It is a good indication that the second string is in place and it will only help enhance the level of the game.

With a long season ahead, it is time the National selectors gave a thought to having a couple of good openers to assist Shiv Sundar Das. It is a pity that the search still continues. If the Australians had faced such a situation, they would have gone back to their domestic cricket and picked a couple of replacements. We do not have such a system in India because of the attitude of the administrators.

We have to expose our young talent to bouncy pitches and hostile conditions to get the best out of them when they graduate to play Test cricket. At the cost of repeating myself, I would again appeal to the administrators to change the cricket structure so that we have a reservoir of talent ready to replace when the situation demands. We have to improve the state of pitches and get the 'A' team concept going again.

Looking back at the final of the triangular series, I don't think India failed because of the batsmen. It was a failure on behalf of the bowlers and it was always tough to chase 290 even if the West Indians had just three decent bowlers. It was the pressure of 290 that weighed the team down even though Sodhi and Sameer Dighe almost pulled off a sensation at the Harare Sports Club.

I think the Indians misread the conditions. It was not a sluggish and moist pitch they had reckoned it to be and made a mistake by electing to bowl. The surface made all the difference. The West Indians had planned well by including seven batsmen. Their bowling was thin and it was the right thing they did by packing the batting line up. And then Carl Hooper set a fine example by promoting himself and excelling in the middle-order. Hooper rotated the strike very well and he did with a minimum of risk. It was a collective effort by the West Indians which saw them pull off a fantastic victory.

Thanks to their batsmen, even their mediocre bowling looked so effective. With such a big total to defend, the bowlers were under no pressure really. The Indians had been outbatted by the West Indians. To overtake such a huge total, it was important for India to get a blazing start but the batsmen were not equal to the challenge. The moment India lost early wickets it became tough for the middle-order but credit to Sodhi and Dighe, the two salvaged some national pride with their stupendous batting and the humiliation and demoralisation was minimised ahead of the tour to Sri Lanka.

This Indian side is a young combination with some of the players just about beginning to learn the nuances of international cricket. True the consistency has not been a great asset when playing the big matches but there were plenty of areas which made the team look good most of the Zimbabwean tour.

The fitness level of the team has been high and it reflects in the improved fielding standards we have seen on this tour. I know the effort was missing in the final but there has been a marked change in the attitude of the players. They want to improve and they want to learn and that is what counts. I know Sunny bhai did not give them many marks for fielding but I am willing to back this young bunch all the way.

What stands out in this team is the commitment and players like Dighe and Sodhi have shown it with their abilities. Sodhi, especially, is the kind of player who will go through a wall if the captains commands him to. Indian cricket would do well with more Sodhis and Dighes.

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