Rahul & Greg — long haul ahead

RAJU BHARATAN

V.V. KRISHNAN

UNFOLDING to view as underarm was Greg Chappell's TV submission that Sourav could yet be back! Did continuing Sourav-backer Sunil Gavaskar not hit the nail on the foot when he wrote in his column that, in Indian cricket, there perennially arise situations by which the Electric Chair is warm again! In the hot TV commentator's seat for a while by then, Arun Lal could hold himself no longer. Casting all pretence of sounding neutral to the winds, Arun Lal sought to tele-know why there were two run-scoring yardsticks in India today — one for judging Sourav, another for estimating Sachin? Had Sourav in ODIs not — pinpointed Arun Lal — gone past the 5000, 6000, 7000, 8000 and 9000 marks in fewer number of matches than Sachin? Should some allowance therefore not have been made for Sourav's losing vim and momentum as he neared the 10,000 milestone?

How emotively judgmental everyone grew as Sourav, upon being Colombo-hit by the hardest-possible Windies cricket ball, probably first developed that tennis-elbow problem. A Colombo-carried Sourav injury that Greg Chappell was to query on the eve of the Bulawayo Test. I mean when Greg so Pandora's-boxingly ventured to suggest that Sourav, as India captain on tour, `go Zimbabwest'. Vice-cap Rahul poured bat oil on the troubled waters as he halted Sourav in his first-plane-back-to-India stride. Rahul gently but firmly made it clear to Greg that Indian cricket had its own time-dishonoured process of easing out the captain unwanted.

I speak as one who's been a sad witness to more than one India captain's disintegrating — in mind and spirit. As the form and content of such an India captain's cricket caught up with the man. From Polly Umrigar to Tiger Pataudi to Ajit Wadekar, I saw it ignobly happen to those once in total command on the field. Now the Corsican connection in our cricket between Sourav and Rahul we well know. At one stage, in the public eye, Sourav and Rahul became the inseparable twosome. When Rahul therefore ran into major problems in rotating the strike and, consequently, concretising his slot in India's ODI eleven, it was Sourav who ensured a new one-day future for his soul-mate. Sourav here came up with the ingenious, if dubious, idea of turning Rahul into India's ODI wicket-keeper — right into the 2003 World Cup. It is this rare sense of crony accommodation displayed by Sourav that created time and space for Rahul to solve all his ODI problems. Ultimately to make good, as India's near-immovable ODI property behind the sticks, by adding a few more innovative shots to his one-day repertoire.

Pay-off time for Rahul came when Sourav himself sensed his `bad patch' to be ominously widening into total loss of form and command. It is amazing how sensitive captains could grow in such a grim setting. Sourav here clearly expected Rahul to be supportive, all the way, while the captain laboured to come out of his batting throes. Only, Rahul too, meanwhile, had grown greatly in international stature. The fact that Sourav withdrew, almost overnight, from a couple of crucial Test matches (against Australia at Nagpur and Mumbai) put Rahul `on the spot' to deliver. Rahul thus got, by sheer performance, to build his own following in the India team. Following Rahul's gutsy occupation of the hot seat so tangentially vacated by Sourav. Once the captain and his deputy — while re-playing the game in their minds — fail to see third eye to eye, the divisions percolate down the order. The spectacle of individual Indian players speaking up for either Sourav or Rahul was not an edifying one.

Sourav ... could bounce back just when down for the punchout.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Today the myth of India's being the Best Test Batting Side In The World lies rudely shattered. As Sourav gropes for a fresh stance at the wicket, Rahul clearly finds himself out of his international depth, as manifest in the way he shaped during those three ODIs for the World XI vs Australia. Nor did Rahul (0 & 23) play anything up to his world reputation in that Sydney Super Test. Sachin himself has given just a Mohali hint that his finest shots are still intact. While V.V.S. Laxman — following his `knee' jerk Bulawayo reaction — is a victim of circumstances by which Greg Chappell has decided that it will be fielding, first and last, in Team India's run-up to the 2007 World Cup. Giving youth its head is fine as an idea whose time has come. But such a process means wholesale team-rebuilding. Such team-rebuilding carries with it a rider by which positive ODI results are not necessarily immediately forthcoming.

Short point — Rahul might not turn out to be the instant ODI win-fetcher that `the mob' in India expects its Sourav-banishing new captain to be. One fervently hopes that things do not turn out too bad, here, for Rahul. But pragmatism suggests that Rahul and Greg — in finding Sourav gone and Sachin to be still in the comeback mould — have a long haul ahead of them. As the 12 ODIs in which Rahul now leads India lay bare the unseasoned chinks in our armour.

Sourav, so long as he was there, was at least something of a shield for Rahul. Now Rahul has no Sourav cover. So Rahul and Greg alike must find that, with Sourav gone, the two have to carry the can. All by themselves. Here is where the buck now stops. So one can but hope that our youthful team comes of age sooner rather than later — under Rahul and Greg.

Such robust optimism is one thing, harsh realism quite another. Progressively Rahul, even working in better tandem than Sourav with Greg, must discover that seasoning is not something you replace over day-and-night even in instant cricket. No Sourav, no Laxman, no Anil, no Zaheer might, as a nostrum, momentarily look fine on bond paper. But when even the leavening of experience represented by Sachin is yet to fructify afresh, Rahul clearly has an unenviable leadership job ahead of him. Plus never totally write off Sourav. The man has a mean streak in him by which he could bounce back just when down for the punchout.

It was easy to sack Sourav. Possible to break with Laxman. Feasible to eliminate Anil. Permissible to dump Zaheer. But how, straightway, do you find ready substitutes for such vintage performers? The unvarnished truth therefore is that, if Sourav had things too much his own way once, now we have put all our eggs in one Greg basket. Egg in the face it should not end up as, as we look to have tinkered with our base team too much, too late, before the 2007 World Cup. Youth by itself is no panacea when the team is sick at heart. A sick idea, is it not to put even a total natural like Virender Sehwag on vice-captaincy notice?