Sleeping beauties

"While Sachin Tendulkar's form was worrying, I suspect he is going through a process of change that some of us may or may not agree with, V.V.S. Laxman's presence was reassuring and beautiful." -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

SOME things are good for fairy tales only, sleeping beauties are among them.

SOME things are good for fairy tales only, sleeping beauties are among them. In the world of cricket they are a hazard, a menace, and, like the many goblins in such fables, must never be seen again. We had two such monsters, not one, and they could only have come from people who do not enjoy good cricket because the ultimate truth in the game is that good pitches provide good cricket. Somnolent pitches provide the India-New Zealand series we just saw and will very quickly forget.

Mohali worries me more than Ahmedabad did because the administration there loves cricket and it was appropriate, and expected, that Mr. Bindra admitted there had been a mistake. His ground has one of the better groundsmen in India in the former cricketer Daljit Singh which is why his prediction of a result wicket came as such a surprise.

The two tracks we have had beg a larger question though. How deep does the ownership of Indian cricket run? If you regard Indian cricket as a product, and we do that occasionally, while you must be concerned about marketing and revenues, you must be just as concerned at the image you portray and that envelops many dimensions; the right playing surfaces, sponsorship partners, media partners, player relationships and spectator facilities. Currently the BCCI is doing very well with sponsorship partners and decently with player relationships but hasn't found its interest veering towards the other three areas strongly enough.

Mr. Bindra is right when he says the Indian public is short-changed because they are the real owners of Indian cricket. Spectators get a terrible deal and I suspect the arrogance of a lot of local officials leaves them unconcerned. The next stage in our development must focus on that as indeed it must on development of domestic cricket. A lot has been done for the cricketer who plays in the Ranji Trophy and the Duleep Trophy but those matches need to be broadcast well in order to attract sponsors and cricket lovers.

"In our conditions Anil Kumble is still our finest match-winner and in a moment of great foresight and sagacity we chose to make pitches that negated him." — Pic. AP-

While Sachin Tendulkar's form was worrying, I suspect he is going through a process of change that some of us may or may not agree with, V.V.S. Laxman's presence was reassuring and beautiful. Tendulkar is now 30 and has been playing international cricket for 14 years. That is about as long as Viv Richards and a lot of the best players played and in their last two years they aroused respect rather than fear. While Tendulkar's age is one way of assessing how he should be playing, his longevity needs to be looked at as well.

He has always been a great judge of style and situation but his current obsession with being the senior player, the innings builder, and allowing the juniors the role of strokeplayer is a little baffling. Tendulkar's greatest merit has always been that he has a shot to a good ball and as a result, the bowler running in has wondered where his next offering will vanish. Only the very great batsmen intimidate bowlers and Tendulkar was among them. But by adopting a defensive stance, and the word `defensive' can be relative, he is taking a key factor out of the bowler's mind. He is allowing the bowler's mindset to change from one of fear to one of hope and if a bowler can travel that distance in his mind, he becomes a different cricketer. While Tendulkar has shown he can be patient, it is aggression that is his signature. When he attacks he plays on home turf, when he chooses to be patient, he is, in a manner of speaking, playing an away match. Tendulkar's decision must have come after a great deal of thought, for he is a remarkable thinker on the game and I am sure he has put himself in the bowler's position and asked what he would least want. At the World Cup an attacking Tendulkar was the player of the tournament and I suspect we will need to see that on the truer surfaces in Australia.

Laxman will enjoy playing there as well. Like so many of the senior players in this cricket team, he is a serious, committed man and prefers to let his implements do the talking. I was amazed to hear some people refer to this series as his comeback and that points towards a major problem in our cricket. In India out of sight is often out of mind and because Laxman hadn't played limited overs cricket, we forgot that he had never been out of the side in Test cricket. There was never a question on whether or not Laxman would make the Test side because his competitors aren't in the same frame yet. Kaif, Yuvraj, Badani and Sriram are fine players, hopefully their time will come in Test cricket, but currently they are not competition.

Too often in India we mistake gloss with substance. Laxman had an excellent 2002, averaged in excess of 50, and played some sound, mature innings. But he doesn't thump people on the back, do a jig in celebration or dive spectacularly. And while that may not make him a great advertising personality it does not, and cannot, take away from his value as an outstanding batsman.

The strong, silent types are sometimes undervalued. Rocks are not as exciting as sparklers but you need them. Laxman has shown that as has that other great cricketer Anil Kumble without whom we still cannot play a Test match in India. In our conditions he is still our finest match-winner and in a moment of great foresight and sagacity we chose to make pitches that negated him. As war strategy that was unparalleled. Thank God our groundsmen aren't our generals, we might take all the mines out and use bows and arrows otherwise.