Some TV fillip to Indian cricket!

RAJU BHARATAN

Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell. It's now or never for the Indian skipper.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

IT verily looked to be a point in Indian cricket history when Michael Ferreira had real reason to celebrate. Seeing Team India disintegrating even as Sania Mirza zoomingly joined Parveen Babi on the Time magazine cover. The TRPs for cricket certainly hit a new low — until that Sourav-Harsha espnstar interface came as the thin end of the Zimbabwedge. My fillip-to-the-game surmise thus is based on the extraordinary extent to which TV channels, without exception, remain obsessed with Cricket, Unlovely Cricket to this hour.

The seven-match ODI series due against Sri Lanka is surely going to be watched with vicarious viewer interest all over India. With every single on-field act by an Indian cricketer acquiring TV overtones. The Sourav-Greg seesaw has ensured this much — that each one of the seven ODIs vs Marvan's Sri Lanka emerges ultra `live' on TV. A startling turn of events, this, for those who reasoned that cricket in India has shed sheen and lost all public appeal.

For my part, I have no doubt that cricket is going to regain its lost TV lustre from the October 25 moment in which there is an India-Sri Lanka ODI interface. Of course, much here, progressively, could depend upon how India, particularly Sourav, fare in this elongated home series vs Sri Lanka. But that TV concentration on the series is going to be razor keen, there is no gainsaying. As the TV channels still have `a game on', if India does well against Sri Lanka. Even more of `a game on', if India does not do all that well against Sri Lanka. The more so if Sourav himself fails to come off with the bat in this his one final fling at superstardom.

Sourav knows this even better than Greg Chappell. That he fires now or never. Love him or loathe him, Sourav has always been a fighter. Plus it is, after all, seven ODIs, at home, in which they could bowl but one bouncer an over! The Sri Lanka attack is not so quick as to set the Hooghly on fire. This therefore is a platform plush enough for Sourav to strike back. Sourav has staked too much here, mentally and physically, to let Greg's computer assessment of his batting powers go unchallenged. The Pandora's box-office is what Greg Chappell opened when he sent that Souravelling e-mail. Its contents made sure that Sourav would remain in even sharper tele-spotlight if he continued to lead India. Sourav won only the dubious battle when he rebutted, in cold print, every single point e-mail-made by Greg. Following that wordy battle, the wartime for Sourav to deliver is now.

Rahul Dravid with the coach. Under Dravid's captaincy, Ganguly failed to fire in Sri Lanka.-R. RAGU

All India would be having its eyes riveted on the rectangular screen to watch if Sourav action speaks louder than Sourav words. Overtly and covertly, quite a few of our players might have expressed support for Sourav. But, in the shifting sands of international cricket demands, loyalties could change overnight-and-day. In sum, Sourav now either peaks or perishes. Souravenously hungry for runs, he has to be third eye-witnessed to be, if he is to cut the ground from under Greg Chappell's feet. Brother Snehasish Ganguly might have scored a debating point when he noted that Sourav has already hit 15,000 runs in international cricket and they were not struck against underarm bowling.

Yet Sourav, performing under Rahul in Sri Lanka, never really got going in the resonant style we knew his Hero Hondazzling blade to do. Sourav, in fact, looked rusty-crusty all the Sri Lanka way. That elbow-hit Sourav took — in trying to fend off a Windies bouncer — visibly cramped Dada's style. This not only during the 26 (off 42 balls) Sourav grafted in the IndianOil final vs Sri Lanka at Colombo, but right through the one-day Videocon Cup in Zimbabwe. Circumstances therefore conspired to work in Sourav's favour when Greg Chappell clearly exceeded his coaching brief in auto-suggesting that Sourav drop himself from the Indian eleven even before the Bulawayo Test got going.

Sourav slyly treated this clanger Greg dropped as his alibi for stonewalling, as never before, to get to a Test hundred at long last, if against Zimbabwe. That Bulawayo 101 gave Sourav all the time in the world "to spend time in the middle". But it now puts Sourav in an unenviable position. A position in which Sourav does not need Amitabh Bachchan to tell him that he has run out of all lifelines. Amitabh Bachchan bowled fair left-arm orthodox spin in his student days. The Grant Flower genre of spin Sourav habitually deposited in the stands. But Sourav now was viewed to be just unable to `go over' even after he had passed that dull-dogged 100 in the Bulawayo Test. There had been, in his strokeful heyday, a certain geometrical precision to Sourav's sending the ball blazing through the covers or past point. Point — it is his flamboyant fluency that has deserted Sourav. Only his regaining his lost batting idiom could put Sourav in real helming harness.

This is where TV is now for Sourav, now against him. In the sense that viewers, now, would be watching Sourav more perspicaciously than ever before. If Sourav finds his best touch again against Sri Lanka, the wagon-wheeling — in TV's rating of his batsmanship — is going to be instant. If Sourav perchance fails to strike bat oil yet again, he spot-loses caste as India's most successful leader of men ever. The captain's `form and content' must necessarily affect the rest of the team. But does it really, now, on TV? Things have got to a piquant point where each India batsman — even V. V. S. Laxman — is for himself on the run-scoring screen.

Obviously Sourav calls the captaincy shots, here, only if he cracks some quick runs for India. Cracks them in the vein he struck (on May 26, 1999) that sure-fire 183 off 158 balls (17 fours, 7 sixes) vs Sri Lanka.

That was all of six years ago — and a six, off Sourav's blade, has become a happening today. How much of a happening striker, a happening skipper, is Sourav still? That is what is going to be viewed with hypercritical interest, on TV, during the India-Sri Lanka ODI series to come. It is in this monitor light I say that TV, far from losing TRPs, is going to be devoured with even keener absorption than before. So long as Sourav is still India captain. So devoured even after — if Sourav ceases to be India captain. Remember, generating controversy, even where there is none, is the very rationale of TV channels (national and regional) in India today. So just wait and watch the fresh fillip that cricket in India gets, as Sri Lanka ventures to intimidate India by targeting Sourav from the word go. If India rocked under Sourav, it also went to pieces under his leadership. The pieces, therefore, have to be picked up by Sourav himself, with his blade, to demonstrate that he is still a personality `square-cut out' for command.