Tendulkar remains the source of strength

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

JUST one victory seems to have provided the answer to all the problems of Indian cricket. So much so that a World Cup triumph appears a mere formality even before a ball has been bowled in the competition. The euphoria generated in the country was so typical of the passionate fans. But it will hardly be surprising if the same set of fans deride the team when it fails in its next venture.

Critics in India have, overnight, discovered two 'great' match-winners in Mohammad Kaif and Yuveraj Singh even though both have been playing international cricket for close to two years now. Such has been the media reaction to the win at Lord's that these two have privately felt deeply embarrassed over the flattering assessment of their potential. They probably remember what Ajay Jadeja used to say after every victory - do not get carried away by the praise in the media because the same critics would savage you in difficult times.

There is no doubt that Indian cricket shall benefit immensely with the success of Kaif and Yuveraj, but it would be naive to conclude that it would also mean easing of pressure on Sachin Tendulkar. He has a specific role to play and none in contemporary cricket can match this little champion, as Sunil Gavaskar fondly calls him. Just because Kaif and Yuveraj win a match it does not mean that Tendulkar's role and contribution stand undermined.

The team, including Kaif and Yuveraj, draws its strength from Tendulkar's presence. The fact that he relinquished the opener's slot in the interest of the team speaks for the man's loyalty. He continues to be the perfect team-man, as does Rahul Dravid, who has donned the mantle of the wicket-keeper much against his own interests. He also had to vacate the number three slot in both the forms of cricket in the interest of the team even though against his wishes, the claims of skipper Sourav Ganguly not withstanding.

Being one of the key batsmen in the scheme of things, Dravid needs to be treated on a par with Tendulkar and Ganguly. In his new role, he stands exposed to the danger of injury more than any other member of the squad. It all looks very organised for the moment but wait till he messes up a crucial match or suffers an injury!

For years, Dravid has been an unsung pillar of strength. His reading of the game has often helped the team in times of distress and he has contributed immensely with his assessment of the young players. In fact, he has been the biggest supporter of Kaif and I know it was Dravid alone who had praised the youngster as a potential big-stage player two years ago when he made his Test debut against South Africa.

The Lord's performance was just a small step by Kaif towards justifying Dravid's backing when few were willing to accept him as a part of the team. It has changed recently only because Kaif has managed to keep his place in the side through hard work even during off-season. He must be the only player in India who would command a place on the basis of his fielding abilities.

Kaif and Yuveraj, however, have a long way to go despite their talent and determination to excel. They first got to have the right attitude and also attain a degree of consistency to even qualify as match-winners in the big league. Having been in and out of the team, they realise it well and have the experience to remember that things can get murky in the current set up where mediocrity thrives in the absence of quality.

Even as the commercial world gears up to rope in these two 'stars', the cricketing fraternity prays Kaif and Yuveraj do not get lost in the world of glamour. The stardom that has come their way should not serve as a distraction when the team needs them so much. Both have the ability to raise their respective games, but also need to sort out certain technical shortcomings. What better person than the great Gavaskar to help them iron out those minor flaws!

Suddenly the critics find everything rosy. The win was sensational but not the fielding of the team. The feat was awesome but not the bowling. Let us not forget that India conceded 325 runs to a mediocre batting line-up.

We are also being reminded by the manager of the team, who himself found the experience an education (whatever it means) that the players back each other so well. The team spirit, we are being informed, is high. But then none ever doubted the spirit of the team or the camaraderie in the dressing room. Why then this needless stress on the win being collective and the players being together and how the Board President alone deserves the credit for the transformation in the team. None is giving any marks to John Wright, the coach of the team.

The same Indian team lost a Test series to the West Indies only recently and could not beat Zimbabwe not so long ago after taking a 1-0 lead in both. It was a collective defeat no doubt. In any case, what is the big deal of a team playing like a team. Is cricket not a team game and are the players not supposed to be together. The team's priority would be to guard against such needless and misleading remarks from quarters that better remain ignored.

A word on the so-called aggressive captain of the team. What looks welcome aggression after a win could well assume a different connotation after a defeat. The same on-field and off-field aggression might well land Ganguly in trouble and he would find himself alone then. Playing to the galleries is fine but let Ganguly be warned that one man among them, the Match Referee, might be least amused.

The next time he takes off his shirt or mouths profanities in public, the skipper should understand that he is hailed as a role model back home. Ganguly should also remember that there is a big difference between supporters and sycophants. Presently, he seems to be surrounded more by the latter.

Finally, even as the team prepares for the ICC knockout tournament in Sri Lanka, it will be better not to question Tendulkar's utility simply because two youngsters have helped in making this victory possible. Tendulkar, let it be accepted, will continue to be the main source of strength, even when failing in the finals or the second innings of a Test.

Let it also be remembered that India has always needed Tendulkar to play that crucial innings for the team to make the final.