The game is about confidence

Published : Jun 23, 2001 00:00 IST

FINALLY, after the summer of '86 in the Old Blighty, India has rediscovered its winning ways outside the sub-continent. Yours truly was in the side that humbled England and it was a wonderful feeling really - the feeling of having conquered the conditions.

And that is the real challenge really, triumphing on foreign soil where mental and technical adjustments have to be made. And the onus is on India to carry on to bigger things against tougher sides, using the Bulawayo victory as a stepping stone.

Hopefully, by the time this article appears in print, Sourav Ganguly's men would have won the series as well and with the 'away' tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa coming up, it should set things up nicely for India.

This game is all about confidence and there can be nothing better than getting it right on the field of play, and then continuing on the same vein.

It goes without saying that the emphasis will be more on the seamers this season and India was right on the mark when it picked three seamers for the Bulawayo Test.

Pace will have a huge role to play in the coming months, and the Indians do seem to possess the right blend of experience and youth in this department. On pitches with bounce and seam movement, the pacemen do hold the key.

Though he was banished late in the Zimbabwe second innings for running on the wicket, it was a memorable Test for Delhi's Ashish Nehra, who, if his Bulawayo performance is any indication, should be around for quite some time.

Playing only in his second Test, Nehra displayed a healthy attitude, did not show any signs of nerves for a man making his comeback, and certainly added to the Indian seam attack.

In his lone Test against Lanka a couple of years ago, Nehra had displayed plenty of promise, but then he was subsequently plagued by injury problems. However, the youngster has shown the resolve to fight his way back into the side with some outstanding performances in the domestic circuit.

Nehra's bowling in Bulawayo was from the top drawer. The left-arm seamer angled the ball across the right hander at a sharp pace from over the wicket, straightened the odd one to put the seeds of doubt in the batsmen's minds, operated to a consistent off-stump line, and displayed a willingness to work hard for his wickets. The performance of Nehra is good news for Indian cricket.

Indeed, there appears to be a healthy competition among the Indian pacemen, with Ajit Agarkar not finding a place in the XI for the first Test. He is bound to be fired up as and when he returns.

Zaheer Khan too put in a fair deal of effort, moving the ball around at a good pace, and adding teeth to the attack. The left-armer came in as the third seamer, and never really allowed the batsmen to relax.

Now to the senior bowler in the pack - Javagal Srinath. The Karnataka bowler was off-colour in the first innings, spraying the ball around, but was a different customer in the second, providing the initial breakthroughs and then making things hot for the tail-enders.

Actually, the emergence of the young pacemen should keep someone like Srinath on his toes. Apart from those in Zimbabwe, there are others like Baroda's Rakesh Patel, unfortunate to miss the conditioning camp prior to the tour because of an injury, who are pushing for a place.

The in-form offie Harbhajan Singh was the lone spinner in the side for the first Test and it would be interesting to see how the team management finds a place for Anil Kumble as and when the senior leggie returns, if the attack is going to be seam oriented.

The batting of Shiv Sundar Das was heartening. The little opener has loads of talent and should progress far in his career, if his performances so far are any indication.

He has a compact technique and is positive in his approach and attitude, apart from being a brilliant fielder in the close catching area. Not the kind to be cowed down by pressure, Das' sparkling strokeplay in the Chennai Test against Australia captured one's attention.

Up against a formidable pace attack of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie in a high-pressure decider of a dramatic series, Das was unafraid to launch into his strokes. That was a very good sign in a young opener.

Das faced a considerably less threatening attack in Bulawayo, yet his crisp strokeplay on either side of the wicket, both off the front and back foot, was refreshing.

Opening the innings is a highly specialised job and the way Das is going about things these days, India appears to have discovered a high-quality opener.

The other gain from the Bulawayo Test was the determined batting of Sameer Dighe and Harbhajan Singh, who have definitely added sting to the Indian lower order. They came together at a stage when a fighting Zimbabwe side had clawed its way back into the Test and then proceeded to give India a distinctive chance.

Dighe appears to be a spunky cricketer, who doesn't let the criticism from the media bother him. He tries hard to make a contribution and his attitude is something to be admired, though his wicket-keeping has to go up a couple of notches.

Harbhajan has this habit of surprising people and it is heartening that he is striving to make an impression with the bat too. And such is his confidence these days that he is tasting a fair amount of success too.

Coming to the Zimbabwe team, there is far too much dependence on the Flower brothers, particularly Andy, who is in rather imperious form. There is not too much depth in Zimbabwe cricket, considering the small pool of players to choose from, and it is vitally important that more and more black youngsters are introduced to the game.

One hears the Development Programmes in Zimbabwe are bearing fruit, and there was proof of it in Bulawayo when Watambwa managed to make an impression with his brisk pace and combative attitude. Zimbabwe needs more such cricketers.

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