The Kiwi nightmare

The tour of New Zealand clearly underscored the area of deficiencies, for the umpteenth time.

IMMEASURABLE is the intensity of disappointment and outrage for the millions of cricket lovers over the showing of India in New Zealand. The pathetic performances both in Tests and in One-dayers will haunt everyone for years. What added to the humiliation is the whipped up euphoria by commentators portraying the combination as containing the best collection of top batsmen in the world. Not many however read the alarming signals after the defeat in the one-day series at home against the West Indies after outplaying the Caribbeans in the Tests.

An avalanche of words have been written in almost every conceivable fora of what went wrong in the Kiwiland. The thrust of these assessments dissected the incompetence of the batsmen against pace, which the Kiwi speedsters, Bond, Oram and Tuffey, not to speak of Adams, demonstrated on the lively pitches. Accustomed to the tailor made wickets at home, consciously prepared for the batsmen to dominate — last full five days in case of a Test match — the pitches with grass and seam movement only exposed our batsmen's limitations.

What the players needed was the mental strength and resolve to come to terms with the conditions that were decidedly in favour of the home team. But the Indians failed to achieve this; and even gave the impression of being reluctant to revealing their fighting qualities and application, which would have at least given the feeling to the supporters that the team had made a valiant attempt to stay and fight. But the manner in which the batsmen perished only conveyed their dismay of dealing with persistent pace attack.

It is not easy to surmise how everything would have rolled out if the ace, Tendulkar, not twisted his ankle to miss a major part of the one-dayers. But the way the master batsman was dismissed after he was back in the team left many wondering whether any change in the eventual outcome was possible.

That India should be demoralised so badly on the eve of the prestigious World Cup in the African continent is sad. As the former champion and reckoned as one of the best equipped teams, India not long ago was viewed as one of the favourites, based on its batting strength. But now the ratings have taken a beating, and the team is terribly short on confidence, if not on skill. What accentuates the misgivings is the fact that the team is bound to come across pacy wickets in South Africa.

There is a school of thought which believes that the team was troubled by the row between BCCI and ICC over the issues relating to the contract and the media debate over the fate of India in the World Cup. And this could have had an unsettling effect on the team. To a point, this line of argument is acceptable, but, taken overall, it is difficult to pin down the contract syndrome as the villain of the deplorable episode.

The tour of New Zealand clearly underscored the area of deficiencies, for the umpteenth time. It has also offered lessons that require to be studied in depth and correctives applied. This is easier said than done as the shortcomings of the Indians against pace bowling are well known. True, a few like Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath and G. R.Viswanath had shown the gumption against the speed merchants of their time, but such men of class, calibre and character are not even a handful.

Coach John Wright who takes his job religiously and applies the scientific data stored in the PC should be able to devise ways and means to eliminate the errors that frequently cause the team's down fall. Unless the top batsmen Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag strengthen themselves to face the rigours, nothing is likely to be smooth sailing in South Africa. These men not only should be among runs but inspire the youngsters like Kaif, Mongia and Yuvraj to excel.

Paradoxically enough, India's bowling, described as inadequate before the series, performed beyond expectations. While Javagal Srinath bristled with life and offered his best, it was left arm seamer, Zaheer Khan, who caught more attention for his hard work, consistency and relishing the conditions available. They left the feeling that if only the batsmen had performed a little better than they did, the Indians could have definitely avoided the humiliation.

Optimism is what sustains Indian sport, and there is a lot of it among the supporters who may feel the nightmare in New Zealand was only an aberration, a traumatic dream destined to fade away from memory soon. A sincere effort to plug loopholes in fielding, running between the wickets and display of aggression and thirst to succeed will go a long way in opening a new chapter in the World Cup next month.

This is perhaps the prayer of every Indian now. And there is still hope that the team will not disappoint.