The moments that stand out

SUNIL GAVASKAR

INDIAN cricket has had a few defining moments that stand out; India's first ever victory in a Test match in the 1951-52 series against the visiting M.C.C team. India's first overseas Test victory in 1967-68 against New Zealand. The back-to-back overseas victories over West Indies and England in 1971, the one against the West Indies in fact being the first time India beat them in a Test match. The 1983 World Cup victory, which is undoubtedly the greatest achievement in Indian cricket. The 1985 World Championship of Cricket victory. The 1998 Desert Storm in Sharjah where India triumphed against odds thanks to the little champion Sachin Tendulkar's awesome batting and the 2001 series victory over World champions Australia. Test victories are always special because they involve more than having one good day and are thus remembered more than anything else even by the players themselves.

As far as the cricket-lovers are concerned, the 1983 triumph in the World Cup against the defending champions West Indies is the one they remember and cherish the most. Colour television was in its infancy then in the country and it only helped to enhance the moment. Apart from the many heart-stopping moments in the game itself the one vision that stays clearly in the mind is that of Kapil Dev, all smiles, receiving the most coveted trophy in cricket. The West Indians, stung by that loss took their revenge when they came to tour India later in the year, beating India in all the one-day games. Still nothing could take away the glow of that victory in the World Cup.

Two years later, there was another limited-overs tournament to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the state of Victoria in Australia. All seven Test playing nations were invited to play in the tournament and India went on to win that too in an emphatic manner, winning every single match they played. That brought about the inevitable comparison between the victories in 1983 and the ones in 1985, though there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the World Cup win in 1983 was far superior. There is also the comparison between personnel of the two teams and discussions about which was the better team.

The feature of both teams was that they batted deep and had players who were all-rounders not necessarily in the batting and bowling sense but in the aspect of fielding as well. So there really was no passenger in the side if he failed in his principal job of either scoring runs or taking wickets. It was this that gave the team flexibility and the captain the options to use more than five bowlers and to shuffle the batting order in accordance with the needs of the situation. That players like Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri were not able to find a place in the final eleven of the 1983 team shows how that team was structured.

Shastri went on to win the Champion of Champions Award in 1985 and Vengsarkar played a key innings in the series. That the man of the match in the finals of the 1983 World Cup, Mohinder Amarnath had little to do in 1985 shows how well the top order batted. Amarnath with his nagging medium- pacers played a crucial role in Australia and his safe pair of hands pouched catches in the deep with a certainty that meant neither the bowler nor the captain was even worried for a micro second about the fate of the batsman.

The one area that made a big difference was the opening batting and the pair of Srikkanth and Shastri in 1985 gave the side quick solid starts which the 1983 team never got. Otherwise there was little to choose between the two sides, though Azharuddin's arrival on the scene in 1984-85 also meant that the side was better in fielding.

It is these two aspects that the Indian team has to look at as they approach the 2003 World Cup. Luckily for them in Ganguly, Sehwag and Tendulkar they have an abundance of riches as far as the opening batting options are concerned. Depending on form, opposition and the kind of pitches they are likely to play on, any pair of them can open the innings with the other batting in the one-down position. The batting will probably be the least of the worries as far as selecting the final squad is concerned. It is the bowling that will cause the headaches for the selectors, for apart from Harbhajan Singh there is not one who can write his name down as a certainty. The new-ball bowlers of the 1983 and 1985 teams were pretty handy with the bat and top fielders too, so even if they didn't take wickets they made up with their contribution with the bat and were never a liability on the field.

Fielding standards all over the world have gone up unbelievably since then with diving being second nature and the sliding and dragging the ball in being done regularly by teams to save the extra runs from being conceded. It is here that Indians are lagging for not all the fielders can slide and save, especially some of the seniors and as it is with them being a bit ponderous in their movements on the field, the extra run is there for the taking. The selectors will have to think whether it is worth including a bowler who is going to concede an average of 50 runs in his full quota of overs and is going to cost the team another 15 to 20 runs with his slowness in the field and contribute nothing with the bat.

Experience is fine in the longer, slower version of the game, Test cricket, but in the hurly burly of one-day cricket where matches can turn in the space of a few deliveries, what is needed is energy that will keep the team in the hunt.

Yes, energy and enthusiasm rather than only experience should be the mantra for the selection in picking the squad that will carry the dreams of a cricket mad country to South Africa.