Turning out as expected

SUNIL GAVASKAR

ENGLAND'S capitulation to Australia was pretty much expected though the English media might have had some hopes that somehow their team would be able to pull it off. It wasn't to be as apart from Vaughan and to a certain extent Trescothick, no other English batsman has shown the stomach for a fight. England's selection also needs to be questioned as they took players who were not fit all the way to Australia only to have them return without even bowling a ball or batting even in a first-class game.

Darren Gough, Andrew Flintoff went to Australia despite having undergone surgery and eventually returned home to be with the family for X'mas and New Year. Obviously the medical diagnosis was incorrect as to how soon they would be fit to play international cricket and it also doesn't say much about the players themselves that they thought they could be fit after reaching Australia. That one of the players who seems to have done slightly better was not in the original team also tells you of the selection competence too. Craig White was not in the team and was drafted in only after Gough and Jones were injured and at the time of writing has done well with both the bat and ball in the Melbourne Test. He was born in Australia and spent the early part of his life there, so perhaps he has imbibed some of the Australian spirit.

Nasser Hussain, praised to the skies by the English media who can't tell a googly from a straight one, is now finding it hard to take some of the critical observations of those who have played the game and who know a thing or two about captaincy. His bizarre field-placing where there's no fine leg and such other vacant areas may impress the ignorant, but it is easy to see the Australian greats on the TV box barely choking back their laughter at the tactics he employs. And yes, there's no more smart comment from the coach who has wisely decided to keep his mouth shut even as he has signed on for another term. Yes, why bring attention to one's inadequacies?

While England's performances or the lack of it was anticipated, what was not was the collapse of the Indian batting in New Zealand. According to the locals, the real season starts here only in January when the pitches are a lot easier to bat on, but apart from the first day at Hamilton, they haven't really been that tough, especially when one looks back at the tremendous application and determination shown by the Indians in the Leeds Test earlier this year. That pitch was far more tough, as also the conditions then, but somehow against an inexperienced opposition the Indians have not shown the same spirit.

Apart from Dravid who always puts a steep price on his wicket, the others have only confirmed that they are good wicket and good condition players. For the first time even Tendulkar has looked unsure and strangely vulnerable. Even when he was 16 he never looked that way and over the years he has simply got better and better and is a real colossus of the modern era. Here however, the Kiwis seemed to have found his Achilles heel and it's the manner of his dismissals and the play preceding that that has made him look unsure.

Hopefully it is just a bad patch that comes to everybody, and the little champion will be firing on all cylinders soon. His injury also has exposed the limitations of the side in the ODIs, especially in these conditions.

Here in New Zealand, after the treatment meted out to the Indian captain on arrival and the subsequent performances have only made some former Kiwi players gloat and start their India-bashing again. A programme that looks at the past tours made by New Zealand teams which is otherwise an interesting one as it lets one see some black and white footage of the game in the 50s and 60s, is spoilt by the usual trashing about conditions in India and the umpiring. The latter aspect is such a hollow one, coming as it does from a country which has had the worst umpires ever and you don't have to take my word but ask the West Indies players and you will know that it's a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The usual jokes about why the Indian umpire gave a batsman not out, like him saying that the wind was going the other way, so he didn't hear the snick, are repeated. Considering the fact that the Australians and English players who now make a good living making after-dinner speeches also tell the same joke, it brings into question the veracity, for it couldn't have happened to all of them, could it? Luckily, the Indians never tell of the umpire who said it was too cold in Manchester, so he didn't want to bring his fingers out of the warmth of his coat to give the England captain out, nor of the Kiwi umpire who kept on saying pardon after every appeal. There's also the famous but true story of that mildest of men but one of India's greatest match-winners Chandrasekhar asking the Kiwi umpire after bowling a batsman, "I know he is bowled, but is he out?'' The Queen is still the head here, so loyalty to England and a belief that their players were the best during their time, has made some of the former players accuse the Indians of match-fixing even in the Fifties when Mankad and Roy overtook their beloved Hutton and Washbrook to set up a new record. The former Kiwis say that the duo was out numerous times and it was match-fixing. That is rich, coming from a country whose captain used the bonus-point rule to lose deliberately badly so that Australia would not be in the finals.

New Zealand has always been in the shadow of Australia, and so is always trying to show that it is better than it is in the sporting world. That is not necessarily true, but the Indian team's deeds have certainly given them the opportunity to crow.