Where the old and the new co-exist

S. DINAKAR

Kiran More with Greg Chappell. More was much in demand in Vadodara.-MD. YOUSUF

THE teams, India and Sri Lanka, journeyed by road from Rajkot to Vadodara. Formerly a princely state, Vadodara is now one of the commercial hubs of Gujarat. The Vadodara ODI would also bring to a conclusion the whistle stop tour by Sri Lanka.

For India, the series had been a highway to success. For the Lankans, it had been a path to nothingness. The Rajkot fans get a last glimpse of their stars. The scribes take the road route, too, first travelling to Ahmedabad and then hopping into a bus to Vadodara.

In Ahmedabad, the urban life blends rather seamlessly with the rural. This is a city where you find a young crowd sharing dreams in a bistro. Not too far away, a herd of camels will be following a mud trail. There are areas where paths stretch out ceaselessly in all directions.

Days earlier, when yours truly travelled from the Motera Stadium to the team hotel located near the airport in the rapidly disappearing evening, the autowallah took me down a little katcha sadak through the fields. By now it had become pitch dark and all I could see was the white of his teeth as he turned back to reassure me about the genuineness of the route. Almost throughout the journey, we had only stray camels for company, while the moon seemed to be mocking at us on a starless night.

"It is a short cut, saab. I live in one of these villages", the driver said. Finally, the lights lining the pucca road could be spotted. The hotel could not be far away. The driver was right but what a ride!

Vadodara has a rich cricketing culture. Cricketers sprout from this place, suggesting that something in the system must be good. The past lurks in every corner. Palaces and ancient building dot the city. While it has retained the lustre of the faded buildings, Vadodara has moved with the times. Modern shopping malls adorn the city.

Sharing his thoughts, Irfan Pathan said, "I went into the Pakistan series (at home) after coming through a groin injury. That was my first major fitness problem. I was returning after two months. I had just played one or two games in between and I did not have too much of a rhythm."-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Irfan Pathan

Predictably, cricket is the flavour of the week here. The cricketers take a much-needed time out at the fag end of the series. Kiran More is omnipresent. He wears two hats here. Apart from being the chairman of the National selection panel, he is a livewire in the Baroda Cricket Association. He manages things from behind a table in the team hotel. He is being swarmed with people and requests. More was a busy cricketer in his time, whether chatting away behind the stumps, or effecting smart stumpings or gathering runs in that cheeky manner of his. He is still pressed for time.

The big hitter from the 90s, Atul Bedade, is also visible. Among the hardest strikers of the cricket ball in the domestic circuit, the belligerent left-hander had a fleeting feel of international cricket before being cast away like deadwood. Life goes on and Bedade now distributes sports goods. While a feeling of hurt lingers, Bedade attempts to mask it with a disarming smile. The pre-match press conference is a crowded affair in a small room packed beyond capacity. Rahul Dravid once again makes himself heard. When he says, "It is not the 11 or the 12, but the squad which plays," it reflects the fresh attitude of the Indian side. In this territory, everybody contributes. Greg Chappell too stresses on the importance of the team above individuals. He emphasises that the process of testing youngsters in match situations will continue. They do make a fine pair — Dravid and Chappell. The chemistry between the two is born out of mutual respect. The predictable question about Sourav Ganguly's future is thrown up. Both Dravid and Chappell prefer to `leave' the delivery alone. A hint there, a hint here, but nothing substantial.

The seventh ODI is also a big occasion for homeboy Irfan Pathan. The budding all-rounder is excited at the prospect of turning out for his first international match in Vadodara. The local hero stares at you from the hoardings in the city. He is mobbed by the fans, chased by the media. There is pressure on him to perform, but Pathan wears the burden lightly. He is a charming young man, his head rests firmly on his shoulders. His boyishness has stayed with him, so has his sense of modesty. The season gone by, dotted by an injury and loss of form, tested his resilience. Pathan has emerged stronger. He had bowled with rhythm and confidence, batted with dash and resolve. Sharing his thoughts with The Sportstar, the left-armer said, "I went into the Pakistan series (at home) after coming through a groin injury. That was my first major fitness problem. I was returning after two months. I had just played one or two games in between and I did not have too much of a rhythm. Every cricketer has to go through such a phase. Then I went to England. The stint with Middlesex helped. I needed more bowling and match practice. After that, I have continued to bowl well."

Pathan believes that "the rhythm is the key. If you find that, you will deliver in every condition." He is livelier too these days. "I am bowling at a nice speed and feel happy about it. Again I would like to stress that it is all about rhythm."

On his performances with the ball in the ODIs against Lanka, he says, "In Mohali, I bowled pretty well. In Pune I sent down an over with the old ball and I was happy with it. I am still learning how to operate against international line-ups on Indian pitches." There has been a minor technical modification in his bowling this season. "I just pull my right arm a little more quickly to get a little more lift." He revealed that plenty of planning went in ahead of the series, where the pacemen were asked to adopt a fuller length. "But still we had to bowl in the right areas." The left-armer has loads of respect for Dravid's captaincy. On coach Greg Chappell and his support staff, he says, "Chappell and his team have really been helpful. We are doing different bowling and fielding drills. We are hitting the stumps consistently." On his elevation to the No. 3 slot in the Nagpur ODI where he scorched a near hundred, he says, "My promotion in the order was Sachin's idea. I was told about it a day earlier. I had my time to prepare."

Wisely, he does not commit himself on the all-rounder tag. "I am a bowler who can bat. If everything goes well, I will have my time to improve. Everyone has to be patient with me and give me more time to develop my batting." The point to be picked up here — he is serious about his batting.

The increasing pace bowling depth and options in the country, particularly in the left-arm department, will benefit the team he says. "There is competition for places. I know I have to perform." The rotation policy of the selectors and the team management, and the increasing opportunities for the youngsters, he feels, will keep everybody on their toes. "The youngsters will know there would be chances for them and they would be keen. The seniors will not remain complacent. There will be pressure on them to perform too."

The very next day he walks away with the Man of the Match award in front of his home crowd. It's a dream within a dream, a tale within a tale.