Young India & ` The World Cap'

THE Wanderers Sunday of March 23, 2003, was no Night Without End. Like was the Lord's Saturday of June 25, 1983. Thus is Kapil Dev still Lord's monarch of all he surveys.

RAJU BHARATAN

THE Wanderers Sunday of March 23, 2003, was no Night Without End. Like was the Lord's Saturday of June 25, 1983. Thus is Kapil Dev still Lord's monarch of all he surveys. Even as Sourav surveys the Wanderers ruins — with all the leisure in The World at his India command! What better line of thought than T.S. Eliot's to epitomise the way Sourav's wounded army must still feel. "This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper,'' predicted T.S. Eliot. In such a chastened frame of mind, when the white heat is off and the gold dust has settled, the hour is opportune, I feel, to examine if the clanger Sunil Gavaskar dropped (as India dropped the World Cup) carried a point pertinent.

As the World Cup final had Sourav and his little devils failing to cut the Kangaroos to size, Sunil Gavaskar came up with the tart STAR remark that India's young hopefuls "did not quite take their chances''. Where upon Harsha Bhogle, shrewdly sensing possible further trouble for his already agonising STAR channel, went for a discreetly swift break. Yet, even during such a break, you could really query only when Sunny said it. Not what he said. For the harsh truth is that the 2003 World Cup saw our Youth Brigade squander opportunity after opportunity to take career-charting charge. Why go further than Virender Sehwag to square drive home the point? Take Sehwag's World Cup sequence of 6 vs Holland, 4 vs Australia, 36 vs Zimbabwe, 24 vs Namibia, 23 vs England, 21 vs Pakistan, 3 vs Kenya, 66 vs Sri Lanka, 1 vs New Zealand, 33 vs Kenya & 82 vs Australia.

Final impressions count, seeing how that Sehwag-punchy 82 vs Australia came off just 81 balls (with 10 fours & 3 sixes). Still the fact remains that the Aussies bowled a lot of tosh (to get through their overs briskly) during that 82 blitzkrieg by Sehwag. This should count as a factor in reckoning the true value of that buccaneering Veeru knock. For just take a second look at the Veldt Veeru scoreline above, reflecting side by side upon the number of times Sehwag got set. Then compare and contrast Veeru's scoreline with Sachin's 52 vs Holland, 36 vs Australia, 81 vs Zimbabwe, 152 vs Namibia, 50 vs England, 98 vs Pakistan, 5 vs Kenya, 97 vs Sri Lanka, 15 vs New Zealand, 83 vs Kenya & 4 vs Australia.

How Sachin's 673 from 11 completed innings (ave. 61.18) trend-sets Tendulkar apart from Sehwag — 299 runs from 11 finished innings (ave. 27.18). It underscores the Asli Tendulkar. I know I myself have argued that Sehwag is the norm of striker who will hit the big time once in five innings. Let us then accept Sehwag as just that. At least on the World Cup stage. Let any Veeru-Sachin comparison, therefore, cease here and now. Even if Sehwag's 2003 World Cup strike rate (86.66) is not all that far behind Ten's 89.25. Never could Sehwag's strike rate suffer in Ten comparison when Veeru gets going. The point is if you could depend upon Veeru to get going in even three World Cup innings out of five. You could not, if only because the Veeru style is the Najafgarh man. Veeru lives for the moment, Sachin for the event. In this third-eye glow, let us weigh how `The World Cap' (so prestigiously won) fitted each one of our batting, battling youngsters.

Even given the fact that he is a creature of impulse, Virender Sehwag had, in the 2003 World Cup, a forum in which to venture to see if he could not attain a certain degree of consistency. By his own jing-bang standards. That Veeru failed to strike an international equilibrium in this direction must make him one of the major disappointments of the 2003 World Cup. Viewing Veeru damp-squib more often than explode, in such a litmus-testing tournament, had its own Sehwagering story to tell vis-a-vis Sachin. Even Sehwag's 76-ball 66 vs Sri Lanka was, remember, a comeback tele-monitored by Sachin from the other end. So that Sunil Gavaskar certainly had reason to feel some of the fizz going out of the spirit with which he expected Sehwag to Coca-Coland in South Africa.

If Gavaskar made a telly statement about our young `men in blue' not measuring up, trust Geoffrey to pre-empt Sunny with an even straighter bat! `Kaif is no India No. 4!' Geoffrey prognosticated early in the tournament. A Kaif 2003 World Cup sequence of 9 vs Holland, 1 vs Australia, 25 vs Zimbabwe, 5 vs England, 35 vs Pakistan, 5 vs Kenya, 19 vs Sri Lanka, 68 vs New Zealand, 15 vs Kenya & 0 vs Australia suggests that Geoffrey Boycott's viewpoint merits scrutiny. Always remember that Mohammad Kaif no longer comes in as a finisher. Kaif, at No. 4, now gets both the time and the space to build an innings. Kaif's 35 (off 60 balls: 5 fours) vs Pakistan was a super effort, considering the degree of pressure such a combat puts on such a youngster.

Yet, in the case of Kaif, never forget that the first 20-25 personal runs he registers, on the board, owe everything to his `pressure running' between the wickets. Therefore, when Kaif gets set, you logically expect this live-wire to go on to a fair individual score. Yet not always did Kaif do so. Like he did, for instance, with that 68 vs New Zealand upon coming in when his India was 21 for 3 — with Sehwag (1), Sourav (3) and Sachin (15) gone. Kaif here rebuilt the Indian innings with poise and panache through his 129-ball 68 with 8 fours. Kaif thus had his big chance at No. 4 in the World Cup. Yet did not quite grab it.

Put Kaif's style and technique under the microscope and you will find something still missing. By his own showing does Kaif now, therefore, logically move down to No. 5. All the more so as Rahul Dravid showed he had picked up enough World Cup ammunition to pack into a return to No. 4. After Sachin, Sehwag and Sourav, you need more stability (at two-down) than lightweight Mohammad Kaif lends to the Indian batting. Sunny here, therefore, is on the Geoffrey ball — the quality of Kaif's fielding could not mask the fact that he is `no India No. 4'. That two-down position clearly belongs to the world-classy Rahul with a 2003 World Cup scoreline of 17 vs Holland, 1 vs Australia, 43 not out vs Zimbabwe, 62 vs England, 44 not out vs Pakistan, 32 vs Kenya, 18 not out vs Sri Lanka, 53 vs New Zealand, 1 not out vs Kenya & 47 vs Australia. In fact, unless Kaif is ultra-careful, he could well find the willowy Yuvraj pushing him back to No. 6.

Yuvraj Singh, as a youngster, even Sunil would choose to weigh in a different scale. Keeping in mind the fact that most times Yuvraj batted in the World Cup, he strode in, assigned the unenviable task of hitting India through to victory. That Yuvraj improved beyond Yograj recognition, there can be no doubt. Yuvraj's 2003 World Cup aggregate of 240 from 10 innings (thrice not out, ave. 34.28) translated into a `left' of 37 vs Holland, 0 vs Australia, 1 vs Zimbabwe, 7 not out vs Namibia, 42 vs England, 50 not out vs Pakistan, 58 not out vs Kenya, 5 vs Sri Lanka, 16 vs Kenya & 24 vs Australia. A sequence underlining that this southpaw, if not the role model of consistency, at least peaked in the middle of the tournament. The stage determining India's dicey passage to the semis.

Yet, for all his bravura and aura, it is sad that Yuvraj should still look vulnerable when he starts an innings against spin. Spin that, if he stays, Yuvraj is observed to destroy. This is a problem area in his batting that Yuvraj has urgently to address. For the rest, by the end of the 2003 World Cup, Yuvraj had done no serious damage to his reputation. That India wins nine times out of 10 when Yuvraj's flowing bat touches the 50 mark is a happening to make the viewer feel fulfilled. Yet not one 100 from 10 knocks in South Africa must mean Yuvraj fell short of leaving his imprint on the 2003 Cup as a world-beater.

As for the other southpaw in the team, Dinesh Mongia visibly failed to capitalise on the many chances Sourav opened up for him. A run of 42 vs Holland, 13 vs Australia, 12 vs Zimbabwe, 32 vs England, 9 vs Sri Lanka & 12 vs Australia meant Dinesh Mongia let down his trusting skipper almost all the way. Admittedly, batting so low down, Dinesh found himself on trial during almost each World Cup innings. But then he had, willy-nilly, to seize each opportunity he got. Vijay Merchant summed up the setting in which Dinesh Mongia came in to bat succinctly when he wrote: "It needs `character' to be able to redeem oneself at such a time. And `character' in a cricketer is displayed, not when the conditions are all favourable, but when the odds are against him and his side.''

A World Cup comes but once in four years. For all his talent, a youngster first needs luck to be selected in India's team for the World Cup. If he cannot cash in on such luck (in displacing one of V.V.S. Laxman's proven calibre), he fails India while letting down his captain. A captain whose contribution (to the position to which he led India in the 2003 World Cup) could be questioned only in a similar batting light. To think that Sourav scored (in the 2003 World Cup) but 8 vs Holland, 9 vs Australia, 24 vs Zimbabwe, 112 not out vs Namibia, 19 vs England, 0 vs Pakistan, 107 not out vs Kenya, 48 vs Sri Lanka, 3 vs New Zealand, 111 vs Kenya & 24 vs Australia. No wonder Sourav found himself under fire, at the end of it all, for having generally failed to lift his own batting (against the big guns) to the exemplary captaincy standards he set in World Cup cricket.

But Sourav certainly gave our youngsters their heads. It is therefore for Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif and Dinesh Mongia to introspect if Sunil Gavaskar had a gut point when he noted that the three "did not quite take their chances''.

I expect the Sunil comment embraces Harbhajan Singh too. But that is a Leo wicket-fetching theme for another day. Harbhajan since has quibbled about an injured bowling hand.

Harbhajan came up with such an alibi after failing to strike it rich in South Africa. Where Sachin raised his `finger' only after getting, with surgical precision, all those 673 World Cup runs for the India of his shattered dreams.