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Home > Cricket > Columns > Harsha Bhogle
October 1, 2000
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Lower order batting is India's problem

Harsha Bhogle

There is something charming, even attractive, about the format for the ICC Trophy. Most tournaments of this stature have so much shadow boxing that by the time you get to the big games, you are more than four weeks into the event. It is like ordering the salad, discussing its great merits, agonising over the dressing and preparing yourself for the main course. It has its qualities, endurance is one of them, but sometimes you want to get to the action straightaway and an all knock-out event is precisely that.

I would venture to say that the ICC have got it right. A prestigious, leisurely World Cup every four years and a quick burst of action over 10 games every 2 years. A four course meal and a tangy take-away !

I remember the first edition well. Jagmohan Dalmiya had come in for a lot of flak for organising a tournament whose sole objective was to raise funds and even more so, for allotting it to Dhaka. In one of the more remarkable instances of passion powering everything else, Dhaka committed itself to the event and not even a terrible flood, the streets had turned into waterways, could halt them. It worked. The power of human resolve overcame the obstacles of nature. The ICC Trophy couldnít have had a better inauguration.

Now Kenya has to take the commitment of the developing nations to another level. In terms of nature and its offering, Kenya is a rich nation compared to the hardship of Banglasesh. But in Dhaka the people did not mind foregoing power if that meant the lights at the cricket could glow bright. It will be interesting to see if Nairobi can match that kind of commitment.

I will be very interested in seeing how the pitches play. Any tournament played at one venue always runs the risk of having wearing surfaces by the time the final comes around. Traditionally, tracks in Kenya have been slow and they have favoured spin; delightful words if you are from the sub-continent. But we will need something much harder, something much more resilient this time because ten matches on one square means it is going to get a terrible pounding.

When India played the LG Cup there last year, the pitch was like a lottery; turning square one day and providing a lot of life through over-compensation the next day. I donít think we will quite see anything like that this time and while that may not be very good news for Sunil Joshi, most other cricketers will welcome it.

Nairobi is pretty high above sea-level as well and you donít always get too many matches played at high altitude. It has led to some interesting theories one of which is that the ball will travel longer with lower air-resistance and that this might affect the length the bowlers will strive for. To match those theories there are some interesting reasons some players have chosen for missing out as well. Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin have gone back home from Zimbabwe, Stuart MacGill is away getting married and Ricardo Powell, just the kind of player you thought the West Indies could do with, is one of four promising players away at the Australian Academy !!

Between injuries, retirements, bad form and study leave, the West Indies have so little to choose from. Their cricket has very little depth at the moment, the ability of their first eleven to make England look outstanding is an example, and really I suspect it is down to picking the first man who catches your eye now ! It is difficult to see them going past a very good looking Sri Lankan side.

In fact the side I would be very interested in seeing is New Zealand. They have got the right build up playing a lot of one-day cricket in Africa and a lot of their key players, most notably Chris Cairns, are playing the best cricket of their life. They are a very efficient fielding side, with the likes of Chris Harris matching the best in the world, they give themselves a lot of bowling options and they bat deeper than most teams in world cricket. And under Stephen Fleming, who is going through a rough patch himself, they are a side that has discarded the petulance they seemed to be stuck with through the early and mid-nineties. I wouldn't mind putting New Zealand in the reckoning after the big three, South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.

Those three are in a different league. They have each an incisive bowler and, critically, the lower order bats strongly. A lot is said about the importance of a very good start in one-day cricket but recent results suggest that it is the team that bats deeper rather than the one that is top heavy that is more likely to win. It is a sobering thought for Sri Lanka and India neither of whom have the lower order batting power of Klusener, Boucher and Pollock for South Africa, Symonds, Lee, Martin and Bevan for Australia, or Razzak, Azhar Mahmood, Moin Khan and Akram for Pakistan.

That is the biggest problem for India. With a weak bowling attack, India need to play five bowlers. Put an untested wicketkeeper in and that places a huge burden on the top five. For India to progress, numbers seven, eight and nine have to score runs, or at least provide the confidence to the top order to score quickly, and among them, only the erratic Sunil Joshi really has any pretensions towards doing the job. So India go in with poor late order batting and no incisive lead bowler, and that means if the openers donít put together a long partnership, there are very few assets to fall back on.

You would have to be an optimist to back India but then, optimism killed no one did it !! What I do know though, is that we should get some good, tough international cricket and for our cricket lovers, so starved of the action they love, there will be something to return to.

Harsha Bhogle

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