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April 16, 1999

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Azhar and the World Cup

Sathesh Murthy (

"We batted badly. The other team played better than us and congratulations to them".

No marks for guessing who made this statement. I think it's become some sort of a mantra that our Indian captain seems to repeat after every match. But that is the way it is. He has been the captain for as long as nine years now, with a break here and there, and he is yet to learn the art of inspirational leadership.

Does this not make us wonder that "Hey, its not as if this guy has it in him and is not giving it because he is not committed. It's just that this guy just does not have it at all!"

He has never been, and will never be, captaincy material. Ajay Jadeja showed nothing less than inspirational leadership in all the three matches he captained in. He played with the same eleven bar of course the artistic Azhar himself. Did he not win against Pakistan? Leadership is not just about going for the toss and attending post match briefings. It's about involvement in every department of the game.

True, these players are international material.So what? Lack of confidence, slump in form, uneasiness against a certain bowler/batsman are a part of a player's career. Laziness and lack of concentration are two things that creep into a players game very easily. The captain has to keep pushing his players. He has to keep telling them to stay focussed and make them play to their potential. It is for the captain to know the strengths and weaknesses of the players in his team. Plan a strategy for every situation on the fly. There are two things that contribute to your success. One thing is to play to your strength and the other is to exploit the other team's weaknesses.

Having played for more than almost 13-14 years and served as captain for almost a decade, is it too much to ask from Azhar to have learnt to plan for every match. I am convinced that this team lacks strategy. I have no doubt they get together before and after matches. But, do they really work out strategies? Do they really keep track that a certain player is a nervous starter, or a certain player tries to hit his way out if he is not given the width to hit early in his innings, or a certain bowler easily loses his concentration and confidence if he fails to get a wicket in his first 3-4 overs?

The game of cricket has become so much more scientific that it is not uncommon for to bowlers to think a batsman out. South Africans are a good example of a team that exploits the opposition's weakness and also plays to its strength.

In all this, the captain and the coach have a key role to play. They are the ones who should take the initiative and active participation in doing the homework. Attitude is the key. This Indian team does not lack in talent. What it needs is dynamism at the top. It needs energy, determination and aggression at the top. The captain has to perform and motivate the others to perform. Ajay Jadeja seems to have the skills. He seems to communicate with the team well, uses his resources well and shows a lot of aggression.

It would do Azhar's captaincy record a world of good if he can take a leaf or three from this. If he does, and does it effectively, I am sure the millions of cricket loving fans in India would very soon wipe off the lackluster performances of the past. Everyone is more keen on what is to come tomorrow than what happened yesterday. It is now in Azhar's hands to decide if that tomorrow will come. If the Indian team has to win the World Cup, and believe me it has the talent to do so, then this man has to show the spirit and make his team reflect that burning urge to win.

I really hope that Azhar will show the will to learn and knit the talent in this present team into a world beating unit. Don't they say that third time is lucky? Let's see how he leads the Indian cricket team for the third time in a World Cup -- and I hope it is, successfully.

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