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May 21, 1999

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Is it the end of the road for India?

Arvind Sundar-Rajan

The fancied Indian team suffered a loss to World Cup minnows Zimbabwe and now find their chances of advancing to the Super Six fairly slim. India will have only themselves to blame for these defeats.

The cricket crazy Indian population was shocked early Wednesday morning on hearing the death of the father of Sachin Tendulkar. Indians all over were shocked that the much-talked about Sachin vs. Zimbabwe was not going to happen. The Indian cricket team could have bought some consolation by defeating Zimbabwe. However, Zimbabwe, happy that their main tormentor was not around, had other plans today. Getting into the match, all Indian cricket board officials were confident that India would run over Zimbabwe, including our captain, Azharuddin. This was certainly not the right attitude to approach an important game.

One-day cricket has seen the greatest teams crumbling and this Indian team was by no means exceptional. Zimbabwe got into the game with nothing to lose and with a victory already in hand. The result – India lost the match by 4 runs. What went wrong? India is now standing with zero points after two matches and another loss could result in certain elimination from the Super Sixes.

Personally, I believe the biggest mistake India has made in both the matches has been the introduction of Agarkar to bowl in crucial stages of the game. Agarkar has been a king on pitches in the Indian subcontinent, but is yet to flourish on seamer friendly tracks. Debashish Mohanty has been in good form in English conditions, but is yet to be tried. I would not like to blame the captain and the coach for not including him in the team. They probably relied on experience and proven excellence while selecting the team. Agarkar is a wicket taker – but an expensive one at that. His final over against South Africa knocked India right out of the game after what seemed a tight match. He gave away a lot of extras and constantly strayed down the leg side.

I wonder why our players try to overdo things just when the going is good. Ganguly, or even Sachin, may have been the ideal choice under those conditions. We put this loss away as a close match against the tournament favorites. Hey, I thought everyone back in India believed that we were the favorites to win the Cup. If so, why accept a loss as a decent performance.

True champions should be able to excel under all conditions. People learn from their mistakes, but our guys are a little different. They repeated their mistakes. Ajit Agarkar was hit out by an innocuous Zimbabwean attack for 71 runs in 9 overs. Saurav on the other hand went had figures of 22 runs of 5 overs. Agarkar after his second spell had conceded 44 runs of the 6 overs he had sent down. Surely at this time, the Indian think tank on the field should have realized that Ganguly was more economical and conceded hardly any extras. More importantly, with India having to send down 14 overs in the final 40 minutes, Ganguly should have been the perfect choice for the skipper. The extras conceded were unimaginable. Agarkar’s final three overs cost the team additional 27 runs, something the Indians may have to regret if they begin their return journey before the Super Sixes.

At this stage let alone our dream of winning the World Cup, even the next round is a tough possibility. Robin Singh, our allrounder – sends down two overs for 11 runs. What happens next - he is stopped and does not send down another over. Against South Africa he bowled 2 overs for 10 runs. Do we need to have him in our team if we intend using him this scarcely, particularly after our frontline bowlers also took a thrashing?

I believe that India played well in both the games, except for a few bad decisions that cost us the match. We had South Africa within striking distance all along, one bad move towards the end and sloppy collection of the ball earlier cost us the match.

Against Zimbabwe, we had the upperhand for the most part, again some stupid decisions and we collect the loser’s check. Our batsmen are in command and then Ramesh decides its time to finish the match early - only to fall for a poor shot. A few mistakes in two matches cost us 4 points. We had our chance of being the leaders of the table.

Though most of our players have turned out impressive performances, unlike Sri Lanka and Kenya, we find ourselves on par with them. The effort of Srinath, Kumble, Prasad and our frontline batsmen have gone to waste

My changes for the coming match against Kenya would be Mohanty in place of Agarkar. The wise men may have already planned this out, let's only hope its not too late. Mohanty’s inclusion may backfire, but we can certainly test him against Kenya. Robin also needs more overs with the ball. We have not given him a decent chance to settle and two overs are hardly a fair indication of his bowling prowess.

One may find my views harsh and critical, but I am another cricket crazy Indian fan and would love to see our team on the Lord's balcony on June 20th with the World Cup in our hands. We definitely have a tough battle in our hands – we also have the men to deliver the goods – so let's all hope together that when the going gets tough, the Indians start winning and not falling.

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