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March 31, 1999


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Wakeup call for the five wise men

Sanjay Manjrekar

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are at the moment in the midst of the Pepsi triangular one-day tournament. It will ostensibly decide the best one day team in Asia -- but are these three teams actually vying for that honour? I am not so sure.

Such is the enormity of the World Cup, an event that comes only once in four years, that everything else pales in comparison. Thus, though this triangular tournament is a contest between nations at the international level, it is still being looked at as preparation and build-up for the World Cup, now just a few weeks away.

With the increasing number of games being played these days and also with the mega event approaching, even international games are looked up to as warm-up matches. This is the fate of the current triangular tournament, and a similar fate awaits the Sharjah triangular tournament, later in April. It takes away the edge from a contest when participating teams start believing that winning here is not as important as getting one's act right for something more important to follow.

Of course, having said all that, there is still a lot of interest in this triangular tournament -- interest in individual performances, especially for the Indian followers. After this tournament, the 19 probables will be finally trimmed to a squad of 15, which will play in Sharjah and also in England. It is for this reasn that these matches in the triangular tournament are very important, for the Indian hopefuls. Theirs is not a position to be envied, for the performance here will decide theiff fate as far as the trip to the World Cup is concerned. And it is at such times that pressure tells tales.

The upcoming selection process is going to be crucial. New faces selected for any other tournament make, at the most, a few lines in the next day's news -- but the players who will be selected for the World Cup become instant heroes, such is the hype surrounding the tournament.

However, I feel that the selectors should try and make it easier for the eager young players trying to make their mark. Players should know that one single performance will not decide who the stars are going to be and who the nonentities. We have had a history of such selections, where the batsman who top scores on turning tracks is picked for tours of Australia or England or the West Indies and predictably, fails to score a run in those conditions.

This brings us back to the point I had made in an earlier column, about selectors needing to be 'assessors'. I would like to think that at this point, the selectors have almost made up their minds about the final 15. Neither one bad performance, nor a single good one, should change their minds at this point. I am sure that the selectors have seen enough of the 19 probables to know their abilities, their strengths and their weaknesses.

The selectors should use this tournament to watch the fringe players playing under pressure in an international tournament. To look for the smallest of details which will convey the mindset and temperament of the players, rather than depend totally on the runs he scored or the wickets he took. Let's face it, these players are on the threshold because they have all performed adequately/ Watching them in an international setting and looking for those small signs will give the selectors an idea about the fitness of the player for the big time. While at it, they should also look for indications that the player might give about his effectiveness in England. Let us not, at least this time, make the same old mistake of picking the highest scorers and wicket-takers in this tournament, to the exclusion of other evidence.

I know that selectors tend to take safe and popular decisions. Hence, they rely totally on performance. This way, they can also defend themselves to the press by citing the scoresheets to justify their selections. But I will take my hat off to the selector who will come out saying, I know this player does not have enough performance to back him, but I do think he has the potential and the ability to do the job required of him. Now, if this selector is a respected cricketer, no one will question him or doubt his judgement. It is here that Pakistan has an advantage -- being a smaller set-up, they have had men who were able to make such selections. And if it were not for these men, the world would not have seen the Waqars and Akrams in action.

I fervently hope there are some bold men in our selection committee, who will take bold decisions and, in the process, find some bold cricketers. If that happens, we wold have taken a step in the right direction, as our campaign for the World Cup of 1999 begins.

Sanjay Manjrekar

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