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Disaster Down Under?

November 24, 2003

When Hemang Badani went we knew things were under our control' -- that's what Ricky Ponting told a correspondent after India had lost to Australia in the TVS Cup final at the Eden Gardens the other day. With Badani, the fifth wicket, falling at 159, that comment best sums up the reason for India's defeat: an ever fragile lower batting order, so weak that numbers seven to 11 could not, the adversary was sure, contribute the 76 runs required for victory though Rahul Dravid was going strong.

That's precisely what happened. Ajit Agarkar, at number seven, and notorious for his record of ducks against the Aussies, played an innings of exception: 26 unbeaten off 23 balls, but Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, and Aavishkar Salvi were out in just eight balls for just three runs -- all against a bowling that was hardly vicious. All that those four had to do on a pitch that was hardly tortuous was to stay put and play out the remaining ten-odd overs while the inspired Agarkar washed out the sins of all those dropped catches and missed stumping chance committed by our fielding earlier.

If at all the worst offender among those four is to be pinpointed, it was Salvi, who attempted a cross-bat heave to a ball, his fourth, that went straight on to his stumps. That was just the fourth ball he had faced. That mighty heave, mind you, from one who, we learnt later from his own mouth, had such severe pain in his right shoulder from the first ball he bowled that he had to reduce his pace by half! What kind of discipline was that from a debutant?

But that incident raises another question that is basic. Didn't the team's physio and trainer and coach know about Salvi's shoulder problem before they allowed his inclusion in the team? Who is to be adjudged guilty for that act which became tantamount to treason against Indian cricket? What kind of a fitness test are our cricketers subjected to?

To revert to Ponting's summation. None of our own experts and analysts has pointed a finger at our jokers in the batting order numbers eight to 11. The only one to do so in an article last week (It's the basics, stupid!) was dubbed a 'novice' in response. That's one stupid part of our country's general comprehension of cricket -- ignoring the basics, mistaking the wood for the trees. Another is the belief that the modern-day Indian cricketer does television commercials because he is poorly paid.'s cricket editor will tell you that the match fees plus the mandatory cut of the sponsorship money paid to the 'poor' blokes is considerable by standards of purchasing power parity in India.

How many, for instance, have statistically compared the line-and-length accuracy of other teams' bowlers with ours? How many, again, noticed the cockiness that had come over Yuvraj Singh in the recent twin series? He bats with almost disdain -- as though he were Viv Richards; he rushes to the ball on the field as though he were Jonty Rhodes. His whole demeanour on the field is as though he were being filmed for one of those super-hero commercials.

With a batting line-up whose overall performance varies from brilliance one day to the dismal the very next, one shudders at its prospects on the bouncy, pacy pitches of Australia where we go now. There's also the factor of the huge Australian grounds where Sehwag's and Tendulkar's square drives are likely to go into the fielder's hands on the boundary line rather than traverse over and beyond the fence as they do on smaller grounds like Hyderabad or Nagpur.

With Harbhajan uncomfortable with the Kookabura balls in use Down Under, with Kumble's overseas track record all these years being below par, and with our pace bowlers woefully lacking sustained accuracy, one just cannot visualise our team taking 20 Australian wickets in any of the four scheduled Test matches -- not especially with our friendly fielding that's below the international benchmark. Expect the worst then in the coming two months.

Barring divine intervention, India's prospects seem so bad as to recall a Ghalib couplet:
Kehte hain log jeete hain umeed pe
Hamey jeeneki bhi umeed nahin.

Translated, it means 'They say people live on hope/I don't have even hope to live.'

Editor's Note: Arvind Lavakare is hardly a novice at cricket. He was placed on the Register of Umpires of the erstwhile Bombay Cricket Association at the age of 16 -- the youngest ever. Five years later, he graduated to the BCA's Panel of Umpires. He wore the white coat in official tournaments in the city for several years and wrote extensively on the game for leading national newspapers till 1998, including coverage of the Indian team's tour of England in 1979 for The Hindustan Times. He also has done live commentaries on first class matches for All India Radio, besides doing several programmes for Doordarshan. He now lives a retired life, but continues to take avid interest in the game.

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