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Fielding will decide the winner
January 30, 2004
Three weeks after my retirement from international cricket it has not exactly been sitting on a rocking chair and watching the sun set. The domestic calendar for New South Wales has been pretty full, what with my first match being just two days after my farewell at Sydney. Since then I have played at Perth and have just finished a game against an Indian XI at Canberra.
I have been able to catch most of the action at the VB tri-series on television, particularly the three games between India and Australia. Both sides have been playing entertaining cricket with the batsmen from both teams really coming good. The teams are peaking at the right time and I expect the finals to be one of the closest we have seen in recent times. Zimbabwe have been reasonably competitive, but their good performances came a little too late, just when they were out of contention for a place in the finals.
It was great to catch up with the Indians at Canberra. As usual, I had a couple of good chats with some of the guys from their side. Sachin Tendulkar did most of the talking for a change, and a closer look at his walk showed that he had completely healed and will be ready for the finals.
I also caught up with VVS Laxman, who has been having a dream tour so far. The Australians always had high regard for him, even before his monumental 281 in Kolkata. On landing in Kolkata for that famous Test, I remember telling a couple of friends of mine that Tendulkar and Laxman were the two most dangerous batsmen in the side. It has taken him a couple of years, but he has finally proved me right!
There is no doubt that he will be counted among the world's best after this series, and that is what he deserves, given his abundant talent. There are only a handful of players in international cricket who have shots on either side of the wicket for every delivery, and Laxman is one of them. It has been difficult for Ricky and myself to set fields for him, and I see him doing this to captains all over the world for the next few years. The only person who can come in the way of his progress is Laxman himself. But I think he has now matured into a responsible, focussed cricketer, so there is no question of distractions coming in his way.
Since the finalists of the VB tri-series have already qualified, the next round of games will be of academic interest. I see team management of both India and Australia using this time to iron out little problem areas in their respective teams. Off-colour batsmen will be sent up the order, and strike bowlers will be used sparingly to keep them fresh for the finals. For the Australians, the form of Damien Martyn is not as much of a concern as the media is suggesting right now. He is too good a player to be out of form for too long, and I see a big knock coming from him any time now.
The best news for the Indians is that their younger players are grabbing every chance they get to prove their worth. Rohan Gavaskar did just that at Adelaide, and in Canberra, Hemang Badani scored a century against us to show that he too has what it takes. Irfan Pathan continues to surprise and impress for one so young. Sourav Ganguly has led his young guns well, and must be happy that they are firing so consistently, given that his old warhorses Tendulkar, Sehwag and Kumble are not yet fit.
There is not too much between India and Australia since both are batting beautifully. Eventually, it's the team that excels on the field that will take the triseries. The half-chances and run-outs could finally make the difference in a contest that promises to be too close to call.
Off the field, the chilling news of David Hookes' passing took a couple of days to sink in. I remember him playing his final Test in the same game in which I made my debut. He was out first ball in the second innings, thus exposing me to a hat-trick ball. Later he joked that he had not been able to look after the young bloke in the side. Hookes was always full of beans, always spoke his mind and was always full of innovative ideas. He was a lateral think, thought incessantly about ways to make cricket more exciting, and his frank views always shook one out of one's comfort zone. It's sad for the game that one of its most passionate exponents, commentators and followers should have gone in such a tragic way.