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Javagal Srinath

Zaheer's return to form is imperative

March 18, 2004

The Indians were found wanting as roles were reversed at Rawalpindi. It's now quite obvious that this series is all about sustaining the pressure. If the intensity continues to remain the same throughout the series, both teams will be completely stressed out before the Test matches begin.

Winning is extremely important in such pressure-cooker situations. When some fail to give of their best under extreme pressure, then self-doubt and insecurity start to creep in, and some may even try to find escape routes.

The team management should be extremely vigilant to make sure that players are counselled well so that they get on with the game and remain positive. There are many in the Indian side who are still inexperienced and may struggle to come to terms with the pressures and expectations. Players like Hemang Badani and Irfan Pathan, who are in and out of the playing eleven quite often, are the ones at maximum risk. Pathan, who is tipped to play in place of Ashish Nehra, should be handled with utmost care.

One thing I must point out is that in the quest for winning games, the effort to build the team should not lose focus. Results follow only when you manage to build a good team. I am sure the seniors will be stretching themselves that bit extra to address such issues.

Conscious efforts should be made to keep the boys in the right frame of mind. The Indian team is sorely missing the services of a sports psychologist at this hour. I vividly recall how Sandy Gordon was useful in the early part of the World Cup. Even the senior cricketers need help at times. The transfer of knowledge and confidence is very effective when the seniors in the side make an attempt to address the boys.

Zaheer Khan's return to form is important for the team to do well. The bowling department can operate effectively only when it freezes on three fast bowlers. The same three should play in all the games. Chopping and changing will not give the team a proper measure of its bowling resources.

What is baffling is Nehra's consistent breakdowns and injury problems. This only adds to the problems of the bowling. A bowler learns a lot from each game and he has to carry forward the experience to the next one. Nehra's exit will bring Pathan, who now has to start from scratch to understand the nature of the wickets and batsmen. The time is very short for this young lad to comprehend all this.

The untimely dismissals of Tendulkar and Dravid saw the game going Pakistan's way. To my knowledge, Sachin is fatigued. It could be the result of years of cricket, carrying too much expectation on his shoulders, and the pressure that have made him a bit tired. But the master batsman still played his part on sheer experience. One could tell that he was exhausted by the end of his innings. But he is a die-hard fighter who knows how to manage and will last this tour for sure.

I thought Kaif and Yuvraj could have won the match for India. The youngsters should have applied themselves till the end. The problem was that none of the regular batsmen stayed till the end of 50 overs.

For Pakistan, Shahid Afridi laid the foundation. The Indians cannot introduce spinners when he is around. Afridi's vulnerability to short-pitched bowling was not fully tested by the Indian bowlers.

Skipper Sourav Ganguly was overdependent on Sachin in the end overs. Fast bowlers are anyday better than spinners in the slog overs. Even if the fast bowlers go for runs, the experience is always a gain for them.

Previous column: The game is too batsman-friendly

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