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The India Inc XI

January 01, 2004

Life is not a game of cricket. Or so the Japanese colonel told Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai.

But you could believe for more than a moment that bowling to Brian Lara or Ricky Ponting is something like taking on GM or Toyota in the car game, and that scoring a century against Shane Warne or McGrath is something like knocking up good marketshare against Honda and Samsung. So what would the playing eleven of India Inc look like, in the way that Coach Wright might consider them?

The captain of the team will, of course, have to be Rahul Bajaj. Not just because he is good at the corporate world's equivalent of sledging and because he knows how to bad-mouth umpires and get away with it, but also because he has three other qualities that are even more important.

First, he leads from the front while keeping his team in good cheer and spirits and is, therefore, well accepted in the leader's role; second, he knows how to hurl bouncers at the opposition; and third, when the crunch came (as it did at Bajaj Auto a few years ago), he looked at what was wrong with his own technique and developed a new array of strokes that have made him a more useful batsman in the middle order.

In other words, he is now less of an Ajit Agarkar (remember all those ducks?) and more the kind of all-rounder that Kapil Dev was.

Having got that out of the way, one should define the batsmen in our corporate cricket team as the guys who know how to dominate the domestic market and keep the opposing bowlers at bay. The bowlers are those whom you use to attack rival markets/players, in other words your export tycoons.

Here, of course, we have the best spinners in the world, in our software wizards. So our corporate equivalent of the Kumble-Harbhajan duo is, of course, Azim Premji and Narayana Murthy.

They can't bat very well (look at how small a role they play in the domestic market), but they sure as hell know how to bowl out the international competition.

That still leaves us with the need for opening bowlers. If Rahul Bajaj can be reckoned as one (he does, after all, know how to send down those bouncers), we need one more and here I think the best bet is another all-rounder, Ratan Tata.

First, while Tata's TCS is as good a spinner of software successes as Premji and Murthy, he also happens to know how to use pace. Look at the way he is knocking down the competition in steel and cars/trucks.

This, therefore, may be our equivalent of Garfield Sobers: batsman, opening bowler and spinner all rolled into one. And since he does quite well in so many domestic markets, he is not a bad batsman either.

With two all-rounders in our first four picks, and one of them the captain as well, I think we're doing very well indeed. Because we now have room for one more specialist bowler, a wicket-keeper and six specialist batsmen.

We'll get to the batsman presently, let us first select our final bowler and the wicket-keeper. Since our spinners are already clear match-winners, what we need is a bowler with genuine pace, a seamer who can make the ball move both ways off the seam so that the opposing batsman never knows quite what to expect.

And here my choice would fall on someone whom many people would not even consider a front-rank bowler, but someone who maintains a tight line (meaning his business is very focused) and whose recent track record is quite arresting.

I am talking, of course, of Baba Kalyani of Bharat Forge. He has knocked down one customer after the other in the big markets, and has now gone one better by buying up one of the biggest forging companies in Europe.

No wonder his share price has multiplied nearly 10-fold in less than two years. If he can maintain that kind of pace, and stay on target as he has been doing, we should expect him to keep sending the bails flying.

It might he argued that he does not have the bulk (physical size) that fast bowlers usually do, but as Agarkar showed at Adelaide, it is not size but wicket-taking that counts. And Baba Kalyani has been doing that almost to excess.

As for the choice of wicket-keeper, it has to be K V Kamath of ICICI. He does a great job of gathering the loose balls, and he keeps down the number of extras (think of it in terms of interest payments saved).

That leaves us with the task of selecting six specialist batsmen. The openers will have to be Maruti Udyog and Indian Oil, with the one-drop batsman being ONGC.

All of them know how to keep their wicket intact, they have learnt to face the competition and still keep scoring, and they are still improving their competitive skills.

You can take your pick as to which one is Rahul Dravid and which one V V S Laxman or Virendra Sehwag, but we have in these companies the guys who will bat India into a solid start, softening up the opposition for the advent of Sachin Tendulkar, who in our team has to be Mukesh Ambani of Reliance.

Ambani has been accumulating turnover the way Sachin has been scoring runs, though both have had a bit of a rough patch in the recent past. But whether it is petrochemicals, oil refining or telecom, it is Ambani who best fits the role of the guy whom the opposition fears or respects the most, the wicket they want more than any other.

That leaves us with two positions to fill, and because we have such a strong line-up already in place, I think we have the elbow room to fill one slot with a batsman who is a great stylist.

He may not have the best batting average (that is, the healthiest balance sheet), but he is a master of technique and can certainly soar to great heights. I am talking, of course, of Naresh Goyal of Jet Airways, who is capable of the kind of innings that makes every countryman proud.

So far we haven't really look at fielding strength. And the fact is that, while many of the players whom we have selected are great performers with the bat and ball, many of them are unhappily still out of shape -- and therefore not great fielders.

Rahul Bajaj occasionally gets onto an exercise cycle, but look at him and you know how occasional that is. Ratan Tata looks trim enough, as does Premji, but they're not great movers. Murthy is too small-built to be useful in anything other than a close-in position, so you have to hide him in the slips and hope he snaps up the catches that come his way -- as Gavaskar used to do quite well. In short, this is not a great fielding team.

So, it wouldn't hurt to have someone who perhaps knows how to bat but who can pace the point region or the cover area as well as Jonty Rhodes, and deny runs to the opposition.

The final slot in the team should, therefore, go to someone who can bat a bit (by being the non-executive chairman of a couple of companies) but more importantly because he is lean and mean, and quick off the mark. I mean Tarun Das.

Now you could argue that he isn't really a batsman in the way the others are, but the fact is that he does prevent the opposition from scoring a lot of runs -- and that is of tremendous value to both the bowlers (who get a lot of support from him) and the batsmen, who know that they have an easier target because Tarun is in the team and, in a sense, preventing the match from becoming too much of a leather-hunt.

So there we have it: our chosen eleven, the guys who can bat and bowl for India and win us the matches in the globalisation game. Do you think they are good enough to beat Australia?

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