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August 27, 1999


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Home is where the hurt is

Dilip Vengsarkar

A brand new cricket season has just begun, one which Indian cricket can look forward to with hope. For, with Sachin Tendular at the helm of affairs once more, the Indians are bound to gradually adopt a positive approach. And what could be better than that?

It's true that great cricketers always lead by example. And Sachin can not only be counted among the game's greats, but is indeed the best batsman in contemporary cricket. His confidence, his discipline, his very attitude towards the game is nothing short of an inspiration, and is bound to rub off onto those under his charge.

Sachin today is a lot more mature and experienced than he was when given the reins the first time round. Fortunately, he has a sensible lot of selectors to deal with this time, and that can make a telling difference. There's Madan Lal, for instance, who was coach to the Indian team when Sachin was first elevated to the captaincy. Now, he's a shrewd bloke end he's seen it all first hand. So he's sure to have a fairly good idea of just who are the tigers on field, and who off it. This time round, therefore, in the absence of constant interference from the selectors, Sachin is certain to be under considerably less pressure.

In comparison to Sachin, Jayasuriya is a novice at the job. It's not going to be as easy for him as it was when Rantagunga took over. When the latter was placed in the saddle, nobody really expected him to perform miracles. And so Ranatunga bided his time, licked his team into shape, and went on o bring home the prestigious World Cup. In that respect, Jayasuriya has a tough task cut out for him.

What's more, Jayasuriya has been given a team comprising mostly youngsters. Talented though they may be, it will take some time for them to combine as a unit and deliver the goods. What it will call for in their case is some patience from the selectors, not to mention the cricket-loving Lankan public in general. They have to persist with their captain, keep faith in him, allow him time to blossom, as they did with Ranatunga.

To get back to Sachin, however, what he must do in the near future is to get rid of dead wood when it's time for the real test in Australia. Rather unfortunately though, our domestic cricket is completely neglected by the authorities, and even those who show promise are seldom groomed or experimented with.

Just look at Central Zone, for instance. It really beats me to think that a zone which won almost all the major tournaments is represented in the Indian team by just one player -- Amay Khurasia, and what is worse even that one guy is not certain of a place in the playing eleven. What's more, he has yet to prove himself at the highest level, especially in Test cricket.

Vijay Bhardwaj of Karnataka is another batsman I've observed. These days, with the super league in vogue, cricketers play a minimum of 10 to 12 games in the Ranji Trophy, and Bhardwaj emerged the highest individual scorer in the calendar year. I happened to watch him bat against the touring West Indies 'A' team in Mumbai, and was surprised to find him all at sea against the pace of Reon King who went on to play for the West Indies. To think that the heaviest scorer in the domestic championship lacked not only in technique but also in guts! Well, I hope it was just a bad outing for him, and that he improves with time. But then, are there quality players around to play alongside him and test his skills? No, they are all busy globe-trotting, playing international cricket here, there and everywhere, while the standard of domestic cricket suffers due to the neglect and stepmotherly treatment on the part of the authorities.

In the ongoing Aiwa cup in Sri Lanka, the Aussies took the opportunity to groom a quality all-rounder in Andrew Symonds who shows much promise. Tell me, did India bother to do anything of the sort? No, we didn't. Simply because we do not have the confidence to groom players who have done well on the domestic circuit.

As I see it, I'm afraid we seem to be slowly but surely going the way of English cricket. In England, too, they just refuse to groom youngsters, and keep recalling proven failures in Test cricket. Soon they will be off on a tour to South Africa, where God alone can save them from an imminent massacre.

In India, however, it may not always be possible to pick a guy who has done well on the domestic front for Test cricket. They are two very different cups of tea, and he has to also do well for the India A team, especially against worthy opponents like Australia or South Africa. For this, the Board has come up with the idea of organising more tours for the A team. While it sure is a good sign, does it imply that the Ranji and Duleep trophies will suffer even further?

Mind you, while India will be playing New Zealand at home, the Aussies will be playing their domestic cricket before India tours Down Under this year-end. And, you can bet every Aussies state team will be at full strength with all their Test players participating. That's what makes the Sheffield shied so unique.

Is it any wonder then that the Aussies play like true champs? Why, even a great bowler of the calibre of Shane Warne wouldn't dream of taking his place in the state side for granted, let alone the national side. Remember the same Warne was dropped in the West Indies when his form took a beating not so very long ago?

That attitude, of performance above all else, is precisely why Australian cricket is where it is today - right at the very top.

Dilip Vengsarkar

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