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Indian cricket is back to square one
February 06, 2006
For all you know, that meek surrender at Karachi may well have been just our team's bad day at office -- computers down, phones out of order, an acidic tummy, the staff sick and the canteen boys on strike.
But grains of substance can nonetheless be sifted from that huge defeat symbolised by Tendulkar on both his knees, looking in awe at his castle's raw destroyer.
First, there is our bowling. On the morning of the fourth day's play at Karachi, Kumble, the 'great' Kumble of ours, was in the same plight that had affected him in the Lahore and Faisalabad Tests: he couldn't turn the ball an inch to the right or to the left of the batsman. Just a couple of hours later, Danish Kaneria, was turning the ball across our batsmen's willow or bringing his googly in almost at will.
What had caused the difference? The pitch had not crumbled to dust in just two hours, surely? The only visible reason for this chasm between Kumble and Kaneria was that while the former uses his first three fingers to effect spin, Kaneria gripped the ball with all his five and used his wrist to give the tweak. More than that we do not know because former Test cricketers who monopolise the commentators' role in the print and visual media have chosen not to deal with this phenomenon as to why Kumble can fuzz and whirl the ball but not turn it off the pitch except on occasions.
And it's worth remembering that Kumble has been dangerous, really dangerous, almost entirely on dusty, cracked Indian pitches, while Kaneria has known to whiz his leg breaks even on what are largely unhelpful tracks. Shane Warne, of course, can do that almost on any surface -- that's his genius.
It seems imperative, therefore, that with Kumble ageing, even with what he has, India very urgently must search for a genuine spinner who can spin and turn the ball to the slips region of the right hand batsman. Kumble has rendered us magnificent service on our tracks, and we salute him for that, but now is the time to hunt for an away spinner for all tracks. Murali Karthik must be straightaway subjected to an intense programme under Bishen Singh Bedi, and young leg-spinners be pooled urgently to spot and train the best two.
There is urgent need also for an off-spinner who can turn all brands of balls used at the international level. Harbhajan Singh's dismal failure in the first two Tests on the recent tour not only resulted in his exclusion for the Karachi encounter but has also given cause for seriously exploring a more versatile replacement.
The latest Test series was played with the Kookaburra ball made in Australia and this is the ball which, Harbhajan Singh confessed a few seasons ago, he finds inimical. It seems that the Kookaburra ball doesn't have the pronounced seam possessed by the Duke ball that is used for Tests in India. Harbhajan Singh grips the ball tight across the seam and whatever little seam protrusion the Kookaburra ball has when it's new withers away by the time it's his turn to bowl.<>That is a serious limitation which raises a question.
Just what has Harbhajan Singh been doing on his own, or made to do by the team's coach, to overcome that major drawback? He's been a regular in the Indian team for quite a few seasons now and therefore should have been compelled by now to deal with an almost seamless ball.
Has our Cricket Board and our coach imported Kookaburra balls in dozens and helped Harbhajan Singh learn how to spin that brand almost as well as he does the Duke ball? Has the man himself taken time out to spend an entire off-season to be with E A S Prasanna, our master off-spinner of the sixties and seventies? Has he ever volunteered to pay, from his own fortune, the now needy Pras to teach him everything about off-spin? We don't know -- we don't because those in our media who are blessed enough to earn a living by being on the cricket beat prefer to pry more into controversies rather than pore over the core cases.
A few such cases are the alarming and sudden decline of pace in Irfan Pathan's bowling, the almost complete loss of the yorker from Zaheer Khan's armoury and Agarkar's continued inability be half as accurate as a Test medium pacer should be.
Hasn't our team's trainer been employed, or whatever else, to enhance Pathan's strength? Just what did the lad himself do, or didn't do, that has reduced his bowling speed by a good 15 kph in less than two years? Has the team's bio-mechanic expert done something that prevents Zaheer Khan from bowling his once famous yorkers? What is irregular in Agarkar's delivery style that makes him spray the ball hither and thither even at his medium pace? We do not, alas, know the answer.
What we do know and see with our own eyes is that, in utter contrast with our above pace trio, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Asif and Abdul Razaq are smooth all the way. Asif is an aesthetic sight of sorts while Razaq looks so thoroughly effortless as he slithers over the turf, ball after ball, with even his surprise bouncer being without a hint of extra bend or energy.
Yes, yes, it's essentially our batting which capitulated after our bowlers allowed themselves to be toyed with by every Pak batsman in the second innings at Karachi. And it's good that many have become skeptic about our vaunted batting wealth; in particular, it's a healthy sign that a question mark is at least being publicly put against Tendulkar's invincibility and indispensability. The truth is that he and V V S Laxman have simply gotten leaden feet, and are almost at the end of their best-before-date.
If, despite all the rigorous and varied training they get, they fail to stop an incoming fast ball from hitting their pads in front of the stumps or from hitting bang on the stumps, surely age and wear and tear must have taken toll. It is so with Ganguly too and will, it appears, be so soon enough with Sehwag as well unless the daredevil opener accepts the reality that he is losing hair too fast for comfort.
One last point. It was conspicuous that more often than not, a hit on the off-side by Pakistani batsmen ended in the boundary fence while similar shots by our batsmen ended with a fielder. Obviously, laptops hadn't helped pinpointing our captain's and bowlers' field placements.
Yes, it looks as if Indian cricket is back to square one -- direly in need of batsmen, pacemen, spinners, coaches, trainers, bio-mechanic experts and psychologists. Unless, of course, the white flag at Karachi stood for just a bad day at the office for our multi-millionaire executives of Cricket Inc.
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