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India - Back to the future

Indians get to make an earnest start to translate their practice into fruitful performances, writes G Krishnan.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2006 11:53 IST
G Krishnan

Rahul Dravid’s men in blue have a tough task ahead in the coming season. Firstly, this is the season of the World Cup.

Before that, in two months’ time. They have a lot of matches lined up — at least 20 ODIs — before the quadrennial event to fine-tune some of the grey areas.

A few of them include batting efficiently in the mid-innings, tightening up the screws in bowling, especially in the initial stages and at the death.

There is, of course, no end to learning and improving upon previous performances.

The Indians get to make an earnest beginning to translate their practice and training into fruitful performances at the Unitech Cup tri-series beginning at the Premadasa Stadium here on Monday with a day-nighter between Sri Lanka and South Africa.

India’s first match is on Wednesday against the hosts at the same venue.

Dravid and coach Greg Chappell have been experimenting a lot over the past year in order to give finishing touches to the team in the lead up to the Cup.

Since taking over as coach in June 2005 and from the time Dravid has been made a permanent captain in October, the pair have complemented each other in their efforts to take India ahead and go one step better than their second-place finish behind Australia in the 2003 World Cup.

India have had a good run in the last year or so, particularly on home soil as they trounced Sri Lanka 6-1 in the seven-match series, drew with South Africa 2-2 in five-match ODI series and crushed England 5-1 early this year.

They also triumphed in the ODI series in Pakistan, winning 4-1, the last four on the trot after conceding the Test series.

However, the unexpected happened in India’s last appearance in limited-overs when they were upset 4-1 by a fairly young and inexperienced bunch of West Indians in the five-match series, though the scoreline does not reflect the intensity with which the matches were fought.

Still, India were never expected to lose. Experimentation often works but does it deliver all the time? It worked when New Zealand's Martin Crowe opened the bowling with off-spinner Dipak Patel in the 1992 World Cup or when the clever Arjuna Ranatunga unleashed the explosive Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana to go after the bowling in the first 15 overs.

It worked when Sachin Tendulkar agreed to open in limited-overs in New Zealand in 1994.

It is only when experiments go wrong that certain moves are criticised. The Indian batting order is not settled as yet. Often Irfan Pathan has batted at number three while Virender Sehwag has walked out with different openers.

The stroke-making Mahendra Singh Dhoni is still unsure of his batting position until he actually walks out. That he is prepared to bat wherever he is asked to, just like any other in the side, is a tribute to his confidence and the ability to adapt to the situation.

India have more or less zeroed in on the combination for the World Cup. Playing well in the tri-series here, where the conditions are similar to the West Indies, will be a morale-booster for Dravid's bunch of largely enthusiastic youngsters.

The return of Sachin Tendulkar, whose mere presence on and off the field has been recorded as immense by the men who matter, the glorious form of Yuvraj Singh, who has been man of the series in three successive ODI series — against South Africa and England at home, sandwiched by the series in Pakistan in the last year — the emergence of the young crop of fast bowlers guided by the experienced Ajit Agarkar and their willingness to rise to the occasion and adapt to the conditions are good signs for Dravid and Chappell.

However, India have to score victories consistently overseas to make them a force to reckon with and prove that the experimentations of Chappell and Dravid are really working. Most of the questions will be answered in the crucial months ahead.

The immediate task though will be to cross the hurdles in the form of Sri Lanka and South Africa, two of the three teams to have scored in excess of 400 in limited overs.

Reserve day

All matches in the tri-series will have a reserve day and a match, if interrupted, will resume the next day from where it was stopped. The match will not be replayed.