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Sails set, but travellers hit choppy waters

The Kiwis seem to be specialists in running out batsmen who venture out of the crease, assuming the ball to be dead, writes Sunil Gavaskar.

india Updated: Dec 17, 2006 01:58 IST

There is international cricket being played in different countries with all ten Test playing teams involved — either in the Test format, or the limited-overs internationals — and the incredible part is that the touring sides are taking a pretty fearful beating from the home teams — though Sri Lanka have put up an amazing fightback in the second Test.

In Pakistan, the West Indies are struggling. They have been on the road since September and are obviously feeling homesick, as teams that don’t do well on tours tend to feel.

The Zimbabwean team has just finished an ODI series in Bangladesh, in which they were blanked out 0-5, and that means a huge setback to the African nation's plans of playing Test cricket again.

In Australia, the hosts have taken a two-nil lead and are looking good to wrap up the series and win back the Ashes. Sri Lanka found it tough to cope with the weather and Shane Bond in the first Test, losing inside four days.

There has been a fair bit of controversy over the dismissal of Muttiah Muralitharan, who was run out by the New Zealand keeper after he ran down the pitch to congratulate his partner Kumara Sangakkara on reaching his century.

The Kiwis claimed the ball was in play, and so Muralitharan should have waited before running down the pitch, and while it has been suggested in New Zealand’s defence that Murali should know the rules with all his experience, it’s also equally true that at this level, players know when there is an intention to run a single or just go down the pitch, be it for gardening, or to talk to the batting partner at the other end.

The Kiwis seem to be specialists in running out batsmen who venture out of the crease, assuming the ball to be dead, as they earlier ran out a Zimbabwe batsman who had gone down the pitch for precisely the same reason — to congratulate his partner for completing a half-century.

With these two dismissals, it is pretty certain that they would be at the bottom of the table as far as winning the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award for 2006-07 is concerned.

It also brings into focus how Asian sides, often trying to do the right thing, find that their gestures are not reciprocated by other teams hell-bent on winning one way or the other.

And finally, the Indians in South Africa have found the pitches with just a little bit more bounce than they can cope up with, and so have lost the One-day series 0-4, and they will now be playing the Tests hoping that the pitches will be a lot more benign than the ones they got for the One-day series.

They have not been helped by some pretty ordinary scheduling, which has seen the players having lots of off-days on their hands, and on a tour where things are not going well, these off-days can be most off-putting, as time hangs on hands.

How badly this tour has been scheduled can be seen by these off-days, which actually could have been used to play some warm-up games, which would not only have enabled the players to acclimatise to the pitches, but also given everybody in the squad an equal chance of staking a claim for a place in the playing XI.

There are no less than eleven days between the last One-day game and first Test, and the team has played only one warm-up game in this period.

Not only that, but after the first Test, there is a gap of six days in which there is no game at all, so there is every chance of players losing any rhythm they may have achieved in the first Test.

So, the number of days that the players do not play at all till the second Test begins is 13, and that is simply too many free days. They may practice on all the days, but there is nothing like a proper game to tune the team up for the bigger battle.

If the issue was of burnout, then too, to have 13 days off is just too much. Cricket is all about rhythm and being in a good groove. When a player is in form, he should play all the matches rather than look to rest.

The player who is not in form should take time off to focus on how to improve and not repeat the mistakes. Hopefully, all the time off will help the Indians to see where they are going wrong and improve, so that there is something to cheer for the Indian cricket-lover in the new year.  PMG