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Attack, defend? Tendulkar torn

The jury held Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni as two standout performers for India in the series, writes Arjuna Ranatunga.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2005 02:42 IST
Shooting From The Hip | Arjuna Ranatunga
Shooting From The Hip | Arjuna Ranatunga

The jury held Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni as two standout performers for India in the series. It was a popular choice and not based on figures alone. The only time India pulled up short— in Ahmedabad— Pathan did not play and Dhoni was out for nought. Otherwise, Pathan was nearly always good with both bat and ball; Dhoni in front and behind the stumps.

Pathan obviously had been following the action closely while waiting for his turn to bat in the middle. I think he realised quickly that the Sri Lankans wanted to test out the top order with short-pitched deliveries. He worked out his strokes, which included upper cuts over point and cover. He also hooked a six which gives the youngster an impressive array of shots -- drives on either side of wicket, pulls and cuts and we have a proper batsman in the making. He is also composed which is actually a reflection that the batsman has oodles of time to negotiate deliveries.

Dhoni was impressive in the way he eschewed his strokes when required. He followed Pathan in the middle but didn't try to bat like him or compete with the pyrotechnics that had preceded him. It is never easy when you can hit the ball a mile. He did try to finish off the match with his signature six but by then there was little left in the game.

Flexibility, which men like Pathan and Dhoni bring, is key in the one-day context and India are blessed in the knowledge that they have unearthed two match-winners. Sachin Tendulkar, in contrast, is an interesting case profile. He began the series like when he first picked up the bat -- using it like a sword, a scimitar, and moving on his feet like a dancer. Then followed four failures.

I watched his final innings in Baroda with interest. It was obvious that the Sri Lankans wanted to bounce him out. It was also clear that he was not going to take them on. To me it appeared that his instincts are still trying to make a fine balance between attack and defence. That is not always possible -- in fact, it can confuse you. It is here that I advocate a clever management by senior, yet essential, members of the side. All this travelling, endless requests from fans and media can test the freshest -- leave alone somebody who has been on the circuit for a decade and a half. Tendulkar needs to be managed well to keep him fresh and hungry.

Another thing that I did not like about the Indians was the way they waited for things to happen. It only underlines that changes in attitude and instincts cannot be wrought overnight.

India have only begun the journey, it is an ongoing process. There is no final resting place on the field -- it's only in the junkyard. Defeat is never without ramifications. Sri Lankan supporters are going to debate the virtues of Sanath Jayasuriya's omission and Chaminda Vaas's elevation to vice-captaincy in the coming weeks.

I don't think critics should read too much into Vaas's elevation as vice-captain. Mahela Jayawardene would still be up for leadership when the time comes. Vaas is a very senior pro and sometimes it is important to acknowledge such a person’s contribution and attend to his ambitions if they are genuine. I don't think it would create a rift or force Kumara Sangakkara to squeal in protest.

Sri Lanka return in a week's time and we would see how much wiser they are by the experience. I feel they wouldn't be as bad. Murali is a different proposition with fielders around the bat and batsmen would have time to build their innings. There would be lesser travelling and they also now know the conditions.

India, in contrast, would be falling back on a few other seniors who could mess up their approach in order to match the youngsters. Test cricket is still a matter of skill and experience and a little less athleticism would not hurt as much.

It's time to bring the likes of Sourav Ganguly on.


First Published: Nov 14, 2005 02:42 IST