Be industrious, not impetuous
It is choice and not chance that determines your destiny. Right from co-ordinating its batting order, to picking two spinners on a sluggish wicket and opting to take first strike, India made the all right moves to get their house in order in their opening World Cup match against the Netherlands at Paarl on Wednesday.
Sachin Tendulkar's promotion to the top of the tree was laudable as it allowed him the chance to unleash his dominating skills. Yet, the team made heavy weather of the victory, its formidable batting line-up struggling to get to the 200-run mark.
Of course, it is difficult to dance on a crooked floor. After a neat innings, Tendulkar was done in by a snorter that stopped on him and Rahul Dravid by another that virtually scooted along the track, the bounce was disconcerting and unpredictable. It was a grafting pitch that demanded a workmanlike approach from the batsmen. They needed to be industrious, not impetuous. The need of the hour was for them to beaver away.
On a track on which the ball was gripping the surface and dying on them, hitting on the up spelt doomsday for some batsmen. Shot-selection and game management were critical. A cheap but top-rate computer is the one between the ears and some of the Indians were guilty of not using it effectively on Wednesday, particularly on a track on which you would have expected them to have few problems.
Left-handers Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Mongia saved India the blushes with their mature approach and ensured that the psychological landmark of 200 would be passed. It was a shame though that India did not last the full 50 overs even against the lowly Dutch side, whose attack embraced the virtues of impeccable line and length.
The lamb and the lion can lie together but the lamb will never sleep well. Inevitably, the Dutch innings was rocked by initial thrusts from Javagal Srinath while Anil Kumble creamed the middle-order. It was disappointing that India did not go for the jugular towards the end of the Holland innings. By allowing the ninth-wicket pair to bat for 17 overs, India showed no urgency.
In a competition like this, where net run rate could come into play, India has got to have the foresight to see that every run made and denied will count. Van Bunge and Smits added 49 when you would have expected India to roll the Dutch over. There did not seem to be much point in getting through the fifth bowler's quota of 10 overs.
Instead, India would have been well served by getting Srinath to complete the job that he had to in any case.
Age has been perfect the fire extinguisher for flaming youth in Srinath's case. He is now an astute bowler, with a richer repertoire than ever before.
Kumble showed himself as wily as a fox with a bagful of tricks, deceiving the Dutch who played for the non-existent turn.
From the spectators' point of view, the ninth wicket stand was like going to the zoo and watching turtles race by. It may seem like I am digressing a bit but it is pertinent to point out that the Dutch - as indeed a few other sides - did not belong here.
Instead of exposing such teams at the World Cup, the International Cricket Council must encourage them to play first-class cricket.
The criteria for their promotion to the international platform must be their ability to beat at least provincial or state sides from around the world before they are given the chance of playing in the World Cup.
With teams like the Netherlands, Canada - even if it beat Test-playing nation in Bangladesh - and Namibia, it seems a travesty of justice to pit them with the big guns.
To revert to India, the wickets in South Africa offer different challenges and the side must be ready to adapt to various situations.
You can't go in with a set mind-set. Flexibility is the name of the game. For instance, India must be prepared to include a third seamer on some tracks ahead of a second spinner.
Besides, Ganguly's continued poor form is a bit worrisome and he must now consider dropping down to No. 3.
The thought of Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag opening the innings in tandem is mouth-watering indeed, even if it means that India's advantage of having a left-right combination at the start of the innings is negated.
Next up for India is a formidable side. Australia is a foe that has the tenacity and mental fortitude to claw out of difficult situations.
Their never-say-die spirit was evident in the manner in which they beat Pakistan despite the paucity of resources.
India must remember that great oaks are not felled in a single stroke and will need to play consistent cricket to get past the Australians.
Against an opposition like that, if the batsmen let the side down, there can be just no comebacks.
India must dig deep, draw on their resources and meet the challenge with a manly heart. (TCM)
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