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Chopping and changing can wait

Making the players insecure by making frequent changes is not the way to success, writes Arun Sivasankaran.

india Updated: Sep 09, 2005 17:34 IST

On a windy night in New York, Roger Federer, the defending champion and number one seed at the US Open, faced two break point at 3-3 in the third set against an inspired Nicholas Keifer, one player who has given him some trouble in recent times, after having shared the first two sets. One bad shot and it was set over, almost. And Keifer was pressing hard.

Two moments of pure brilliance, one a service winner and the other an out of the world backhand cross-court passing shot, and the champ, who was playing nowhere near his best on the day, was on his way. Crisis defused, opponent mentally crushed, match virtually over.

A few hours earlier, in far away Harare, the Men in Blue had seen off the threat from Shane Bond and was motoring along against the Kiwis in the final when Daniel Vettori, much against the run of play, claimed two wickets in three balls, sending the two big boys, Sehwag and Dravid back to the pavilion. Out of nowhere, a crisis stared Yuvraj Singh, the new man in, and Mohammed Kaif in the face.

The next nine overs brought just 30 runs, with the two youngsters taking a step back. India, which looked set to score comfortably over 300, ended up with 276, a target that the Kiwis chased down comfortably to win the tournament. No one has to think hard to find out where the game turned.

Federer obviously know how to raise his game when it comes to the crunch, how to win the big points, as wins in 22 consecutive finals prove. The Men in Blue may not exactly choke, but they do have a problem dealing with pressure, as twelve losses in the last sixteen ODI finals they have played testify.

Sourav, going by his words, has giving up trying to find out and rectify what exactly goes wrong when his team plays in finals, but it is not like it is an insurmountable mountain. Federer, in his early days, did not know what to do with his incredible gifts and was losing matches to players with not even half his talent. A few trips to a mind doctor, whose name he does not like to disclose to the world, and it all turned around for him. It is two different sports, but much of any game is played in the mind, and there could be a lesson to learn from Federer for the Indians. Where is Sandy Gordon?

The BCCI president has talked about a review of the Indian team's performance in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and while the board is perfectly within its rights to act tough, it would not be the best idea to chop and change too much. Yes, there are a few heads that have to roll, and indiscipline should never be allowed to board a team bus, but making the players insecure is not the perfect recipe for success. If Ganguly had success as a captain, it was more due to his undying faith in players he had handpicked than tactical wizardry. Rooting out complacency would be the right thing to go, but turning around 360 degrees would be suicidal, something that Greg would be well aware of.

Defeat clouds the mind and it will be easy to dismiss the tour to Sri Lanka and the ODI leg of the Zimbabwe series as failures, but some of the pieces are falling in place and finally, one can see the merit behind Greg Chappell's juggling of players and their batting positions. Two young and talented men have shown signs of growing up into men, and when Dravid and Sehwag click, as they are bound to soon, and Sachin returns, India will have the batting strength that will help them win more games than they have of late. JP Yadav, Pathan and Agarkar constitute a rather healthy lower middle order as well.

It has taken long in coming but Kaif and Yuvraj, from what one saw in Zimbabwe, have graduated and it would not be surprising if their consistency levels go up significantly in future. Although Kaif has played a few vital innings at number six, his style of play, largely based on nudges and picking the gaps, was never the most ideal one for that position. Dhoni, with his beefy muscles and heavy bat, is just what India needs when the slog is on.

The pace bowlers continue to wax and wane - Irfan Pathan has shown worrying signs of losing the plot when the heat is on - and the captain continues to be a liability, but India under Greg, no longer accepts setbacks with a shrug. Not too long ago, one got the feeling that defeats did not hurt nearly as much as it should have.

First Published: Sep 09, 2005 11:25 IST