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South Africa hear music, India face it

With World Cup not too far away, things don?t look just bad for India, they look terrible, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2006 14:43 IST

As the South African cricketers, all freshly scrubbed, walked into the Durban team hotel’s bar on Wednesday night for a celebratory drink — after all, they had finished work very early — a raucous group sitting there, singing an apparently bawdy Afrikaans song to the tune of the Beatles classic Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, burst into a rousing cheer.

South African skipper Graeme Smith good-naturedly agreed to down the tequila shot he was offered and went back to his gathering gang of mates. The mood was upbeat and the atmosphere decidedly congenial as the Indians present were ribbed about how their cricket team had collapsed. But as Ranjee, a South African Indian present there put it, “After a point, it isn’t funny. It is just so sad”.

And for those of us who are following the Indian team on their African safari, that is exactly what this 157-run loss, India’s lowest score in South Africa, was — very depressing.

Hop, skid and slump

There are 11 games left (weather allowing) till the World Cup, three more here and four each against the West Indies and Sri Lanka at home, so this is more or less the midway stage of the run-up to cricket’s mega-event. And things don’t just look bad, they look terrible!

On Wednesday, man-of-the-match Jacques Kallis remarked that it wasn’t a free-scoring wicket. “It just needed someone to bat through the innings and the others to bat around him.” In India’s case, forget yesterday, that hasn’t happened almost right through this season.

Take this statistic: India have just two centuries in the 12 completed games they’ve played so far since the start of the West Indies tour in the summer gone by. The 105 by Rahul Dravid in the Windies tour opener, the only game India won there and the 141* by Sachin Tendulkar in Kuala Lumpur, a game India lost to the Windies on D/L equations.

Then, counting the loss at Kingsmead last evening, India have now lost a whopping nine of these 12 games, making this, potentially, their worst one-day year ever in a very long time. And this is not counting the game against Australia where they were 35 for 5 in Kuala Lumpur when the rains came down and ended their misery without putting another humiliating loss against their name. But by the end of the South Africa tour, if they bat like they batted on Wednesday night, that potential would have become a nightmarish reality.

There are too many questions and too few answers forthcoming. We hear of processes and the rest from the team management but even making leeway for these processes to take some time, there has to be some line drawn somewhere and the question asked — when will the results start showing?

Dravid has indicated more than once (including after yesterday’s loss) that this ragged group of players he leads, itself uncertain about what is happening, is more or less the team who will represent India in the World Cup. “There is nothing much new we can do,” he said. “What players we have, we have, we just have to make them improve, they have to play better.” That begs the question, how?

The Indian skipper said his players would just have to get into the nets and practice and come up with solutions, even individually, as to how to counter the South African bowling that they would have to face right through the summer here. “We need to be looking for solutions and finding the answers”.

Well, exactly but again, how? That is what the team management and batsmen have apparently been doing right from the West Indies and nothing seems to be sorting itself out. In any case, there is no time to get into the nets here — there are games every Wednesday and Sunday in different places and flying time in between. So is this tour then, a goner?

One hopes not but it would need a special effort from someone (and it would probably have to be Dravid himself or Tendulkar) to dig India out of this mess. “Just being disappointed or disheartened won’t help,” Dravid added, “The way forward is to keep improving from here, from learning the lessons and learning quickly, because if we don’t, it will be a tough tour for now.”

That could well turn out to be the understatement of the season.

First Published: Nov 24, 2006 13:22 IST