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Still off-season for seasoned cricketers

Kotla pitch goes green to assist the bowlers but the Delhi batsmen find it difficult to come to terms, reports Robin Bose.
Hindustan Times | By Robin Bose, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 23, 2007 08:26 PM IST

FOR ONE staging a return to cricket reporting after a seven-year hiatus, walking through Gate 1 of the Ferozeshah Kotla brought back fond memories. Though not a specialist cricket writer, I was among the few of my ilk who had the fortune of witnessing history being re-enacted on a wintry afternoon in early 1999 when Anil Kumble scalped ten Pakistani batsmen in an innings to equal Englishman Jim Laker's feat.

Images from the historic Test were racing through the mind as I made my way to the players' enclosure, hoping to witness a quiet day's play but the mood in the Delhi camp cruelly cut short my trip down memory lane. The occasion may have been a 'friendly' two-day game between the hosts and Railways to mark the commencement of Ranji Trophy season, but the atmosphere was far from relaxed. The much-vaunted Delhi top order, boasting of names like Aakash Chopra and Virender Sehwag, had been sent packing by a not-so celebrated Railways seam attack and grim faces met the eye as I made my way through Delhi's corner.

Coach Vijay Dahiya and bowling coach Manoj Prabhakar, while putting up a brave front, could be seen exchanging notes in low tones that clearly gave away their discomfiture.

It was a fresh green top that the Delhi batsmen were struggling to come to terms with despite having practiced on it earlier! The lack of application became even more glaring when Prabhakar termed the wicket as an "easy one and went on to add that the Delhi & District Cricket Association was planning even more potent tracks for their home matches". Delhi open their Ranji campaign at home against Rajasthan on November 4 and the desert state's seamers Pankaj Singh and Sanjay Gill can be trusted to test the batsmen.

Dahiya managed a "that's OK, this will happen when the bowlers pitch in the right areas", before hurrying off at Sehwag's cheap dismissal, but Prabhakar, known for his outspoken ways, was at his vitriolic best.

Rajat Bhatia and Mithun Manhas (100 n.o.) dropping anchor may have helped soothe jangled nerves but Prabhakar was unrelenting while picking on the top order for the team's failure. "There was overconfidence and a complete lack of application. The big names cannot take things casually. They are in reckoning for an India berth and need to show their worth. It's good this happened in a friendly match and hopefully the batsmen are aware of the mistakes."

The former India new-ball bowler quit after the 1996 World Cup and just a month into his appointment, termed himself a "beginner". "There is a world of difference the way cricket was played then and now. The facilities at the players' disposal are phenomenal but their approach leaves a lot to be desired. After playing for India a lot of them start undermining the domestic circuit. The intensity should be the same irrespective of the level."

Despite the pessimism, Prabhakar was hopeful of the season ahead. "We have a sound combination of seniors and juniors and the talent will bring us results."

In the process of re-building after three key players (JP Yadav, TP Singh and Shreyas Khanvelkar) were lured by the Indian Cricket League, Railways coach Abhay Sharma made light of the loss. "They were good players but no one is indispensable. If the youngsters stand up and do well, they'll gain in confidence," said the man who recently took over from the long-serving Vinod Sharma. Asked if he had consulted his hugely experienced predecessor, Sharma remarked, "If the need arises I will, but everyone has his own style."

Speaking of style, Sharma's blueprint for success is "drawing up plans and executing them" and proof of that lay in Railways fielding four seamers on the green top, a ploy that left Delhi gasping at 95-5.

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