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What if all women were blonde?

Life would have been as boring as cricket with only bouncy pitches, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2006 11:35 IST

India's new chairman of selectors does not cease to be in news. After India's recent chain of dismal flops and not much hope from the South African series, one is afraid that he has no other option but to speak out his mind.

First Dilip Vengsarkar, India's middle order mainstay in the eighties,lamented about the paucity of able replacements for out-of-form warriors. And now he wants bouncy tracks in India.

The Colonel, as he was fondly called by his team mates, believes that India is not getting good back-up openers, spinners and fast bowlers as it lacks hard and bouncy pitches.

But one is afraid that the Indian cricket might go the same way as Indian hockey if suddenly batsmen end up facing fast and bouncy tracks at home. The mighty middle order may end up taking some solid beating on beastly tracks, against some really hostile pace. Remember what the likes of Lee, Bond and Ntini did to the opposition on slightly juicy tracks in India between October 15 and November Five. The 2004 series against Australia would have been a one-all draw but for the grass on Nagpur pitch, which the Indians simply could not stomach.

The problem with most Indian sportspersons is that they take time to adjust, and with so much money and prestige at stake, losing at home may turn out to be a financial as well as cricketing disaster.

Let's take hockey for example.

With Astoturf in vogue for about three decades now, Indian hockey should have got to its winning ways by now. After all, they were winning virtually everything on grass until 1976 Olympics happened. But the tigers on grass still continue to be mouse when it comes to playing on fast, synthetic surfaces.

Even at world level, adjustments take time. And sometime they never come. Andre Agassi is the only man to have won on four different surfaces inGrand Slam events. For those who have forgotten, during Rod Laver's time, the Australian open was played on grass.

Take away Clay courts from the world of tennis and fans may lose the genius of players like Nadal, Coria and Moya. They are good at hard courts, but great on clay.

Unlike Ponting criticising sub-continent pitches every time Australia lose, Federer never says that Clay courts should be banished from the face of the earth. For him it is a challenge. He desperately wants to win at Rolland Garros to prove that he is the undisputed champion of all surfaces.

One is afraid that the Indian cricket will go the hockey way if this obsession continues with bouncy tracks. It may lead to a long term vacuum in terms of cricketing achievements, and may be a losing streak of four five years against all mainstream teams which will be hard to bridge.

Besides, standardization will also take away the beauty of the game. The classic subcontinent tussle with top batsmen battling Indian spinners on dusty bowls in hot and humid conditions! It is precisely the kind of stuff that made Waugh to proclaim India as the last frontier.

It is a pity that Indians always bemoan our failure to win in New Zealand, Australia, England and South Africa, where the nature of pitches is different and bounce generally disconcerting. Understandably, India have lost much more than they have won at these places. Against England in 1986 and West Indies earlier this year - Just two series wins against tough opposition in 20 years!

But at the same time, if we take our record since the advent of Sachin Tendulkar at home, things are remarkably different. India have lost just two home series! That too to the two top teams of their time - South Africa in 2000 and Australia in 2004. Sachin played in just two tests during 2004 loss.

India in India
(Since Sachin Tendulkar's debut)

TestsTest series

If we talk so much about the genius of the likes of Sachin and Azhar, then it was also due to the confidence they got from the Indian pitches. Azhar could have lost his captaincy, and may be even a place in the team after a disastrous showing in Australia and New Zealand in early nineties.

It would have been extremely unlikely for the former Indian captain to start his career with three successive centuries against England but for benign Indian pitches. If Kumble is one of India's cricketing greats, it all started with the Series against England at home in 1993. It was there that he turned his potential into some real match winning performances.

The way we have steamrolled strong teams like Australia and South Africa, winning much more while losing just two series, has been thanks to the dusty and spinning tracks that India has produced. If Indian cricket board is the richest and the most powerful, it is also due to these very tracks. No one loves to watch superstars losing. Remember Airtel disconnecting world's best batsman!

Except for a brief period in late seventies and eighties under Gavaskar and then Kapil, India has always gone for a deadly cocktail of spinners and dusty tracks, and has invariably succeeded. Now, in an attempt to win abroad, we might end up in no man's land. That is the real threat Indian cricket could be facing.

But if we still wish to go for pacy wickets, the ideal thing will be to separate a bunch of boys, about 13-14 years of age with right technique for bouncy tracks, and train them just on these tracks. They can even be trained in Australia, which Indian cricket can certainly afford.

May be in about a decade, three-four of them will be ready to face challenges at the test level. And then we may be in a position to opt for such track.

However, a sudden induction of bouncy tracks will be nothing but hara-kiri.We could end up killing a goose which lays golden eggs.

First Published: Nov 16, 2006 12:26 IST