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December 2005 - January 2006

India Sport Scene

Cricket: Resurgence Under The New Coach

by Ramesh Seedhar

Despite the fact that the football season is in full swing and the news of World Cup filling the page, Cricket has managed to maintain the headline and the imagination of the British people. A legacy of the hard fought Ashes series.

Without doubt, the battle for the Ashes last summer was one of the best series of all times, from players dropping catches, run-outs, umpires making great decisions, umpires making dodgy decisions, going to the last over of the test in three out of five Tests. One could not have asked for more.

It also established England as one of the leading teams. England, having now won the Ashes has to prove that it was not a temporary success and that they deserve to be, if not the number one team, then the second best cricket team in the world.

India’s captain Rahul Dravid said that before England displace Australia from the top of the tree they had to prove themselves against other teams. They have to play consistently well all over the world and not just in their own country. That is what Australia have done and rightly earned the number one spot. Australia, despite a hiccup in England deservedly beat the World XI in a very one-sided contest to declare that they are not easily going to hand over the crown to England.

England got a good squad at the moment, and some good young players. Their present tour to the Indian sub-continent should test their mettle where they meet both Pakistan and India away from their home soil. It will then prove whether they are the best team

India under their new coach Greg Chappell is also emerging to be a force in cricket, deservedly so, after their recent test performance against Sri Lanka. On their current form, they should test England fully.

India’s test series win in Zimbabwe was over-shadowed by the controversy over the e-mail from Coach Greg Chappell to BCCI. In the email Greg Chappell is reported have stated that Ganguly was not mentally and physically fit for the job of captaining India

He said that there is no doubt that there is enough talent in India and the time has come to identify those cricketers who can last unto the 2007 World Cup. It will take time to develop a team and a decision had to be made regarding which of the senior players are most likely to last, bearing in mind, the balance of the side in one-day cricket and test cricket. Chappell also made it clear that those who were groaning under his workload will not find it getting any easier. Fielding and fitness must improve. The pressure on the boys will be put in a controlled manner and those who can deal with it will be chosen The Chappell philosophy was simple. Put men in uncomfortable scenarios and judge whether they can come out of it or not. If they do not. then they are just “normal players” but if they succeed then they are a cut above the rest and worth keeping in the team.

Chappell demonstrated what is achievable with his philosophy. In the one-day test series against Sri Lanka, India won handsomely by 6-1. The new Indian team against Sri Lanka was entirely his creation from top to bottom and he surprised everyone with his tactics throughout the tournament against Sri Lanka.

One of the best examples of India going the way Chappell wanted was the one-day test at Rajkot. The Rajkot pitch was full of runs and the grounds man had said that the team batting first would get the best benefit. However, the Indian coach had other ideas. He asked the captain Sehwag to bowl first. Chappell’s logic was simple – India needed to be tested under any condition. The Indian bowlers responded to Chappell’s challenge, with RP Singh grabbing four wickets, Kartik picking two and Pathan, Sreesanth a wicket each. The Sri Lankan team folded up for a mere 196 runs on a good batting track. The Indian batsman had no trouble in knocking off the runs and the Chappell philosophy had won the day.

Chappell used the entire Sri Lankan series as an experiment and India came up on top on all counts. They had just one hiccup when India lost at Ahmedabad by five wickets. At Ahmedabad, too the Chappell mantra was in full flow with the three heavy weights, Tendulkar, Pathan and Harbhajan rested and Gautam Gambhir, Raina and RP Singh taking their places. Gambhir came up with a fine century and RP Singh gained valuable experience that helped him to rip the Sri Lankan later in the series. The Indians in fact nearly pulled off the match but for Dilshan and Arnold who stuck their necks out in the end. Chappell’s India lost the match but the Indian team was not demolished and won the day.

Chappell had marked out Sehwag as the future of Indian cricket and sure enough at the first opportunity; he tested his skills as a captain. After his century at Ahmedabad Chappell rested Rahul Dravid as he was also suffering from a hamstring injury. He then wasted no time in pushing Sehwag to lead the team. Sehwag looked a bit unsettled in his new role but Chappell persisted with him. The results were there for all to see at Rajkot. Sehwag looked like a “veteran captain” at the toss and led the team admirably. Chappell sent the signal to the entire nation that if the team is hungry and eager to win, captaincy is no big deal as it is made out to be. At the same time, the move ensured that Dravid is kept on his toes.

Chappell also ensured that there was competition at every level, be it captaincy, opening, No.3 slot, or bowling. The “all competition” approach meant that nobody was indispensable and anybody can walk into the team at any moment. India’s batting line-up in the last ODI at Borada was the perfect example. India gave a chance to only those who were in form, with a bit of Chappell surprise thrown in. Sehwag and Tendulkar opened the innings and local boy Pathan walked in at No.3. After all, it was his home ground and he had picked up three wickets in the first half. Then came Dhoni and Kaif, Captain Dravid walked in at No.5. Yuvraj was the last man in. The move meant India was not too dependent on one or two players, everyone chipped in to take India home.

The growth of quality players under Chappell is awesome. India has witnessed either an unknown facet of a known player like Pathan’s Nagpur innings of 83 runs in 70 balls or an acknowledged feature of an unknown cricketer R.P.Singh. The teenager Rudra Prakash Singh wrecked Sri Lanka’s batting to lead India to a comfortable seven-wicket victory. The 19-year-old left-arm seamer from Uttar Pradesh grabbed 4-35 in only his third one-day international match The winds of change that are sweeping through Indian cricket have made the players realise that there is no room for complacency and scaling one peak after another remains the challenge.

Against Sri Lanka Indian captain, Rahul Dravid led from the front, not only as a leader but with the bat as well. His average of 156 in six innings was the best, even better than Dhoni’s innings of 115. Dravid hit a century and two fifties to reinforce his leadership credentials. His strike rate of 91 was very impressive. It clearly showed that Dravid is not daunted in his new role. In fact, he is revelling in his new role as captain of India. Dravid, already a batting legend, should now concentrate to become a great captain. Bigger tests lie ahead for him, the South African cricket team has already arrived in India and will test David’s skill at every level.

Vice-Captain Virender Sehwag failed to register a half-century in the seven innings he played. He was however instrumental in giving India a good start at the top of the order. When Dravid was not available to play due to injury, Sehwag was given the responsibility to captain the Indian team. At Ahmedabad. In his new to the role, he managed himself well. At Rajkot, Sehwag looked confident and in full control. It reflected in the manner in which India demolished Sri Lanka by seven wickets. Sehwag needs to look at his batting and spend some time thinking about his shot selection.

Tendulkar was a revelation in the ODI series. He kick-started India’s campaign in style with a destructive 93 at Nagpur and a magnificent 67 at Mohali. Throughout the series, the Master was all class. His straight drives, cuts and cool cover drives were a treat to watch. He hit twenty boundaries and two sixes in the first two matches to announce his return. and truly back in the fold. He scored 231 runs in the tournament at an average of 46. He looked the Tendulkar of old, dominant, dynamic and destructive He laid to rest the ghost of the tennis elbow and dispelled all come back doubts.

India’s wicketkeeper/batsman was the man of the hour. His blitzkrieg at Jaipur and his continued assault on the Sri Lankan was the highlight of the tournament. On a number of occasions, he stayed until the end to finish the game for India. Dhoni is not just a big hitter. He has shown that he has a shrewd cricketing brain as well. Dhoni scored 346 runs in the series which included a century and a half century to bag the Man the of the Series award. His wicket keeping has improved. That proves Dhoni is at his confident best.

Irfan Pathan the Borada Bomber ended the tournament with the Man of the Match award on his home ground. It pretty much sums up his effort in the tournament. He was one of the stars of the series picking up wickets and scoring runs. His surprise entry as a No.3 batsman at Nagpur surprised everyone. Irfan skilfully negated Murlitharan wiles and completely shattered the pace bowlers. A century would have been the icing on the cake, but Pathan the team man did not stretch himself too hard for personal glory. He picked up 10 wickets in the tournament and gave India vital breakthroughs early on. His magnificent all-round effort in the last match is a clear sign of more good things in the future.

Gautam Gambhir from Delhi announced himself in his very first opportunity at Ahmedabad with a blistering century in just 97 balls. His innings was studded with 13 boundaries and a six. His aggressive and stylish batting completely foxed Sri Lanka. He even overshadowed his colleague from Delhi Shewag. India however lost the match and that took away some of the shine from his century. High on confidence, Gambhir opened in the next match at Rajkot with Tendulkar and managed a quick 28 in 27 balls that included six boundaries. He was unlucky to have played on a ball from Fernando right into his stumps. Gambhir has a lot of promise and the fact that he is a left-hander gives India the option of opening the batting with a left-right combination. He also showed that he is a brilliant fielder,

RP Singh got an opportunity to bowl when the series had been won, but he impressed everyone with his swing and guile. He came in as a change bowler in the Rajkot behind Sreesanth and settled to into a great rhythm straight away. He ripped through the Sri Lankan top order dismissing and then came back later to finish the tail. His final figure of 4/35 in nine overs was a great debut. His effort won him the Man of the Match award but it did not end there. He came to Borada and picked up three wickets to finish with eight wickets in three matches. He averaged an amazing 15 runs per wicket. RP Singh has given India a vital bowling option, his progress and contribution will be vital for India in the coming months.

With Yuvraj Singh and Kaif also showing good form with the bat, India under Chappell has a lot of options. Having seen how Chappell has performed against Sri Lanka we await with baited breadth how India will fare against the South African team and then against in the six nations series and finally against England. If we come out successful then India can then hold its place as one of the top cricketing nation.

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