Sunday, January 07, 2007

One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

The Indian team concluded a testing tour of South Africa and their performance over the past 18 months have resulted in the side coming full circle since Greg Chappell took over.

Greg Chappell had a vision for the Indian team, and he seemed well on-course to make it a reality until last May. Sourav Ganguly had been condemned to first class cricket, Laxman and Kumble were considered test specialists, and the One-Day side had a youthful if not professional look to it. Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were the new pin-up boys of Indian cricket and Yuvraj Singh's exploits in the shorter version were Bevanesque.

But all this changed with one slower ball from Dwayne Bravo. Instead of registering a nail-biting 1-wicket win and a 2-0 lead over the West Indies, India crashed to a heart-breaking 1-run loss with Bravo bowling Yuvraj out with a slower ball after the latter had sent the ball screaming to the fence off the last two deliveries.

The rest, as they say is History. India lost the One-Day series 4-1 with Pathan & Dhoni being rendered ineffective (the former has still not recovered thereafter). That was followed by an historical yet unconvincing 1-0 test series victory over one of the weakest West Indian side in ages.

India have worn the tag of "chokers" for the past few years for their insipid performances in the finals of One-Day tournaments. In the next few months Rahul Dravid & co. set about eradicating that reputation by making sure they didn't reach the finals altogether. They had two do-or-die matches against World Champions Australia and lost both. They were in with a shout in the first one but Dinesh Mongia chose to put more faith in numbers 9,10 and 11 than in himself, and India remained winless when chasing in matches against Australia since 1998. The second defeat was even more debilitating as it came at home & in the Champions Trophy, a tournament in which India had knocked out the World Champions twice.

By now, the warning bells were ringing loud and clear with calls to bring back those who had for years served Indian cricket with distinction. A change in the selection panel saw a slight change in personnel, with Kumble getting the nod for the One-Day series in South Africa. The young brigade comprising the likes of Kaif, Raina, Mongia and Pathan were already under the cosh for their poor form over the past few months, and this tour was a baptism by fire for them, with the South African bowlers testing their technique and temperament with searing pace or subtle movement. Dhoni was the only one to give a good account of himself, the rest were promptly sent back & it was time to call on Laxman and Ganguly. Both played a couple of crucial knocks in the context & look set to make a comeback to the One-Day side.

The juggernaut that began with the sacking of Ganguly looks to have come to a halt and the Indian side bears a very similar look to the side that reached the finals of the 2003 World Cup against all odds. Expect the Indian version of Dad's Army to be the nucleus of the World Cup side. Only time will tell whether they will be as successful as their Australian counterparts.

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