Soon after the 1996 World Cup, Singapore became yet another cricket centre in Asia. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka played a series.
In the small venue, cricket had more of a festive atmosphere than a competitive one. Moreover, the teams were then coming from a hectic World Cup programme and thus the series failed to catch the imagination of the followers of the game.
However, this time around, the Singapore Challenge Cup involving India, West Indies and Zimbabwe carries a lot of significance. The series has come at the start of a new season when teams would be planning in terms of maintaining or regaining their respective status in the international arena. The game's lovers would certainly tend to concentrate more on the proceedings at Singapore this time.
India had begun this season in Sri Lanka (Aug 22 to 31) playing the AIWA Cup. The World Cup 1999 debacle seemed to have been haunting the Indian players whose performance in the AIWA Cup could only be described as below average. No doubt, skipper Sachin Tendulkar, despite a nagging back-pain, came up with a brave century against Sri Lanka. India won that match but could not qualify for the final as it struggled in vain throughout the Series to show a better net run rate than Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, India flew over to Singapore without paceman Javagal Srinath.
The idea of "resting" this speedster is commendable. In the absence of any young quality pacemen around, men like Srinath are being overworked. So in the best interest of Indian cricket Srinath has been rested. Sunil Joshi, a gifted left-arm all-rounder has got into the team for Singapore and Toronto.
Joshi drew the attention of the national selectors in the 1995-96 domestic season that saw him bagging 52 wickets and scoring 500-odd runs. He was chosen for India's tour of England in the summer of 1996. Since then Joshi has been in and out of the India team. The chief reason for his failure to obtain a permanent place in the playing eleven has been his below-par display with the bat.
In modern One-Day cricket no team can afford to possess a weak lower order. All teams expect their respective number 6,7 and 8 batsmen to contribute handsomely with the bat. Boosting the run-rate during the last 10 overs is the main duty of the lower order of a batting line-up.
Joshi, despite being a well-equipped batsman never hit the headlines as a batsman in the international scene. Now Joshi has received a golden opportunity. Should he get a spot in the playing eleven in Singapore, he must grab it with both hands, so to say. Joshi has that quality in him to make the most of such chances. Will he exhibit that quality in Singapore? Anil Kumble and Vinod Kambli are in the team for the Singapore tournament but are omitted for the Toronto trip.
Kumble has been struggling to live up to his reputation as a match-winner. He is an intelligent man and can plan meticulously to regain his lost touch. He had done it after the 1996 England tour. This ambitious and willing worker is capable of bouncing back into the team's future assignments (New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in that order). The case of Vinod Kambli is miserable. Considering Kambli's current form and approach-work, it seemed he might not be seen again in the international scene.
India's main worry has been the inconsistency of the top order bastmen, below-par fielding abilities. The bowling department, despite possessing top class bowlers, has not been rated as a constant threat by most rivals. Skipper Tendulkar has expressed his concern over the lack of physical fitness on more than one occasion. India, its seems, has to be contented with this team until a fresh bunch of talented youngsters underline their credentials to play for the country. India has done a good job by selecting a team of players who have been performing well in the domestic circuit.
This team, known as India "A" team, will be playing matches against Australia "A" and West Indies "A" in the United States from Sept 15 to 27. The youngsters should consider that as an ideal platform to display their wares. Those who really love Indian cricket and dream of a bright future for it would certainly follow the India"A" tour performance with great interest.
The other two teams in the Singapore Series are West Indies and Zimbabwe. The West Indies has been depending entirely on the huge talent of Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Carl Hooper. The last named announced his retirement suddenly just before the World Cup 99. Lara, like Tendulkar, is facing an unenviable task of converting an inconsistent bunch of players into a cohesive unit. Lara inspired his men to perform brilliantly against Australia at home early this year.
But the World Cup 99 campaign was a disappointment. So the West Indies too would consider this Singapore trip as a heaven-sent one. Zimbabwe gained an enviable status during the World Cup 99, where it gained resounding wins over South Africa and India in the preliminaries and gained a spot in the "Super Six". This talented team has been showing remarkable improvement in this decade. No team can take Zimbabwe for granted. Zimbabwe has beaten all the teams in the world at one time or the other.