It amuses me to see so much of a build up in India over the new coach Greg Chappell. Everyone expects him to conjure up miracles. Unfortunately, cricket does not work that way. A good team wins because it has worked out a good combination, its wheels are running on a good piston and engine. Just one factor is not decisive. I have seen good teams win even when they have had a bad coach; as bad teams have lost even when a super coach has worked tirelessly. It's a combination in the park which does the trick.
Similarly, Rahul Dravid as a new captain cannot provide all the answers straightaway. He is an experienced guy who has constantly strived to improve himself. But he will miss the experiences of Tendulkar and Ganguly, two guys who not very long ago appeared to have a 99-year lease at the batting crease in the One-day context.
Dravid is expecting seniors to show the freshness of youngsters; and rookies to play with a mature head.
It is important for India to find most of these answers against the hosts in Sri Lanka for two reasons. One, they face Sri Lanka in their own group in 2007 World Cup. Two, conditions in the Caribbean are largely similar to what exist in Sri Lanka. A good performance will show them they are onthe right path.
Unfortunately, it would not be easy. Sri Lanka has lost only one of their last nine games at home. In the last five years, India has won just three and lost six One-day matches in Sri Lanka. Most of Sri Lanka's top forces remain unmoved. Sanath Jayasuriya recently has not been in good touch inOne-dayers but the sight of Indian bowlers nearly always gets him going.
Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, as they have showed against an admittedly weak West Indies side, still retain a voracious appetite.
These three will ask a few technical questions from the Indian players. Jayasuriya, with all the talk about cramping him up, still finds a space in the orbit of onside or leans back to crunch it through point region. Vaas disguises his induckers beautifully and does not need much support fromclose-in fielders.
A few full-throated appeals for leg-before-wicket nearly always find the umpire's approval. As for Murali, it is some wonder a 'How-To-Play-Murali' guide has not attracted a writer or a publisher. They would be assured all the batsmen of the world will queue up to pounce on the offering!
I have not seen many young Indian batsmen, or for that matter batters worldwide, do a particularly good job in picking up Murali's wrong'uns. Once you commit yourself, it becomes very difficult to counter him.
Vaas too is brilliant in confounding batsmen with movement either way without any discernible change in action. Not to forget Nuwan Zoysa who is as stingy as they come. Zoysa has worked in the shadow of superstars but within Sri Lankan team we know his worth. Jayasuriya as a bowler is not aninsignificant force either. All these years, Sri Lanka has been indebted to these four bowling aces.
What is the best way to play them? It is something which Dravid and Chappell, and all those young and not-so-young Indian batters will have to find out themselves. Should they take them on or simply try to play out the quota of overs of Murali and Vaas? It would be dangerous to go with apre-conceived notion.
A lot depends on the wicket, surface, conditions and the field setting. A good coach and captain should not lose sight of abetting factors.
It was only last year when I predicted that India could win the 2007 World Cup. Since then they have slipped up dramatically. Their consistency is missing and I also believe they are ageing a bit. Look at Australia -- advancing years are asking them too a few tough questions! Not that it begsthe question what V V S Laxman and Anil Kumble are doing in a One-day side. Without them India, otherwise, would have been too light on experience in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is nearly impregnable at home because the conditions suit their composition to the hilt. At the moment, their batsmen are a little untidy but the Tests against the West Indies would ease them into a good rhythm for the triangular series. It is a good unit which would look to play to their potential against India. Somehow, it never fails to get inspired at the sight of an Indian team!