History favours India in Melbourne

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Tuesday, December 21, 1999, 0:00 [IST]
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The Melbourne cricket ground, where India play Australia in the second test, starting on Boxing Day, is a historic venue in more ways than one.

With the construction of a mammoth four-tier grandstand, it has outgrown Calcutta's Eden Gardens as the biggest cricket stadium in the world. This sanctum sanctorum of Australian cricket, popularly known as the MCG, broke its boundaries to accommodate the Olympics of 1956, the Games in which India's Neville de Souza scored a hat trick in the football tournament.

The biggest amphitheater of sports anywhere, has also been a more kindly cricket ground for the Indians, than any other in Australia.

Of the three test victories recorded by India on Australian soil, Melbourne was the venue for two of them. These victories came in 1977-78 and 1980-81. There were the chances of a third victory in 1985-86. But then, the team lead by Kapil Dev, the present coach, frittered away an excellent opportunity.

After the Adelaide test ended in a draw, the Indian team was right on top in the second test at the MCG. India had to score just 126 runs for victory on the fifth afternoon. Rain had been predicted for the late afternoon. The target had to be achieved with utmost urgency. But, for some incomprehensible reason, the visitors crawled to just 59 for no loss, before rain came to Australia's rescue.

Kapil Dev, who is now the coach of the present team, knows how on two occasions, under his captaincy, India did not grasp the golden opportunity. He also believes that India's best chance of winning in the ongoing series is at Melbourne.

Between the last side game they played at Hobart and the second test due to start in Melbourne, the Indian team has a welcome break of five days, something which is rare in modern-day cricketing itineraries. They have enough time to look back on what otherwise might have been at Adelaide, if some harsh umpiring decisions had not gone against them, and to ponder on what they ought to be doing in the coming test match.

The major problem of the inconsistency of the team's batting remains. The technique of some of the batsmen, who have otherwise scored heavily in India, has quite clearly been exposed on the bouncy wickets of Australia. Going by its behaviour over the years, the Melbourne pitch may not be as fiery as the surfaces at Adelaide and Perth, where fortunately India do not have a test match to play.

Even then, what India will be first looking for is a sound start. For this reason, Venkat Sai Laxman may be pressed in as an opener, along with Sadagopan Ramesh. Thus, Debang Gandhi will have to be dropped. But then, this will also result in India going into the test one batsman short.

The team management might overcome this shortfall by playing one of the two so-called all-rounders in the side, Vijay Bharadwaj or Hrishikesh Kanitkar. The latter looks in better nick at the moment and may be given preference. His off-spin bowling will help strengthen India's otherwise weak attack.

The other option for the team is to forget about an all-rounder, and go into the test with five specialist batsmen and play an extra seamer in T Kumaran, who has so far made a fair impression. It would be better to play him at Melbourne than wait for the third test at Sydney, where, looking at the reputation of the pitch, playing an extra spinner will be a must.

In this "now-or-never" situation for the Indian team, the presence of Nayan Mongia appears to be striking a discordant note in the overall mental make-up of the team.

The slinging between coach Kapil Dev and Jaywant Lele, the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India continues. The BCCI official wants to know the fitness status of wicket-keeper Mannavi Prasad, with documentary proof from the doctor who treated him for his knee injury.

Kapil Dev, on the other hand, insists that Prasad is well and kicking. The presence of an extra player in the form of Mongia is being frowned upon not only by the coach, but also by the captain and other senior members of the team.

It is no more a secret that both Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar did not want Nayan Mongia. They had hoped that they would get a reinforcement of their choice, and that was Mumbai's Sameer Dighe.

All that is fine! But, for them to make Mongia feel that he is unwanted is being cruel to one who even today is rated as the best wicket-keeper in the world. It is learnt that when Mongia reached Australia and joined the team, the coach had taunted him saying, "Who sent you here?"

Is it Nayan Mongia's fault that he was picked by the selectors and cleared by the higher echelons of the BCCI? What is it that they hold against Mongia?

God forbid, if something should again happen to Prasad by way of an injury or indisposition, will they not be forced to play a man who has already reached a high point of frustration?

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