Time to repair the damage

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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After the Indian cricket team returned home from a tour that can only be labelled "dismal Down Under," the points for debate, perhaps, ran longer than the number of defeats that the squad faced in both form of the game.

The two more prominent ones amongst these pertain to the question of Sachin Tendlkar's continuance as captain and the other on the return of Mohammed Azharuddin to the Indian team for the home series against South Africa. A third debatable issue, over which the administrators (selectors included) must be gnashing their teeth, is the alleged unmitigated authority that coach Kapil Dev held over team management and the constitution of the touring sides.

Much as one might desist from interlinking these issues, those who might be looking for scapegoats, do not have far to seek. As always, the captain and the coach has to bear the brunt of the blame for a team performance that goes far below expectations.

At the moment, every stick appears good enough to beat the top hierarchy of the Indian team with. The running battle between the team management and the selectors, joined by the BCCI secretary, has not quite ended. The portents are that the second innings has already begun.

Even before the selectors met to select 36 of the country's most talented cricketers for the Challenger series, they deliberated over the necessity of inviting coach Kapil Dev for future selection committee meetings.

It is only a convention and not a part of the constitution of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to invite the captain and the coach when the selectors deliberate to pick any national side. While the two can take part in the discussion and offer suggestions, the captain and the coach do not have any voting rights.

Being slighted by the way the touring team management, coach Kapil Dev in particular, reacted to some of the decisions taken by the selectors, vis-a-vis the selection of Nayan Mongia as stand-in wicket-keeper in an emergency that occurred before the start of the first Test and the hint of Mohammed Azharuddin being a part of the one-day squad, the selection panel wanted to get even with the former captain and one of the finest all-rounders the game has seen.

It was unanimously decided that the convention that had come into force three years ago when Ajit Wadekar was the coach, be discontinued and Kapil Dev, if he continues to be the coach, be kept out of the selection committee meetings called for picking the national side.

This is a clear indication that the "cold war" between what had constituted the team management on tour of Australia and the BCCI functionaries continues.

It is churlish, if not downright childish, to think that by keeping coach Kapil Dev out of future selection committee meetings, all the problems that have surfaced during the ill-fated tour would be solved.

If the coach, as well as the captain, are to be made accountable for the team's failure, they, in fact, ought to face a debate on all the points of accusation. Moreover, the coach has submitted a detailed report on the team's performance and conduct on the tour. That itself ought to taken up for a healthy discussion, rather than trying to settle old scores over past disagreements.

The team management owes an explanation on the shabby manner in which Nayan Mongia was trated on being sent to Australia in response to an SOS. He was despatched back home after playing just a side game.

It was this peculiar stand taken by the team management that also prevented the selectors from sending Mohammed Azharuddin for the one-day tri-series. The selectors further hardened their stand when they refused to send back Tamil Nadu paceman T.Kumaran when the team management asked for him midway through the limited overs series in view of Ajit Agarkar's fitness.

Chairman of the selection committee Chandu Borde, who has so far conducted himself in a quietly dignified manner, appears to be thinking more of the future of the Indian team than trying to get even with the team management. His attitude appears to be to let bygones be bygones and to look ahead. It is a wonderful coincidence, he said, that at the time of the seniors' darkest hour, a new ray of light has been seen in the performance of the younger heroes who made up the under-19 World Cup winning team.

There are several cricketing problems that have to be solved that call for a less than egocentric approach on both sides. There is no getting away from the fact that the captain and the coach have to be a part of the discussion leading up to the final team selection.

Amongst the first task before the selectors is too look at the feasibility of keeping Sachin Tendulkar as captain. Some hardcore critics believe that Tendulkar's contribution to the team as a batsman will be greater if he is divested of the cares of captaincy. They feel that the responsibility of leading the side, which includes constant preoccupation with extraneous problems, is not allowing him to concentrate on matters cricketing, including his own batting.

Tendulkar, admitedly, does not think that he is wearing a crown of thorns, "My scores in the last home series against New Zealand and on the recent Australian tour should indicate that my batting is none the worse for the extra responsibility of captaincy that I am holding."

Statistically speaking, his batting performance is certainly not the worst by his own standards, but many believe that if only he had got into top gear of his form and scored more consistently, it would have made a big different to the fortunes of the side. Tendulkar hardly enhanced his position as the world's leading batsman. On this point, one cannot seek justification in the fact that the entire side's batting, with the exception of Saurav Ganguly, flopped right through the tour.

The pressure of captaining at home may not be as exerting and since Tendulkar is still keen on holding on to his job, one cannot visualise a change of guard at the top.

Whatever might have been his guilt in creating his very own pocket of authority on tour, it would be unfair to judge Kapil Dev's performance as coach on one troubled tour. He ought to be given a longer period of assessment of his role in a new capacity. He had himself asked for a three-years' term and that indeed is the practice everywhere.

The more pressing issues are connected with the team formation. In Test matches, India have invariably suffered because of a poor start. The immediate task is to find a suitable player to fill the slot of the other openers, presuming that Sadagoppan Ramesh is fit enough for the Test series. The best prospects for an opener's position are Mumbai's Wasim Jaffer and Punjab's Ravneet Ricky, one of the heroes of the triumphant under-19 World Cup-winning team.

The way Ravneet batted in the Ranji Trophy Super League at Mohali against Hyderabad, a match in which Azharuddin failed to grab the opportunity to match his words with deed, the young opener looks like he is made for the big occasion.

The all-rounder's slot could well be filled by the stylish batsman Mohammed Kaif, who is more than a useful bowler, or Reetinder Singh Sodhi, who might be just ready for the big break.

It is a happy augury that we have so many youngsters of promise. Some of them will be on view in the four-day Challenger series being played at Ahmedabad from February 10 to 13. Even if the event has lost some its sheen with the non-participation of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Javagal Srinath, there can be no denying the fact the tournament is of utmost importance, as much for those who might think that they are well-ensconced in the team, as for those who are trying to get into the big league. Non-cricketing issues can wait as we get down to the task of team preparation. The Indian team has a lot to live down.

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