Bangalore: The moment is finally upon us. India will begin the defence of its home reputation when it takes on New Zealand in the first cricket Test at Ahmedabad on Wednesday. Stephen Fleming and his men are on a mission but I have my doubts if the Sardar Patel wicket would be of any great assistance to either sides. This wicket has changed its character dramatically since the 1980s. It has been re-laid and its profile has changed. What I have noticed is that it tends to get slower and lower as the game progresses. It also doesn't offer any great assistance to spinners. It starts with certain bite to bowlers but on the third and fourth days turns into a sleeping beauty. It will take some effort to enforce a result on this track but then both New Zealand and India have new steel in their backs.
Let me concern myself with the Indian team for the moment. The consistency in winning is the real measure to gauge the progress of any team. The historic home series win against the Australians, Zimbabweans and West Indians and the away Test wins in Zimbabwe, West Indies, Sri Lanka and England and the One- day series wins in West Indies, Nat-West Trophy in England, the ICC Knock-out final and the entry into the final of the most coveted World Cup in South Africa give a proper insight into the ability of the current Indian team. This paradigm shift from the mixed bag of fortunes to more consistent winning ways, has few telling contributors. On their own, it might not appear so integral but in tandem they provide an impetus to the side to operate at a required level.
The Andrew Leipus Factor: Apart from treating the injury, he also tries to educate the players with respect to the nature of the injury. His room is a place of congregation for an informal meeting of the players. His treatment goes into the wee hours of the night. Along with all the treatment gadgets, he also carries the journals to update himself with the latest developments in physiotherapy. There was an incident against New Zealand during the Ahmedabad Test of the '99 series. While we were batting, I somehow jarred the disc of my spine. I couldn't even bend or breathe. I was anxious because I would have been called up to bowl the whole of next day. Andrew straightaway got down to work. I was asked to sleep on my tummy, keep stretching my back after every 20 minutes and the treatment continued the whole night.
Next day, I was fit to join the battle. Adrian le Roux: He introduced the true value of fitness in the team. We were asked to work hard and make sacrifices in food habits. Our physical progress was monitored on a fortnightly basis. Any food with visible oil was out. We had to give up on foods we loved most. I for instance couldn't take pizzas or go to McDonalds. His other significant contribution was to help let the cricket nets and fielding drills go on simultaneously. Earlier, John Wright used to ask us to go for fielding sessions after cricket nets were over. But so brilliant was le Roux with his great ball sense that we could carry both the things together.
It cut down on time and made training more intensive. Le Roux has left a legacy for the team to follow through his successor Gregory King. His departure means a big miss for Indian cricket. Sandy Gordon: He is one person who brought the cliched -- expression of "stay positive" into cricketing parameters. He educated us how to cut down on anxiety and visualise your opponent. Suppose if I was to bowl to Saeed Anwar the next day and suffered from anxiety. How should I bowl to him? What if he hits me for a four? Now these are all negatives. Sandy would tell us to focus on his weak points and how to target them. I would visualise it a day before, on him and Yousuf Youhana and subsequent batters.
If something went wrong, what was the next line of option to fall back upon etc. He also highlighted the importance of equanimity in win or defeat. How to move on to next games? What's the best to carry from the present game and how to avoid the wrongs we committed in a match? He also stressed upon the importance of playing as one. How seniors should involve juniors and everyone contributes to team's progress. All this has helped. In Indian team, the gap between the seniors and the juniors has shrunk to invisible limits. Seniority is by experience and not by age. Seniority means helping the beginners and holding and sharing the experience.
It is amazing how much time the likes of Tendulkars, Dravids and Gangulys spend with juniors. Sachin has also spent considerable amount of time on my batting as well so I would leave my failures for him to answer. It doesn't stop Kaif and Yuvi to tell the seniors to be agile or pull them up for not applying themselves enough. Such has been the communication, which is bilateral, between the new entrants and seasoned campaigners. This sort of open forum has brought the team together. The onus is on the seniors to help graduate a rookie coming from a homogenous state side to a diverse linguistic and regional set-up.
It is the blend of youth and experience, and plenty of hard work, which has made this team, produce good results in recent past. The final of the World Cup was not only a pointer that the team is heading in the right direction but also that there is a fair distance to go.