Fletcher~~s fledglings upstaged Chappell~~s chaps

Published: Monday, March 6, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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A depleted England team torn with injuries, having both the captain and vice-captain flying back home much before a ball could be bowled in the first Test at Nagpur. Nothing seemed right for the visitors who had more problems off the field than they could envisage on the dusty track in equatorial conditions in central India. Most inappropriate push if ever there was, to promote Test cricket.

Add to the English miseries a bland wicket with low, slow bounce, all attributes helping the home team in a big way.

But, did the Indians capitalise on the providential assistance? Hardly, one can say.

After the hectic Pakistan sojourn, the Indians were looking for fresh impetus not easily available in the modern context, no matter how superior you look on paper. The zeal and enthusiasm or all the advantages cannot be taken for granted for the performance on the field is the only proper yardstick to gauge the respective strategies and weakness.

India failed to go one ahead in the series primarily because their gameplan was not well rehearsed. All the dependables did not quite deliver for a winning cause. Home players were seen to be more keen on cementing their positions, which meant a lot of the team interests had to take the back seat. In effect, all the good work in Pakistan appears to have vanished most inexplicably.

The biggest culprit in the entire fiasco was the 22-yards playing surface, which gave all the false signals to all the famous experts of cricket clay. It is a great pity that when the BCCI's sole objective is to increase its funds come what may, what good are these hefty bank accounts if a simple strategy to prepare a sporting wicket is a collective failure of all the bigwigs of the BCCI. I have often said that a good cricket administrator is one who is a good servant of the game. We do have some excellent students of the game from amongst the players. The clash, however, between the students and the big BCCI bosses stares one in the eye.

The ghost of Ganguly just refuses to die down. The latest between the coach and the Bengal stalwart will have done little to hold calm in the dressing room atmosphere. The Chairman of National Selectors is lending fuel to the fire. There is not a soul to check him. I feel sad for Dravid whose handling of his meagre dry gun powder leaves a lot to be desired.

One can say the same for Andrew Flintoff, but in the case of the new English captain, he had his moments in the Test when he could afford to keep his nose ahead, but only just.

Towards the end, some artificial gas was introduced to improve an equally artificial result. But that was not to be which was just as well. England did not deserve to win because they were not prepared mentally or physically. India too did not deserve to win because they failed to latch on to simple chances. Also, the Indian spin attack looked jaded. They could have extracted more from the dull strip, but the will to go for it was palpably missing.

Rahul Dravid's handling of his bowlers needs quick rethinking, backed up by some very agile fielding. Just enjoying the tag of favourites is not quite enough. The favourites must deliver with a bang. There were moments when the game simply drifted away from the Indians and then all the laptops and neck-tops appeared to be on French leave.

Despite all the misfortunes, England appear to have regrouped themselves with loads of self-confidence. The Indians will have to work twice as hard to catch up with Flintoff and his eager youngsters.

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