"India for World Cup, still a distant reality"

Published: Monday, April 17, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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This is no Pommie-bashing really. If anything, there is some empathy for the very mediocre English tourists.

I am glad the torture is over for them and they can literally cool their heels before jumping into a fresh English summer.

The heat and dust of the sub-continent will take a long time settling down. Much was expected from the winners of the Ashes series. Sadly it all ended on a damp squib.

Five or six of their big guns returned home at the slightest pretext. Poor Andrew Flintoff was left to hold the fort without much dry ammunition. The 5-1 result could easily have been 7-0 had the weather not played truant at Guwahati.

To be fair to the depleted English team. I thought the tour itinerary left a lot to be desired. Criss-crossing the Indian continent can be exasperating but when the time frame is as little as it was, then, there is no playing the game.

Indians looked massively superior, which, to my mind was a bit of an illusion. The manner in which Flintoff's men folded in less than 50 overs on five given occasions was a poor professional commitment.

Now then, where does India stand after a ''hard fought'' series with South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England? The figures would suggest India is on high. With younger crop of players making almost instant mark at international cricket, the bigger picture is almost too hard to believe.

And yet the remarkable performances of Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, S Sreesanth and Ramesh Powar cannot be brushed aside easily. Compare their successes with regular failures of established stars like Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif, Gautam Gambhir and Ajit Agarkar. Also, the marked absence of Sachin Tendulkar due to injury must leave the Indian camp in some confusion. And in the case of two gentlemen, Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell, their conscience might just hurt when some of the other parts feel pretty good.

Come to think of it, Indians have had a long cricket season and not over yet. After the two fun and money games in Abu Dhabi, there is the Carribean cruise. After 18 months of non-stop cricket, the Aussies will have a much needed break from the game. No such luxury for Rahul and his lads. Apparently, the work cut out before the World Cup in 2007 is long and dreary. The settled combination of the team is far from a reality. Good job most of the brunt will be borne by young athletes.

The signs of stalwarts in contention are becoming dimmer as the D'Day approaches. The last minute dash for the World Cup may have surprises because it doesn't appear the thought process on the new bunch of selectors is being taken into consideration.

With just one knock, Robin Uthappa has given Team India ''more options'', which means what? Obviously, Sehwag has to find form and fitness as soon as possible. For how long will Dravid keep on trying with the idea of opening, which he clearly relishes. But even in the slam bang nature of the ODIs, certain positions are meant for specialists. Opening batsmen definitely belong to this category.

As of now, only Dhoni appears a certainty for the World Cup followed closely by Yuvraj and Raina. The rest of the team must revolve around this young and fearless trio. Dravid is captain and Irfan Pathan is a proven allrounder, the best that India can brag about.

Right then, after five, the field is pretty much open for experience and youth to combine well to deliver. This is the acheless heel of the Indian cricket. Mind you, I am not getting swayed by low slow turners dished out at home. On true one-day wickets, which are likely to be standerdised for the World Cup, Indians may have a couple of serious problems in the bowling department too.

The silver lining is good comradeship between Rahul and Chappell and if these two gentlemen are not confused, then they don't really understand each other. I am only suggesting the BCCI would do well to leave them alone and sort out problems instinctively.

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