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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Indian take-away from Bangalore

Ok, we have been beaten in the first game.

We can scream from the rooftops about the umpiring - and that may or may not have made a difference - but let's put all that behind us and look ahead.

Will the team management now go for surgery or will they tinker with the team ?

My gut feel tells me there will be changes but nothing particularly dramatic. The bench itself does not exactly scream to be selected – it is comprised of either experienced but out-of-form players or a bunch of youngsters, knocking on the door, but unlikely to get the nod in this all-important series, at least not at this stage.

Or would the selectors remember that 1969-70 home series against Australia when in a similar situation, one-down from a defeat in Bombay, India gambled on a 20-year old promising young man from then-Mysore to play in the second Test at Kanpur. He got a duck in his first Test innings – and then, under tremendous pressure in the second knock, where another failure could have meant India losing this one too, played one of the finest innings by a debutant for India getting 137 glorious runs. For the next 13 years, he did not do too badly either – saving India from many a difficult situation, enthralling everybody (including yours truly) with his classy batting. That youngster was the one and only Gundappa Vishwanath of course.

But I am dreaming now – back to reality.

It does not look too rosy at the moment but it is not too bleak either. True, the entire team needs to raise its spirits and its performance, but there is definitely reason to hope for a turnaround. Today's fightback was symbolic if not decisive and a perfect tonic for the entire team. It shows that there are indeed chinks in the Aussie bowling - something that should be quite heartening for the Indians.

So what does India take away from this game ? Putting every player under the microscope, this is what I come up with. I share my opinion about the player in a few cases but my main objective is to see whether the player will make the cut for Chennai.

1) Chopra ? Well, the opener issue is still simmering. It would be harsh on Chopra if he were dropped, seeing as he received a doubtful (I will not say wrong !) decision in both innings. But that's how the dice rolls and, with change very much the (cric)buzzword at this moment, he may well find himself out in the cold. For whatever it is worth, if it does happen, we can console him by saying "you can never put a good man down". He may well bounce back - but he does need to work on increasing his scoring repertoire.

2) Sehwag ? Yes, question marks still. Not on his place in the side, methinks, but on his form. Again a harsh decision in the second innings did not allow him to display his skills and he was out to a very good catch in the first innings. But whatever it is, we are still waiting for that big innings from him. It appears to me that it is just round the corner (I have in fact tipped him to get two hundreds in this series) - but that corner seems to be elusive. For the sake of India - which desperately now needs Sehwag to click - let us hope he finds that corner in Chennai and turns it.

3) Laxman ? Not for nothing has he earned MFP (no, not Most Favoured Partner but Most Feared Player) status from the Aussies. His record against them is simply awesome. In this game too, he showed signs of his class but got done in by very good Warne deliveries in both innings. So round one goes to Warney. Unless these dismissals get to Laxman's psyche and he loses the mental battle with Warne, I think India need not worry about his form.

4) Which brings me to Dravid. His first innings duck was exactly what I feared - he failed in both innings of the India Seniors v India A prep game, prompting me to call this his out-of-form season. But Dravid would not be the world's best batsman if he did not have character - and he showed plenty of it, second time round. Ok, he got just 60 - but in the context of the match situation and most importantly his own confidence, it could have been a hundred. He played some glorious strokes, especially against Warne, and hopefully he has won round one of the Warne v Dravid battle. India need not worry about his form too.

5) Next man in (and critics will often say, out) Ganguly. He is captain and does have captaincy qualities. But India has never had the luxury of carrying a player - and has probably never needed all eleven to perform like it does now. So let us look purely at his batting and whether there is any cause for worry here.

Yes, a little perhaps. Against a lesser team, a 40 or a 50 may be par (after all if you do this all your career you end up with an average between 40 and 50 - which is a decent average).

But, in India's current situation, especially with Tendulkar not around, Ganguly needs to raise the bar for himself. He needs to lead by personal example - and get a hundred. That will raise the spirits of his team no end - and will do much more than any other gesture or talk from him. Unless you are a Mike Brearley, you cannot get away with just “captaincy” on your resume.

I remember in 1980, Aussie skipper Greg Chappell, was under tremendous pressure on a tour in Pakistan. A Pakistan tour is never easy, his team was one-down after the first Test having been rolled over by Pakistani spin, he had himself not done much till then, and was being hounded by reporters. I still remember his classic line to a reporter “My bat will do my talking for me".

And he went out there and got a double hundred (235 to be precise). OK, it was not the greatest of Tests but, very importantly, his performance raised the sagging morale of his side.

We all know that Ganguly is a great admirer of Greg Chappell. So, come on Ganguly, if GSC can get a double, SCG can get at least a hundred, right ?

6) After Ganguly it gets a bit fuzzy. There is Yuvraj at the moment – just about hanging in there. He is one of the candidates to be axed – with Kaif as the experienced player waiting to step in. This is anybody’s guess – Yuvraj will not really be called upon to bowl in Tests, so this is purely a judgement on batting. It is too close to call – but knowing that Yuvraj is one of the golden boys of Indian cricket at the moment, I think he will be persisted with and Kaif will have to sit this one out too.

But if I were Yuvraj, I would not sit too comfortably at the moment. His place in the team is courtesy Sachin Tendulkar. And like John Buchanan correctly pointed out, Ponting’s replacement Katich has delivered far more than Tendulkar’s replacement Yuvraj. So Yuvi, it is high time we saw a big innings from you.
IN (if Chopra is out, Yuvi may open and Kaif may come fill this spot).

7) Onto Parthiv Patel. Most people on cricbuzz know my opinion of him. I think he may be cute and young and a gutsy batsman and all that – but his primary job in the team is to keep – and, at best, he has done only an average job of this. I strongly believe the keeper’s job is one of the most important in the side. If one batsman fails, another can cover for him. If a bowler fails, another can cover for him. But if a keeper fails, you are stuck. A keeper gets more dismissal chances than any other player in the side and a grabbed half-chance or a dropped chance can make all the difference. I have nothing against Patel – I genuinely hope he realizes the responsibility of his keeping role in the team. If he raises his keeping and effects some incredible catches or stumpings, I will be thrilled – and glad to be silenced.

Luckily for him, I am not an Indian selector – so I think he will comfortably continue into the next Test. His batting at Bangalore was impressive – and this will be enough for the Indian selectors.

For the record, I am expecting him to drop a few more big ones in Chennai – and expecting him to continue to play because he is “oh so cute” and “so young, and still he bats so well”. For India's sake, I hope he proves me wrong !

8) Irfan Pathan. With every match my admiration for him only increases. People were initially comparing him with Akram, now they are comparing him with Kapil. I do not want to compare him with anybody. (People compared SS Das’s technique with Sunil Gavaskar and we all know where that went).

At Bangalore, Pathan produced his usual good bowling but really excelled with the bat. We knew he could bat – he had shown glimpses earlier – but this time he played like a true all-rounder, playing each ball on its merits, defending the good one but not afraid to smack anything loose. If he does not go the injury route (like so many other Indian players) and is not over-bowled, I think India finally have a top-quality bowler allrounder.

His place in the side is assured – no need to even discuss this.

9) Anil Kumble. One of my blow-hot, blow-cold favourites. He frustrates me like hell sometimes but I cannot help admiring the way he keeps coming back. He may get hit by Gilchrist and Clarke for a few sixes but you know he is always just that ball away from a breakthrough. So, despite some people grumbling about his effectiveness, I usually stand behind him – and would do so for the rest of this series.

I think, so will the selectors – he should be a certainty, not just for Chennai, but for the rest of the series. On Indian wickets, you write off Anil Kumble only at your own peril and I do not think an already battered India will take a risk on this.

10) Harbhajan Singh. Any doubts anybody may have had have been summarily dismissed (like eleven Aussie batsmen) at Bangalore. He seems to be back to his 2001 wicket-taking ways – and that should make some Aussie players squirm a bit.

His bowling is of course the main reason he is in the side, but his batting, by no means copybook (puritans will be turning in their graves !), can also be quite entertaining. In his own way he manages to get quick runs – you never know when this quality comes in useful in a Test. But, for me, his main contribution has to be with his bowling and I would gladly trade in his batting for a few wickets from him.

Definitely a certainty for the rest of the series.

11) Zaheer Khan ? I think he will be lucky if he still finds himself running in to bowl in Chennai. If he does, it will be more a reflection of India’s bench strength (or rather perception of bench strength) than his own merit. He did not bowl terribly badly at Bangalore – but against opposition like this, you need eleven top performers if you have to win – and Zaheer hardly looked like the part in Bangalore.

I feel sorry for him – he has been injury-prone and , if I were a selector, I would give him another chance. But maybe that is because I have absolutely no faith in Nehra and Salvi. Agarkar may be just about the only guy I would consider to replace Zaheer but he is about as reliable as a Shoiab Akhtar or Brett Lee opening spell.

OUT (The Indian team management loves to experiment with its opening pair and I think Zaheer will be dropped).

So I come up with just 2 changes in the team : Chopra and Zaheer out, Kaif and Nehra in. Of these Chopra may still just retain his place - if the selectors continue with this "stable opening partnership" fear.

Mind you, this is not my personal preference – this is how I think the Indian selectors may play it. Let us see.

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