The Way Forward

The manner in which cricket is being played is at a significant inflection point. On one hand you have the absolute aggression from the Australian team and on the other you have the artistic flair of the Sri Lankans.

Among the four semifinalists, Sri Lanka is the only team that is unique. South Africa tried to imitate Australia so much so that they fell flat on their faces still not sure about who they are nor who they want to be. New Zealand made a genuine attempt at being like Australia but lacked the required match winners in the mould of a Martin Crowe or a Chris Cairns. Only Sri Lanka hasn’t tried to be like Australia, their captain Mahela Jayawardene is the epitome of the Zen like quality and quite self belief with which they play their cricket. He played the finest innings yet in this World Cup in the semifinals against New Zealand, gradually playing himself in before caressing and finessing the ball to all parts of the ground in a beautiful crescendo of the finest strokes touched by surreal timing.

Australia play a brand of power cricket that is domineering and many other countries have fallen into the trap of trying to play like the Aussies without realizing that Australia have chosen this method only after being the number one cricketing power for a long time. Australia didn’t always play like this, in the 1999 World Cup they had to battle hard after early losses and were lucky to get past South Africa. It was Steve Waugh who pioneered this approach in Test cricket and Ricky Ponting carried it onto the one day games. Ponting is now the primary enforcer of this approach in both forms of the game and the team appears to have absorbed his personality. But, even they have tripped up with this 'all guns blazing' approach, remember the Adelaide Test match against India when they had the first innings lead till the fourth day and yet lost the Test match. In their unbeaten run in the 2003 World Cup if not Andrew Symonds’ spectacular innings against Pakistan it could have been a very different tournament. In this World Cup they haven’t even been challenged in any of their games, and Sri Lanka may be the only team who can. I actually think it was a pretty good strategy to hide Murali and Malinga from the Australian batters and it looks like it might pay dividends because the Aussies seem pretty worked up about it. I find it pretty hypocritical of the Aussies to quibble about Sri Lanka resting its players and to comment about how 'that is not they way we play our cricket.' In the 1996 World Cup they didn’t even bother showing up for their games in Sri Lanka. Lest I forget, let me quickly add that the boycott was out of concerns about safety!

Sanath Jayasuriya is probably the only Sri Lankan player who approaches the game in the Aussie way but he is a man all unto himself. The one area in which there are similarities between the two sides is the fielding. Sri Lanka is one of the superior fielding sides in the world, and this side is a far cry from the round belly days of Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva. Tillekeratne Dilshan is breathtaking in the field and will match the intensity of the Aussies. The Australian bowling attack led by the peerless Glenn McGrath has taken the most wickets in the tournament, but Sri Lanka does possess two of the most exotic and talented bowlers in the history of cricket in Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga. If at all you are thinking twice about watching the final, then watch it just for these two, they are a sight to behold.

The style in which three of the semifinalists play their cricket seems to be an indication of which brand of cricket will prevail, but for this one last game, the 2007 World Cup Final, we have the artistry of the Lankans versus the aggression of the Aussies and the sheer genius of the artist may yet delay the inevitable.




One tends to forget that the BCCI has a lot of power over the players mainly because most of the administrators are merely concerned about remaining in power and use it only to further that agenda. Sharad Pawar seems to be made of a different mould, not afraid to wield the stick in a judicious manner. Pawar, of course is a skilled politician who appears to understand timing better than all the current Indian batsmen. While the players were busy fighting their battle through the media with an entirely inappropriate smear campaign against the coach Greg Chappell, Pawar called in former India captains to lend respectability and approval to a range of decision that firmly puts the errant senior players in their place while at the same time implementing far reaching changes to reform the BCCI.

Some of the striking pronouncements of change from Pawar’s working committee include deciding to scrap the zonal selection panel in both the senior and junior selection committee and appointing full-time paid selectors for a 2 year period, directing the selectors to pick a young team led by Rahul Dravid for the Bangladesh tour, appointing a permanent manager for the Indian team on a 2 year term, limiting sponsor endorsement to no more than 2 players, dictating that the players submit a copy of their endorsement agreement and issuing a remarkable notice to Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh to explain their remarks to the media. Last but not the least the BCCI has thrown out the current single coach system and adopted an NFL style Manager in Ravi Shastri to oversee a team of specialist coaches for bowling, Venkatesh Prasad, and fielding, Robin Singh. The latter have had success with the Under-19 and India-A teams. These two appointees along with the decision to retain Dravid as captain and the offer to Chappell to remain a BCCI employee as a Consultant at the National Cricket Academy is clear signal that Pawar has placed faith with the BCCI appointed men and sends a strong message to the players that mutinies are not allowed.

These significant changes and exercising of authority have been camouflaged by the red herring that is the restriction on number of endorsements. While everybody discusses the legality of the 3 endorsement restriction on cricketers and their loss of income, Pawar can quietly reform the anachronistic workings of the BCCI.

Sometimes one need a significant shock to the system to reform it and Sharad Pawar has correctly recognized the public mood and chosen the appropriate time to implement drastic changes. Pawar is certainly wielding a big stick, and even the past master of the BCCI, Jagmohan Dalmiya will nod in agreement when I say “Well done, Mr. Pawar your timing is exceptional.”



Sachin Tendulkar

19 Tests, 914 Runs, Highest score 109, Average 31.51 with 1 century and 6 fifties.

The above figures are Sachin’s Test match numbers after his elbow injury in 2004; I have excluded the double hundred against Bangladesh. For somebody who used to average in the high 50’s these are damning statistics and indicate that something has gone wrong with his batting. Yet, we are prepared to give great players extra leeway because they can produce decisive innings that can change the course of a match and therefore his selection hasn’t borne much questioning. But, in the last couple of years, we haven’t seen this happening and in fact on all occasions when Tendulkar had the opportunity to impose himself on the game, he has frozen into a zombie like batting mode. It began with the torturous 98 ball 16 in the third Test against Pakistan in Bangalore in 2005, but that can be glossed over because we were trying to save a Test match, but more damaging was the 62 ball 14 against South Africa in the second innings of the third Test earlier this year when India were in a great position to win an away Test series. This strange mode of batting that he adopts can be classified at best as poor judgment and at worst timid and defeatist. The only decisive innings after the elbow injury has been the sparkling second innings 55 against Australia in Mumbai in November 2004, where he along with VVS Laxman set up a consolation victory for India. It has been a long time since that knock.

You must be wondering why am I talking about his Test match statistics right after a India exited the one day World Cup? Well, some people have suggested that Sachin should be dropped from the one day team and should only play in Test matches. The truth is that his Test match batting doesn’t even earn him a spot in the playing eleven, and in fact his one day batting has been far superior. He has played some wonderful one day innings in the recent past including dominating centuries against Sri Lanka, West Indies and Pakistan. I still believe that if Sachin had been opening in the World Cup, India would have probably made it past the group stage and to the Super 8’s but would have struggled and embarrassed themselves against far more professional sides. Tendulkar still can bat and probably knows more about batting technique than most people in this world. Yet, something seems to be wrong with his mind, instead of getting stronger with experience like Rahul Dravid, he seems to be getting more fragile. Maybe the constant pressure and adulation of the Indian cricket fan for the last 17 years has worn him down.

He is still young, turning 34 in April, and I don’t think anybody has the right to tell Sachin Tendulkar when he should retire, only he knows that. At the same time, Ian Chappell was well within his rights in asking Sachin to look in the mirror and consider quitting. Introspection is needed Sachin. Why are you batting like this? Is it because of the waning of your physical powers, which should make quitting an easier decision or is it a mental thing? If it is the latter, are you prepared to accept it and do you have the motivation to conquer it? You know that you have nothing left to achieve.