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July 15, 2002
The nucleus of India's World Cup team is already in place. This is the point brought home loud and clear in the wake of India's notable triumph in the NatWest series. Even though the tournament is some seven months away, there is very little scope for change in the side. This outfit should, more or less, be persevered with and given all encouragement till then.
A word of praise is in order for Dravid the wicket-keeper too for doing a competent job, given the fact that he is not a specialist and has had the task thrust upon him as part of a controversial compromise. And can one forget Sourav Ganguly the captain and John Wright the coach? And yes, even Chandu Borde and his much-maligned selection committee for picking a well-balanced outfit that, for once, performed up to potential.
I had mentioned in an earlier column that the Indian team was simply outstanding with the bat and ball and in the field and they were looking good enough to beat England in the final. But I had also spoken of the many times India had peaked too early and raised great expectations, only to falter at the final hurdle. Nine successive defeats in the finals of various tournaments over the last couple of years was really too much to swallow. And yet, striking an optimistic note, I had said that I could not see this happening at Lord's on Saturday.
And so it proved. With one stroke, as it were, the dubious reputation of being chokers was wiped out. Also, no longer can India now be classed as poor chasers. When a team successfully goes after a daunting victory target of 326 - the second highest in the history of one-day internationals - it deserves every plaudit.
The razzle-dazzle show put up by the team had the spectators cheering and shouting for more. Very rarely have we seen such an effervescent showing by India. A record of five wins, one defeat and one no result is in itself a matter for congratulations. But it was the manner in which the team performed that attracted considerable attention.
The batting and bowling did well in unison, the fielding touched great heights and there was a lot of creativity, a lot of improvisation displayed by the players. But even with these instinctive touches, it was obvious there was also a lot of thinking and planning being done. The team itself was an ideal blend of youth and experience and with both playing their roles in exemplary fashion, perhaps the extraordinary showing in the tournament was not a surprise.
What did come as a surprise was the Indians successfully reaching a Himalayan target of 326. Even granting the fact that their showing until the final was the stuff that champions are made of, such an imposing task was thought to be well beyond them. But the way they approached the task showed how mentally strong the team has become.
Even a middle-order collapse did not deter them from their objective and they emerged triumphant from what was virtually a hopeless position. So often have we seen India throw away matches they have been poised to win. What a pleasant surprise then to be witness to the team snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
A word about Mohammad Kaif would seem to be in order. I don't mind admitting that I was never really satisfied with his selection for the one-day team. His approach and his technique seemed to be tailor-made for Test cricket, much like in the case of Shiv Sundar Das or Wasim Jaffer. But he has bridged the gap admirably and I would like to think that he has done it successfully because he has a very sound match temperament.
There was always this lurking feeling that he was too correct a batsman to come good in the slam-bang variety. But one had only to see him bring off the most dazzling strokes in what was undoubtedly a crisis on Saturday to be convinced of this.
If there were still any doubts as to Ganguly being a passionate leader, Saturday's events would have erased them. The man is deeply involved with Indian cricket, his association with his team members goes beyond leading them.
Taking off his shirt and swinging it over his head in sheer, unbridled joy is a sight that could have the purists at the game's headquarters wincing but that spontaneous gesture, as well as his rushing out and jumping at Kaif and hugging him so as to bring the latter down in a manner that would make a professional wrestler proud were sights that symbolised the sheer joy of being an Indian cricketer follower on Saturday. When the team is not doing well, the pain and anguish is writ large on his face. Similarly, the emotion and intensity were all too palpable when he proudly lifted the trophy.
In moments of triumph, it is important not to lose perspective. Credit must be given where it is due, but some questions have to be raised. While it was a great feat chasing such an imposing target, one must also ask why so many runs were given away in the first place. After all, it is not going to be easy to go after such daunting totals every time. Certainly the bowling was found wanting in the final.
And one wonders why Harbhajan was played instead of Agarkar, who had done so well and is a good bet in English conditions. And Rahul Dravid keeping wickets instead of the specialist Ajay Ratra (who is also a handy bat) is still an uncomfortable compromise. Overall, the batting remains our trump card but there is need to tone up the bowling. Once this is done, India could even be serious contenders for the World Cup.