March 28, 2000

Inconsistency has been the Indians' major problem

The Indians failed badly on the day of reckoning to be knocked out of the Coca-Cola Cup at Sharjah. The batsmen failed throughout the tournament with Azharuddin alone aggregating more than a hundred runs. As a matter of fact, nothing went right for the Indians after the euphoric victory in the one-dayers against South Africa at home. The highly accomplished top order batsmen found the going tough, as they were kept on a tight leash by the disciplined South Africans and the crafty Pakistanis.

Coming back to the game against South Africa, the Springboks' hunger to keep their record intact at Sharjah came to the fore. Their fielding was as usual top class and it gave one the impression that they were defending a target of 140. The back of the length stuff dished out by the South African medium pacers coupled with their magnificent fielding ensured that the Indians were kept under constant pressure. Cronje's job was made easier as his plans were not thwarted in the least by the Indians.

Hayward worked up good speed and he beat Ganguly with sheer pace and the promotion of Azharuddin was the right move as he is in form. Tendulkar was determined to play a long knock but his grit was corroded with some superb fielding in the inner circle. His timing was not the same as we are accustomed to seeing when he is on song. Azharuddin from the other end decided to go after anything pitched up which resulted in a few boundaries. As the singles were hard to come by, both Azharuddin and Tendulkar were not very sure in their calling and eventually Azharuddin called for a run and McKenzie from mid-on effected a crucial run out.

Tendulkar, sent back by Azharuddin on many earlier occasions, tried to sneak a sharp single but in his eagerness to rotate the strike, picked the wrong fielder - Herschelle Gibbs. He does not miss many opportunities and his direct hit rang the death knell for the Indian team. Dravid having lost Jadeja at the other end was trying his best to play freely but he seems to be stuck in a sort of a quicksand. The harder he tried to pierce the infield, the lesser he succeeded. Robin Singh hung around but the South Africans had put the lid on the Indians far too firmly by then. The total in the end was not too encouraging and only an extraordinary performance by the bowlers could have prevented the inevitable.

The South Africans countered the double strike by Prasad with some sensible batting. After the exit of Kirsten, Kallis took control of the innings in the company of his captain, Cronje. Both these players complemented each other and this pair ensured that South Africa romped home comfortably. Now that the Indians are out of the tournament, the Springboks take on Pakistan in the last league game and once again in the finals. It remains to be seen if South Africa can maintain their winning streak what with Pakistan getting their act together at the right time.

As far as the Indians are concerned, they were well and truly beaten and inconsistency has been their major problem. The Indians have to somehow get the coordination right as a team the next time they get on to the field.