May 12, 2000

The disappointing season that was

The season 1999-2000 concluded with the Ranji Trophy finals recently. This season should by far go down as one of the most unproductive one in recent years. It all started off with the drama of people trying to locate Tendulkar to find out if he would take up captaincy. The change of captaincy was prompted as the Indian team failed to reach the knockout phase in the 1999 World Cup edition. As usual, the captain invariably has to carry the can when things go wrong and Azharuddin was stripped of his captaincy. Tendulkar amidst greatly fabricated excitement finally accepted the captaincy, which coincided with the appointment of Kapil Dev as the coach.

This combination was thought to be the solution for all the problems ailing Indian cricket. This game, unpredictable that it is, proved otherwise and squashed the hopes of the entire nation. The test series at home against New Zealand was won but the margin of victory in the one-dayers was nothing to write home about. It was during the tour of Australia that the shortcomings were really exposed giving no room for excuses. The new selection committee under Borde got things totally wrong. Their idea of building a team was right but the implementation of the idea was untimely.

Experienced cricketers like Azharuddin, Mongia and later on Jadeja were not considered for Australia due to various reasons, which are not worth analysing. The younger breed of cricketers who did duty in Australia was dropped immediately on their return and some of them have not resurfaced again. It would have been better if the building up process was started during the home series against South Africa.

The typical impatience of the selectors came to the fore, which resulted in the recall of Azharuddin and Mongia. While the former justified his recall with a century at Bangalore, the latter looked far below par. Another twist during the series against South Africa was the relinquishing of captaincy by Tendulkar. He decided that the burden of captaincy was too difficult to handle. It won't be wrong to say his decision was influenced by the fact the team performed far below decent expectations.

The reactions after the Australian tour ranged from disappointment to anguish to anger. A lot of suggestions were made and the ultimate verdict was that the nature of wickets had to be changed to improve the quality of cricket. The verdict was correct but nothing was done in that direction which is typical of the system. All the major tournaments were played on tracks that helped neither the batters nor the bowlers. So much so that even at venues where the curators, who are part of the pitches committee, did nothing to give sporting pitches.

The new captain Saurav Ganguly met with instant success as the Indians beat the South Africans in the one-dayers. He brought in a refreshing change in the sense that he has been forthright in his decisions and opinions. This quality will not endear him to many but it seems that he is not unduly worried about a resultant decrease in his popularity. Obviously his stance is the right one, as the captain has to do what is best for the side. It remains to be seen how long Ganguly's candid remarks will be tolerated as emotions run high in the Indian cricket circuit.

Somewhere down the line his out spoken nature might land him in unnecessary hassles. In a season that was as busy and long as this, it is incredible that there have been not many gains. Never before have there been so many vacancies in the Indian team. The selectors are still searching for openers, spinners and medium pacers and not to mention a good young keeper. The only department that is fairly established is the middle order. Currently the situation is similar to the one that prevailed in England until recently wherein every first class cricketer was waiting to be called up for national duty.

The decision to have a camp before the Asia Cup is one of the sensible things to happen in this season. It will be of immense help as the team can work on their weaknesses and the need to focus can be emphasised strongly. As the team is not yet picked, the coach and the captain can have a good look at the available talent and work out the best permutations and combinations. Ganguly is trying to make the best possible use of the players available, which has been the key to his success in the matches he has led so far. Ganguly still has a Herculean task ahead of him, as this is the transition period in Indian cricket. He has shown that he can handle the extra responsibility as his batting is not affected.

The Asia Cup can probably be taken as the start of the 2000/1 season for India and hopefully the first season of the millenium will turn things around. Then, of course, Ganguly should try to make things happen and for that he needs the support of not only his team but also the people who make up the system.