September 23, 2000

It is up to Ganguly to mould the youngsters

The ICC Trophy in Nairobi marks the start of yet another season for the Indian team. If the empty lobby at the hotel the players were staying in is any indication, the interest of the followers of the game is at its nadir. It will take some outstanding cricket from the Indian team to rekindle the passion among the fans. On the face of it, the BCCI, in its own effective way, has ensured the tainted players were not picked. What remains to be seen is how much it has convinced the embittered public.

Ganguly, the captain of the team, made a succinct remark when he said the game must go on. Not only must the game go on, but it must also go on in a manner whereby the bad memories are erased. A look at the squad suggests that the selectors have picked the best possible combination given the circumstances. A few new faces have been drafted into the side with Prasad and Kambli making a comeback. The fresh season starts with an interim coach, which once again is keeping in with the vagaries of the system. Gaekwad, who was with the team earlier, makes a comeback of a different kind under very trying circumstances.

One would have thought that the conditioning camp would have been for a longer duration as the cricketers have had a very long break. As usual, the camp turned out to be yet another mandatory affair. The only satisfactory aspect was that two one-day matches were played for the selectors to gauge the abilities of a few youngsters. Not that these two matches alone determined the selection process but they served the purpose to a reasonable extent. The serious attitude of Tendulkar influenced the entire lot and the matches were played in the right fashion.

The team to Nairobi has a good blend of youth and experience all right, but the Indians have a tough task ahead. The middle order does not have a right balance and there is a weak link with an inexperienced batsman having to bat at the crucial No.5 spot. In the event Ganguly decides to drop down the order, then the opener's slot becomes open. If these vital aspects were taken into consideration, Sadagopan Ramesh would have been recalled. Obviously it seems that the selectors have decided that he does not fit in the scheme of things in the shorter version of the game. It would be understandable if he was either a plodder or on his last legs of his career. Sriram is and would be better off as a middle order bat and a spinner and the idea of making him open is definitely way off the mark. The notion of dropping Robin Singh for Ritender Sodhi is incredible and that the selection committee even bothered to think along these lines is ridiculous. Then of course in a system where even the selectors are trying to retain their posts, some bizarre moves will be considered.

Coming to the new faces, the inclusion of Dahiya is baffling, but to be fair, the other contenders Paul and Ratra did not convince the selectors enough. Zaheer Khan should go down as the quickest in India at the moment and one hopes that he fulfils his promise. If he is handled right there is every possibility that he would develop into a main strike bowler in the near future. The fact that he is a left-arm seamer is an added advantage as the last time a left-arm seamer played one dayers for India was in the late 80s, Rashid Patel. Yuvraj Singh, the dashing left hander is rated to be a good striker of the ball but it would have better if the selectors were to let him gain more experience in the domestic circuit. Remember someone called Bedade, who was a similar kind of player.

The pressure on Ganguly will be twice as much as it was when he took up captaincy the first time. On balance, he is given a side with quite a few youngsters and it will be up to him to mould them. The responsibility on his shoulders is enormous and it will be a great test for him in more ways than one. He has been forthright so far in his approach and if only he continues to be like that, one half of his problems will fizzle out. The team will also have the problem of adjusting to different coaches if the BCCI brings in a foreign coach.

Gaekwad is in a tricky situation in that he has been given the job only for the two tournaments in Nairobi and Sharjah. Agreed that he has been the coach before, but there is hardly any time for him to do anything of note. Ganguly has to be prepared to deal with a different selection committee as well besides adjusting to different coaches. His skills in man management, diplomacy and the way he tackles various issues will decide the course the season is bound to take. If his managerial skills are half as good as his cover drives, then everyone can rest assured that the team is in a very capable pair of hands.