October 18, 2000

Given opportunities, talented youngsters will come good

The recently concluded ICC Trophy at the Nairobi Gymkhana has proved that if talented youngsters are given opportunities at the right time, they are bound to deliver the goods. If at all there is a time to look ahead, it is now. The most remarkable feature of the performance of the Indian team was the way the younger players took to international cricket. Let me assure the readers that I am not getting carried away based on a couple of good results. Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan did themselves proud in the matches they have played so far for the country.

Just as the new season was about to get underway, Kapil Dev made an inglorious exit from the game, which definitely was not befitting a cricketer of his stature. His exit brought up the question of finding a coach for the team at the eleventh hour and that too as a stop gap. Eventually Gaekwad was persuaded by the BCCI chief to take up the assignment for the ICC tournament at Nairobi and the Coca-Cola trophy at Sharjah. Gaekwad's statement about wanting to win the tournament may have sounded far too optimistic but the young lot almost fulfilled his desire.

Zaheer Khan, the MRF Pace Foundation trainee, has shown everyone that he is capable of bowling really quick and he has to be treated with great care. As the saying goes "success has a lot of fathers" and there are a lot of people taking credit for his success. Without harping too much on this topic, I dare say that he is a product of the MRF Pace Foundation and was later drafted into the NCA for a brief period. What really matters is that a bowler of exceptional potential has made his entry into the big league, which was the hour of the need as Srinath has been injury prone of late. He should go as a more precious find as India has not had a history of producing fast bowlers on a regular basis.

Yuvraj Singh, the explosive left-handed batsman, has proved to be a revelation with his blistering knocks at the Nairobi Gymkhana. His confidence bordering on arrogance is his positive factor and one really hopes that he establishes himself in the Test side if and when the opportunity arises. There are a couple of talented cricketers like Sriram and Badani waiting in the wings which is a healthy sign for Indian cricket. Both are very good fielders with Sriram capable of developing into a genuine all-rounder.

The season ahead is a busy one with a fair number of Test matches to be played. It is imperative that a pool of 20 players is picked and the final squad is picked only from this pool depending on the form at the time of selection. One aspect that merits consideration is not to be swayed by the established cricketers' verdict when it comes to selection matters as that has proved to be a bit sticky in the past. The same names are put forth regardless of their performances being not up to the mark. The case in point is the request for Vijay Bharadwaj. It has to be remembered that his injury was preceded by poor performances in Australia and as such he has to perform once again to make his comeback. On the other hand, Sunil Joshi has been in the squad time and again without getting a game. If the captain does not have the confidence in him, there is no point in him getting picked in the first place.

As the Test matches are round the corner, it will be of great interest to see what will be done in the case of Laxman. He has indicated that he wants to bat in the middle order which is where he really belongs. Promising youngsters like Murali Karthik and Shiv Sundar Das have to be played in the eleven as often as possible in order for them to improve rapidly. It also remains to be seen if a pair of regular openers will be called upon to do duty especially when the Indians play at home.

The selectors at long last are appreciated for their work and they have to stick to youngsters, as this is the pivotal period in Indian cricket. The objective should be to build up a team for the future. The batting department looks safe and secure and it is the bowling department that will be a cause for concern. It would not be a bad idea to consider winning the next World Cup in 2003 as the ultimate goal. I am not suggesting that everything else is inconsequential but one should realise that it has been a long time since India won a major championship despite having the potential to do so. Moreover this is the era of one-day cricket and as such nothing can surpass a World Cup victory. After all, even today the victories in the one-day tournaments in the mid-80s are spoken about with great pride.