November 7, 2000

Rackemann, Whittall, Dungarpur - Holding fort at the Nehru Stadium

"We are optimistic. This tour should be a good learning experience. We are a young side and are looking forward to the cricket ahead of us." Now just how many times have we heard this from visiting captains and coaches? The latest instalment comes from Zimbabwe's coach, Carl Rackemann. The former Australian bowler started off as the bowling coach of the Zimbabwe side and now finds himself here in India in the capacity of fulltime coach. Having toured India as a player, Rackemann is no stranger to the subcontinent.

Some of his players however, would certainly be lost in this neck of the woods. Many of them have never been in the subcontinent before. Of the old warhorses, Andy Flower, Heath Streak, Guy Whittall and Alistair Campbell will certainly be the ones to watch out for. After the recent exit of stars Murray Goodwin and Neil Johnson, Zimbabwe cricket has seen the blooming of others who earlier were content basking in reflected glory. Guy Whittall is certainly one of the forerunners in that category. Having made a big hundred in a Test match, Whittall carried his thumping form into recent One-Day tournaments and shone with some plucky innings. Speaking to pressmen as the captain of Zimbabwe for their first game, Whittall said "I am rather optimistic about the series. The fact that we played the Indian spinners in Sharjah should certainly help us on this tour." Whittall however, refused to comment on the murky issue of match-fixing and chose to concentrate on the cricket ahead.

Alistair Campbell too has been among the runs. Although his natural ability was never really in doubt, his penchant for not applying himself to the task at hand infuriated even his biggest supporters. Andy Flower needs little introduction. Probably the only player in the current Zimbabwean team who would walk into most international sides, Andy Flower's felicity for finding the gaps is phenomenal. Keeping wickets and then batting is no easy task. Yet he seems to do it with consummate ease and this speaks volumes for his stamina.

If the Zimbabweans were a wee bit shy while addressing the press, the same scribes were treated to a verbal feast by Raj Singh Dungarpur. One of the elder statesmen of Indian cricket, Dungarpur addressed a gathering convened by the Indore Sports Writers Association. Speaking on a plethora of topics from matchfixing to his early cricketing days when he turned out for Rajasthan in this very city, Dungarpur waxed eloquent.

In a fifteen minute essay Dungarpur was in turns glassy eyed and determined. "Where is the question of erasing records of those found guilty of matchfixing?" he thundered. "If I took a distinction and then was found cheating at my college exams, will you strip me of my high school pass certificate?" he asked rhetorically. "I agree that cricketers found guilty of matchfixing should not be given benefit matches. They should not be allowed to enjoy any of the privileges other cricketers get," he clarified, not wanting to be soft on matchfixers. He moved on then to the process by which John Wright was selected and appointed India's coach. He stated officially, a few things, that were already doing the rounds in the form of rumours. It was indeed Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly who were keen on Wright. And yes, the choice did meet with the approval of Indian cricket's blue eyed boy - Sachin Tendulkar. Greg Chappell was too expensive and Geoff Marsh was not interested in a full time assignment.

After Dungarpur had his fair share of time on the dais, Hanumant Singh, Director of the National Cricket Academy took over. More crisp and to the point, Hanumant Singh made a few pertinent points. "If there's any one thing I can fault the NCA boys for, it is overenthusiasm. When they played the KSCA Diamond Jubilee Tournament, overconfidence was their downfall. However, even in the brief period they were in the tournament, the displayed an unmatched degree of enthusiasm in the field." Speaking about the NCA in a less literal note, he added, "The NCA was formed with the intention of changing the cricket culture in India. We in Indian cricket generally lack a professional approach to the game. The NCA is a strong step towards changing that."

All said and done, the NCA certainly has produced a keen bunch of cricketers. Whether that has happened because of the administration or despite the administration no one will ever know.