December 24, 2001

A forgettable year for the Indian team

The Indians have shown the visiting Englishmen that they are a difficult side to beat at home, just as they did to the Australians in the early part of the year

The Indians have shown the visiting Englishmen that they are a difficult side to beat at home, just as they did to the Australians in the early part of the year. Every nation, for that matter, does better at home than abroad, and the Indians are no worse or better. The only problem is that the margin by which they lose matches abroad can be embarrassing at times. At the moment, the Indian team is in a transition phase when it comes to bowling, but the batting line-up has been fairly established.

With the year drawing to a close, the Indians should sit and analyse their performances through the year and try to chalk out a plan for the coming year. Sourav Ganguly has been in charge as captain for over two years now and, although John Wright and Ganguly may have had differences of opinion on numerous occasions, they get along well. That should the prime reason for Wright's contract to be renewed; to be fair to Wright, one solitary year is too short a time to make world-beaters out of the Indian side.

The year 2001 has been a strange one for the Indians. They beat the much-fancied Australian side at home after being down by one Test. The series in Zimbabwe was drawn, and nothing spectacular came out of the Sri Lankan tour either. The trip to South Africa was ridden with controversies and bruises, in terms of Test results at least. Though the Indian side made it to the finals of the triangular tournaments in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, they faltered on the day it mattered, keeping with a trend started in 1999 at Nairobi.

Many players had to miss out on various series or tournaments due to injuries, compounding the captain's problems to a large extent. As the number of casualties grew during the middle part of the year, there were a lot of misgivings about the efficiency of physiotherapist Andrew Leipus. It has to be borne in mind, though, that some of the players sustained bone-related injuries on the field, and nothing can be done about those. In Sri Lanka, the Indians had to play without the little champion, Sachin Tendulkar, and also the sensation at the time, VVS Laxman. Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble were also not regular members of the Indian side due to injuries and rehabilitation respectively.

Looking back at the year in a nutshell, then, there have been gains and losses in equal measure. India has gained in Harbhajan Singh a very good bowler, and another piece of good news is that Kumble is back into the groove; this duo can win matches for their country, at least on home pitches. There has been much chopping and changing in the medium-pace department, and the ideal partner for Srinath is yet to emerge. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra showed enough promise, but injuries and inconsistency have denied them a regular berth in the side. Tinu Yohannan, the product of MRF Pace Foundation, is the recent inclusion in the pace bowling department.

The Indian batting has been indifferent, with the middle-order batsmen not clicking in unison when the side needed them to. Ganguly, for one, has been off the boil for almost a year now in Test cricket, and with Rahul Dravid being shuffled around, things were not smooth for him either. The biggest disappointment of the year, though, has been the way in which Laxman has repeatedly let down his side. He established himself against Australia with the highest individual score by an Indian but has done little sine then. Mind you, he is a big innings player, but if he keeps tossing his wicket away in the twenties time and again, the team is bound to suffer. The only gain this year has been the emergence of "Veeru" Sehwag, who has been refreshing in both forms of the game. One only hopes that he does not take things for granted and keeps performing consistently.

Overall, the year has been one best forgotten, since the team has not won too many games. The wicket-keeper's slot is still up for grabs, and a partner for Shiv Sunder Das is still to be found, although Deep Dasgupta looks a handy prospect. The Indians have to concentrate on their upcoming tours, since performances abroad have not been spectacular in recent years. The basic tendency is to wait until the eleventh hour and then pick a combination in a jiffy. It is about time that things changed, and planning for the future should be the top priority. The phrase has been a cliché often heard, but with so many tours abroad slated for 2002, the time to act has arrived.