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The BCCI in its 'vision statement' released almost exactly a year ago claimed that one of its future goals was to prepare a team capable of winning the World Cup in 2002. It was a noble sentiment, never mind that the Board actually got the year of the competition wrong. The statement also went on to add that long term planning for the said event would start immediately. Other nations have already begun planning an assault on the World Cup in February-March 2003, less than 19 months away. Sri Lankan coach Dav Whatmore suggested in his column on CricInfo that he was using the ongoing triangular series to hunt for the right balance of the side with the World Cup in mind.
Whatmore's Indian counterpart John Wright isn't willing to look as far ahead just yet, considering his contract extends only for a year to begin with. The BCCI's first priority is to identify a nucleus of perhaps 20-22 players around whom India's plans can revolve. At the moment the number of certainties for the World Cup are not more than half a dozen which leaves plenty of scope for aspiring candidates to advance their claims. The growth of the National Cricket Academy and its regional offshots has helped to put a feeder line in place to deposit youthful talent in the Indian team. In the last ten months, beginning with the ICC KnockOut in Kenya, the selectors have thrown the net wide in their pursuit of a suitable catch for the future.
Skipper Sourav Ganguly, who was dropped for four years after his debut, says that it's easy to play for India these days. A startling number of youngsters, Yuvraj, Zaheer, Dahiya, Sriram, Sodhi, Mongia, Nehra, Badani, Shewag have been thrown in at the deep end, but few have been able to swim to safety. The most gaping hole that still remains to be plugged is in the lower middle order where the collective disappearance of Azharuddin, Jadeja and Robin Singh has left the team shorn of expertise to manouevre the climax of an innings.
Apart from putting men on probation for vacancies, the team also has to identify back-up players to cover for the loss of regulars in an emergency. The separation of the phenomenally successful Tendulkar- Ganguly pairing for the ongoing Coca Cola Cup clearly caught the Indians on the wrong foot, with different opening pairs being used in the first three games. The planners also have to factor in the conditions in South Africa which hosts the World Cup. Whatmore makes the cutting observation that "a quick look around the world will show you that the successful teams that play in South Africa, Australia and England have bowling attacks stacked full of fast bowlers who can bat or batsmen that bowl seam up." The Indians however have a preponderance of batsmen who bowl spin which is a warning signal. The upcoming tour of South Africa in October will be a barometer to gauge the capabilities of individual players and sort out the relative merits of newcomers on trial.
It's not all about just hitting upon the ideal combination of players though; if that were enough, selection committees around the world could compete for the Cup. One still has to extract the best out of them, both as individuals and as a team, which is what the coach's job is all about. India have been ritually slaughtered on past tours to South Africa, winning only one of 11 ODIs against the Proteas in their own territory. To construct such castles in the air as winning the World Cup would seem the ravings of an unbalanced mind. "The loftier the building the deeper the foundation must be," said Thomas Kempis and the brooding Wright has sought to lay as deep a foundation as permissible in eight months in harness.
Meticulous planning, hankering for data about past trends, using software to analyse the games of his players and the opposition, emphasis on togetherness off the field, constant drilling of a 'back to the basics' refrain, giving fitness workouts a pre-eminent place in the scheme of things and making practice fun with innovative drills are Wright's hallmarks. Results however are the bottom line and going into the Coca Cola Cup in Sri Lanka, India had won 10 of 15 ODIs during his tenure. But three successive defeats in the ongoing competition have completely ripped the sheen off any lingering memories of those victories. "Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work," said management guru Peter Drucker. A lot of toil and labour clearly lies ahead.