India's reshuffled batting order for the second match of the tri-series was the talk of the evening in Dambulla. It seemed that anybody could walk into the middle. While the guessing game has its own merit in a boring match, I am still not impressed by India's tactics. To my eyes, they panicked. When a team is selected, selectors, coach and captain thrash out the details behind closed doors and the first thing they do is look at the balance of the side. They decide who will open the innings, who will occupy the middle order, the wicketkeeper's slot, the bowling positions etc. But here it was a lottery. I felt happy for Mohammad Kaif that he was tried out in the opener's slot. But the balance of the line-up was all awry.
The two Indian youngsters [Suresh Raina and Venugopal Rao] are loaded with potential but you must not throw them into the deep end when they do not know how to swim. Ideally, the batting slots should have a mix of experience and youth, the balancing factor must never be overlooked. Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni as openers; Dravid at No. 3 to shepherd the young Raina at No. 4; Mohammad Kaif to go with Venugopal Rao and Yuvraj Singh to follow -- that is the kind of blend the Indians should have opted for. In the end it appeared easy but we would never know the outcome of this experiment if Raina was caught on the off side before he had opened his account.
The other thing that caught my eye in the evening will gladden Indian hearts. They should rejoice at the presence of their three left-arm medium pacers. These three were terrific and could form one of the most potent bowling attacks in the next World Cup. It does not matter that they do not offer variety. Cricket always advocates that your best bowlers should play. If they are all left-armers, so be it. You do not have to bring a right-armer just for the heck of it and pay at leisure later. Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra have shown exemplary control in the two matches so far. They did not allow Sri Lanka to break free and the inexperienced West Indies were never a safe bet to take them on. India's left-arm pacemen are from the top drawer. If they retain fitness and form, they will be counted at the time of the 2007 World Cup.
Anil Kumble was not played for the second day running and that is a mistake. You do not bring him to Sri Lanka and not play him. If he was there on Saturday night and I was the opposition captain, I would have never asked my batsmen to take chances against him. That is the kind of respect he commands in batsmen's minds. It must be made use of.
That brings me to the issue of Sourav Ganguly. Now that he is in Sri Lanka, speculation would be rife on his relationship with his former deputy and now the leader at the deck, Dravid. Frankly, I do not foresee any trouble. I know Ganguly well and am aware that he has a raging fire for the good of Indian cricket. He is a gutsy combative character and I respect him a lot. He would give the personal equation a secondary role. These men, cricketers like Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Kumble, are not the ones who worry about their positions. They are the ones who are only concerned about the good of the team. They are shining examples of model conduct for youngsters.
Dravid is also not a fool who would look to slight Ganguly. He would do his best to make use of Ganguly's experience and class; the same that he himself proffered when he was deputy to Ganguly. Besides, the presence of Greg Chappell would always be around to douse any fire from gaining ground. Ganguly has a lot to offer by way of everything. It must be conveyed to him that he is wanted. I remember when Murali was no-balled in Australia for the first time, he did not want to go to the ground. I told him that he should be around, that he was needed. Even if it was to be in the role of the 12th man. I still feel that Sri Lanka is the strongest team in the competition. But I am not sure if they are playing their best cricket. India, on the other hand, are beginning to warm up. I would not be surprised if they end up as winners of the tournament and Man of the Series is none other than Ganguly himself. For he is that sort of a man.