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It's 'Magic of Lara' vs 'Mystique of Tendulkar'
By R. Mohan
KINGSTON, March 5.
``Be there when the bails fall'' is how they advertise the cricket
here. It would probably be more apt to say ``Be there
when the standards fall'' because that is what has been
happening in cricket in the
Caribbean as much as in the cricket being played worldwide at an alarming
frequency these days in which televisual entertainment is king.
``We cannot be such a bad side if we lose to the world's best team 2-3
who then go on to beat the other team people have been talking so much
about,'' says Clive Lloyd in that eternally serious tone of his. He is
obviously referring to Australians, the clear leaders of the Test pack and of
the South Africans who met their superiors on their home turf of the
Wanderers just recently and went down unceremoniously.
Lloyd was the emperor of the game in the days when the West Indians
were the dons of Test cricket. Today, he accepts that his beloved West
Indies would have to start all over again in order to get back to being the
uncrowned kings. What sort of competition can be expected then when the
fallen idols meet that team in world cricket which is always striving to
perform well enough to satisfy very high aspirations?
The Cable & Wireless series, scheduled to begin at the Sabina Park on
Thursday, is not significant in the sense that it will not help world cricket to
come to any conclusions about ratings. Nor will it supply the answer to
who make the best Test side in contemporary cricket, a question that the
Aussies have answered well enough. The series is more critical to which of
two teams in the middle of the Test table is going to rise.
When the teams met at the same venue 21 years ago, `Lloydi' was the
vicious task master who unleashed the `bouncers of war' at India and then
went on to terrorise the rest of the world with his pace bowlers. The
***bath at the Sabina Park was to become a very significant milestone in
Today, it is a somewhat emaciated West Indian pace attack which takes
on an Indian team far better known for its entertaining batting abilities than
any great winning Test performances overseas. When the same team met
eight years ago at the same venue, the pitch was a granite hard surface on
which you could virtually see the reflection of your face.
Today, it is a brown strip so barren of grass that Curtly Ambrose is
provoked into constantly reminding old Joseph who tends to the pitch to
``Put some grass on it, man, put some grass on it.'' The West Indian
quicks, worked to the bone in a hard series in Australia, are not pleased by
the appearance of the pitch.
It is a slow surface on which the ball will keep low but since it will skid
through batsmen will have to play Courtney Walsh, Ambrose, Bishop and
newcomer Franklyn Rose more often. There is no knowing what effect that
will have on Indian batting which is as well known for its fragility as for its
It is the Indian attack sans Srinath which is going to cause furrows to the
captain's brow. He plugged on with Srinath right through the season,
overworking him almost without mercy and the bowler responded with
some of the finest spells imaginable from an Indian quick bowler. India will
miss him much more than it may imagine on the eve of this series.
It is a moot point how good Venkatesh Prasad will be when he is going to
be the spearhead. Used to bowling in a fine contrasting tandem with
Srinath, he would have to work much harder for his wickets when batsmen
know that it is best they play him out. India's newcomer Abey Kuruvilla,
who is no colt gets a break and he would have to stretch out, too, if he is
to overcome what looks like a good batting pitch.
The luxury of a third specialist seamer cannot be India's in this Test
because it needs all the batsmen it can fit into the XI in order to start a full
series well which alone will give it any chance of surviving. The use of
Laxman to support Sidhu at the top of the order may not be the best
indicated course but then there were few options after it was decided that
Nayan Mongia can be better value in the late middle order.
As the in-form batsman in every form of the game, Rahul Dravid may be
asked to keep the key position of one drop while the shot- playing Saurav
Ganguly is sent at five. The top three are potentially the best men India may
have employed in these positions in the last 10 Tests. Sachin, Ganguly and
Azhar will then take up the more attacking roles in the middle order in
which they should stand a better chance if a calm start is provided. The
Duke balls being used here tend to give the bowlers nothing after the first
20 overs or so.
Test batting demands a certain self denial in the early stages lest the
occupational disease of one-day batsmanship creeping into Test cricket
destroy a team as it obviously has even such a thinking side as South
Africa. The strip laid out for the game is a far cry from the one on which
Navjot Sidhu scored a courageous century in '89. But the priorities of Test
batting have not changed one bit in the intervening time.
Sidhu's unusual comeback
Sidhu's is an unusual comeback. He is bubbling over with a renewed
enthusiasm for Test match cricket and he can help lift the batting which
usually sags at the start of an away series as it did in Durban last December
when India was shot out for 100 and 66 in the Test which did not last three
The West Indian quicks are so unhappy with the pitch laid out for the Test
that they may suffer the additional burden of low motivation if they are kept
out in the early stages when the new ball at least will provide some bounce.
But their batting which was not seen at its best on the tour of Australia may
regain the flow if Brian Lara jump-starts it with early runs in this series.
His form will be crucial to how well the West Indies perform towards
getting back the lost status of Test champion. He took the softer option of
a rest day on Tuesday but Wednesday was the usual bustle at the Sabina
Park with the West Indians preparing for the Test in the morning and the
Indians, well rested after a day of taking in the sights of the northern coast
of Jamaica, getting there in the afternoon.
``Thank god I am retired. I do not have to bowl on this pitch,'' says
Michael Holding. The Rolls Royce among fast bowlers was the mean
destroyer-in-chief in the infamous Test of 1976. He knocked out not only
bails and stumps but also teeth while giving the ears of some batsmen a
good working over. Walsh proved most awkward with his in-cutting and
menacing bounce in 1989.
The Indian batsmen were accused then of `running away' by their skipper
Dilip Vengsarkar. But then that was an unhappy tour for India while the
previous one under Kapil Dev's leadership had been a great one for the
team despite its 0-2 defeat in the Tests, including the loss in the first Test
here by four wickets in a close-run game won for the home side by Viv
It is a question of capturing a good mood in the team and retaining it which
is what Sachin must try to achieve if his team is to last the full course of
what could be a long and draining series in which motivation can get low
because of the kind of packed programme to which his team has been
playing in the whole of 1996 and at the beginning of 1997.
The series is also being advertised as the `Magic of Lara' versus the
`Mystique of Tendulkar' as the `Crown Prince of the West Indies' takes on
the `Emperor of India'. Fancy lines these and typically those of copy
writers. Will the cricket live up to such hyperbole in these days of falling
standards is the question.
India (likely) : Sachin Tendulkar (captain), Navjot Sidhu, Vangipurappu
Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, M.Azharuddin, Nayan Mongia,
Sunil Joshi, Anil Kumble, Venkatesh Prasad and Abey Kuruvilla.
West Indies (likely) : Courtney Walsh (captain), Sherwin Campbell, Stuart
Williams, Jimmy Adams, Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carl
Hooper, Junior Murray, Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose.
Umpires : Merwyn Kitchen (England) and Steve Bucknor (West Indies).
Match referee: Peter van der Merwe (South Africa).
Hours of play (in IST): 8-30 to 10-30 p.m.; 11-10 p.m. to 1-10 a.m. and
1-30 to 3-30 a.m. (No rest day).