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Friday, Apr 19, 2002

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Cricketing ferraris

Timeri N. Murari

THE Indian cricket team fascinates me. It is like an Ambassador car with parts that just do not work together. The gears do not mesh, pistons misfire, tyres blow, horns do not work; it breaks down frequently and is constantly taken back to the garage for repairs.

I guess, to take the analogy further, the Australian team is the Ferrari of cricket. The parts click so smoothly you hardly even know you are being beaten until they pull up the stumps and walk off the field. We all thought the South Africans would be a match for them but, like a second hand car, they broke down every time they stood on the accelerator. The Australians just honked and overtook them easily. The other teams range down from there, work-a-day cars that do not really inspire you to pay out good money.

In many ways, our team also mirrors India's own dysfunction. Admittedly, I do not follow their fortunes to closely. It can be a very depressing exercise, especially when they are playing abroad. I do notice that names appear and disappear from the batting or bowling line-ups, like a magician's tricks. One moment `X' is in, the next he is out and `Y' is back in the side. Why this happens eludes me.

Obviously, I have not been following the plot too closely to discover what happened in the last match or two. It is as if someone tore a chapter out of a book. `So what happened?' I always ask one of the experts. They are usually younger guys who have the emotional resilience to keep abreast with our team. You need that badly; otherwise, you will end up with a broken heart.

Sadly, many of our die-hard cricket fanatics enter long depressions whenever they watch the side play. I seem to remember some person even committed suicide over them. I would have shot the lot but as this is not China, we have to suffer collectively. My experts then give me an analysis of `what happened'. This always sounds as complicated as reading War and Peace. Mostly, the war part as there seems to be little peace among our cricketers. It turns out that `Y' was dropped from the team, in spite of scoring a double century, because he came from the wrong State. Depending on who is running the team, that State can get certain preferences. So, `Y' is shoved into the wilderness, playing Ranji and club cricket, until the wheel of fortune turns and he can get back into the team. But then player `B' who scored a double century about a decade ago remains on in the side. Everyone is hoping that one of these days he will remember how he had scored that double century.

So, they cannot drop him if he should suddenly snap out of his stupor. Probably, he is still so drunk with his double, that he cannot focus on scoring even 20 runs. But he is a stalwart and, besides that, he comes from the right State. Should the powers that be change, he will be out of the team and sitting at home watching them play on the telly.

And then my experts tell me about all the factions, the in-fighting among the players from different States. It does not sound like War and Peace but more like our political parties. "You see," my young expert explains patiently, "Our players only play for themselves. They do not play for the team or as a team, unlike the Australians. When you watch the Australians you can see how delighted they are with someone else's success. Look at our side, and although there are lot of `high-fives', they are not genuinely happy. And once they have made the team, that is it. They are not interested in making any further progress in their game. They are not interested in becoming better batsmen or truly great bowlers. They have got the endorsements, the job, and ... What more can they want in life?" However, I do think my experts are a bit harsh on our boys. The pitches they play on are made for easy batting, hard for bowling. The outfields are dangerous as our roads.

While surfing on television, I caught a match on DD Sports. The outfield had big patches of grass surrounded by hard earth. I certainly would not slide to field, the way the Australians and others do. I felt very sorry for those cricketers, labouring under a hot sun and dreaming of becoming test players.

But again, to agree with my experts. I read that the Australians train for six-seven hours a day. They do not do `nets'; they just train to keep their bodies in as perfect shape as possible for the rigours of all the cricket that is played today. It is the physical fitness that keeps them so much on top of the cricket table as the best team. They may then do an hour of `nets'. My expert tells me for the Indian team it is less physical fitness, more nets. So, I am not surprised that our players break down even before they walk onto a test ground.

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