THE eyes and hearts of all cricket lovers are now set on the World Cup to be held in May in the mecca of cricket. The Indian board has given us the TINA (there is no alternative) Mohammed Azharuddin as the captain. As far as the team is concerned, as is clearly visible nowadays, without Sachin Tendulkar it lacks the flavour, charisma and skill to be a world-beater. I am sure that followers of the game in India would be praying that Tendulkar regains fitness and get some match practice as well instead of shadow practice in front of a mirror.
We have worked for long on the basic formula of five batsmen, five bowlers and a wicketkeeper and tried to balance this equation whenever we had an allrounder handy. This formula will get us nowhere in todays competitive era and the keyword for this competition has to be "allrounders". To make the team a force to reckon with, the induction of at least three allrounders is a prime necessity. For example, if a conscious effort is made to use Sachin, Ganguly and Jadeja to bowl 20 overs between them, we have the space for an extra batsman who can be used to strengthen our scoreline.
The most important factor in this World Cup is that it is taking place in England, where the weather plays a big role. The cricket season there lasts for five monthsApril to August. The first half of this season is characterised by conditions conducive to swing bowling. While the quickies would definitely have their part to play, the real need is to have medium pacers who can swing the ball. I think we will have to lean heavily on the trio of Sachin, Ganguly and Jadeja, as all of them are mean thinkers and can swing the ball. The final thinking has to be done on the field on a per-match basis, but the strategy has to based on these "Three Musketeers". They have the josh (energy) and hosh (intelligence) to control and gobble up their opponents whether with the willow or the leather.
If we label Sachin, Azhar, Dravid, Ganguly and Jadeja as our final batsmen, then we require an allrounder in the form of Robin Singh. Robin, fortunately, is familiar with English playing conditions and we should stand to gain from it. Since Mongia will naturally follow him, we have reasonably solid batting till No. 7. For the four slots left, we have Kumble, Agarkar, Srinath, Gyanendra Pandey and Nikhil Chopra. With this combination, we can strike the right balance to ensure that both departments are strong. Though it is difficult to leave out the talented Amay Khurasia and Virender Sehwag, we are left with no option. They can be used in case of fitness problems or if somebody is not clicking.
The key to how we fare will be Azhar. He has to increase his interaction with team members. That means more effective management and utilisation, resulting in optimum performance by all. Victory is the greatest morale booster and therefore goading/cajoling players would be the captains prime responsibility. He has to grab the opportunity provided in the form of some very young, talented and mature cricketers in his fold. He must utilise the bowling abilities of Jadeja, Ten-dulkar, Ganguly and Dravid besides the regulars, and finally, he has to lead by example. Azhar is representing India in the World Cup for the third time. The level of experience he has is perhaps unmatched. But of late, he has not shown the zeal to translate experience into victory. So much so that even his being appointed captain was being opposed. It is now his turn to prove his critics wrong and bring glory to our country. Azhar also has to improve his body language as much for himself as for his team and for viewers. There is no doubt that even if a player of the opposing team has been dismissed, the lone slip fielder in the form of Azhar just fails to display any emotionbe it joy, pride or unbridled energy. A little pumping of hands will not do any harm, try it.
Ive noticed that Azhar has lost his enthusiasm for cricket, a sure sign of overexposure to the game. At times we see him getting out to very causal shots and thereafter not taking much interest in the proceedings. If hes taking things for granted, he should not. If hes bored, let him take a break. As captain, we need him to shake out of this zombie image hes created for himself. That he can inspire the team to great heights is indisputable. But for that, he has to work upon himself and convince himself that he has the requisite cricketing brains and skills, and lead his team towards the last crown of the millennium.
Azhar has to come back with the World Cup for himself, for the team and for India.