Ha, ha, ha, all talk and no action! One thought BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya was set for a head-on collision with the ICC and would back the Indian players to the hilt. But what happened to all that? Nothing. I don't know what transpired between him and Speed. But one thing is for sure—cricket supporters are of the opinion that India have taken a backward step. I came out of the first press conference in Port Elizabeth with a distinct impression that the Indian players enjoyed all the support they ever wanted from their board and could go back home with their heads held high.
I am not so sure of it anymore. Calling the bluff of the ICC is an easy thing to do to a point, but it needs real guts to see it all the way. Sadly, the opportunity slipped away for someone to become a real fighter for the players' and the game's cause. We know that change is the price of survival. Let's not hear complaints from any Indian component on issues that are not consistent from now on. The next official ICC meeting is going to be closely followed and I just wonder if there was any face-saving compromise for the BCCI. Maybe we'll see the last match of the SA tour upgraded to an "official" status—who knows!
The England tour to India nearly never happened for reasons other than cricket and let's be brutally honest—the team will struggle to even beat the visiting commentary team with Botham and Willis opening the bowling. Touring the Indian subcontinent is tough enough for seasoned campaigners, let alone for boys who are still finding their way to county grounds against the girl guides and boy scouts.
Harbhajan and Kumble will be tough nuts to crack in Indian conditions and if Nasser Husain doesn't fire consistently, it could be embarrassing for the visitors, to say the least. The popgun attack is about to be murdered by all the Indian players and a win is almost a guarantee. Now, how good is that for Indian cricket? Why can't they ever perform outside their backyard? Well, it's obvious—they are just not good enough. A series win against England will surely keep Ganguly in the job for a while longer. Just watching the first Test was enough for any decent judge of the game to realise that the selection panel got it horribly wrong while selecting the squad to South Africa. How could have Prasad sat for so long waiting to play with better opening bowlers with a future left at home.
Another interesting tour is the one between the titans of world cricket—after giving India a lesson in discipline and performance, the South Africans take on the Aussies in their own backyard and the winner becomes the World Champion. Certainly Warne & Co is raring to send Pollock's men hopping back to South Africa like scalded kangaroos. Somehow though, I think they've got their own problems to worry about. The Kiwis almost beat them and by drawing a series have caused us all to believe that the Waugh brothers and McGrath have suddenly come to the crossroads of their careers. No longer are they so infallible and above everybody else in ability. What's really been interesting is the way in which Brett Lee was disciplined for his abusive language and gestures—the match referee was a South African and could have easily banned him for the first Test against South Africa. Imagine that! Instead, he was let off with just a fine. It was another example of the inconsistencies that happen under the auspices of the ICC.
Coming back to the Indian series against England, I wonder how long the visitors will take to adjust to the foreign conditions to even begin to compete.Duncan Fletcher, their coach, is a hard taskmaster and doesn't take kindly to being on the losing end. I suppose he can take heart from the fact that he has an under-strength team with which he is expected to perform a miracle.
Preparations for the 2003 World Cup in South Africa are going ahead quite steadily. Tour operators and hospitality organisers are working hard to put everything in place. It promises to be a great spectacle. The lessons learnt by India during the recent series should stand them in good stead in eighteen months time. But there seems to be a problem. The lads chosen for the South African tour were not up to scratch and that means some changes in the pace bowling department. This being the case, the loss to Pollock & Co cannot be the base to improve things and all the hard work will be for nothing. Sadly, hammering the Poms for old time's sake will not bring a world title home to Mr Dalmiya—that is, if he is still in charge!
Pat Symcox : The right-arm spinner and former senior member of the South African team writes exclusively for Outlook.
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