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October 10, 2001

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 South Africa

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Letter to the team management

Dinesh Kadekar

Dear Indian team mangement,

We are fine here and hope the same with the Indian team in South Africa. In fact, hope is what we have from this latest bunch to don the Blue jerseys. Hope that we will show the world of one-day cricket that we are paper-tigers no more. Hope that the problem of reaching the final and losing has not become insurmountable. Hope that the right decisions are made by the right people at the right time. Hope that by the time the ODI's end, we can make the South Africans think about the Tests ahead and muse... "Boy, we do have a fight on our hands." Hope that at the end of the ODI, we can muse.. "The South Africans are definitely beatable; hell, they are as human as we are."

No true follower of cricket as a great game and not just as a fast-food variety stop-grab-go entertainer will have any doubt that the true measure of the Indians as a side will come from the Tests with the home team. But as we have the immediate job in front of us in the form of an ODI tourney, this letter will pertain to only that.

Javagal Srinath I believe, what with the millions of instant cricket gurus in this country, you will be receiving more than enough suggestions about the Test series. Plus, doing well in the ODIs will psychologically matter going into the Tests. We have men out there not machines and with the same conditions, same players and same rules, an India which has performed better than SA in the ODIs will be a different proposition altogether than an India which has been meekly tamed. I have a feeling that SA will be affected more by this than India and that also should be a very helpful thing indeed for India. A lot of it is played in the mind -- ask Steve Waugh.

Let me then put down my thoughts in regard to the ODI. Away from the regular devils we have to face (patchy fielding, dramatic run-outs, non-wagging tail) about which all the experts possible have given their judgement (and which, I feel, has improved), I would like to dwell more on the playing 11 and then, the batting order that might bring on the desired results. I will not go into the bowling combinations because that would depend on the conditions at that point more than anything else - the target to defend, the mood of the batsmen, stage of the game, dew, bowling conditions, fitness of bowlers and availability of the quota of overs for the bowlers.

So here goes about the batting, because this is the way we try to dictate the game and this is what has let us down more times than we can care to remember.

The playing 11: I propose, in the order of batting:
1. Sachin Tendulkar
2. S.S. Das
3. Sourav Ganguly
4. Rahul Dravid
5. Virender Sehwag
6. Yuvraj Singh
7. Deep Dasgupta
8. Harbhajan Singh
9. Anil Kumble
10. Javagal Srinath
11. Zaheer Khan

Did I hear somebody say nuts? Take Sehwag off the top-spot after what he did to New Zealand in the not-too instant past !!!

Break up one of the best opening combinations in the world just because Ganguly has had some some low scores !!! Two spinners in the team. Where the hell did you hear that one from ??? Has Ganguly ever come 1-down before ?? Questions, questions, questions, let me suggest a few answers.

Assuming that all of us agree that Sachin should be one of the openers (probably the only thing that will universally appeal to a million Indians), then it is left to us to select his partner. Das gets the nod ahead not because we have lost confidence in Ganguly, the class is there for all to see. But, maybe, right now, he needs to ease the pressure on himself a bit. Maybe, he needs to come in to bat with the task cut out for him. Maybe, he needs to see the early behaviour of the ball and then decide how he wants to play. And, maybe, Das deserves this. A compact player with a good backfoot play, he should be an ideal foil for Sachin. Plus, the fact that he is not the one to easily give his wicket away might be the bonus for Sachin to play his normal game. Pitch it up to Sachin and he will murder you, pitch it short to Das and he will hammer you. The advantage of this would be that we might be able to find another workable opening pair which, in these times of lots of cricket and "resting" of players, might be a godsend. The disadvantage is that Das is new to this form of cricket at the international level. Plus, we might gain a one-day opener and end up losing one for the Tests. But, he is in the one-day team isn't he? And he has been our most dependable opener. He knows how to handle the new, moving, swinging ball. And a lot of international teams have yet to have a good look at him.

Ganguly, coming one-down has got multiple purposes. One, get a look-in on things and decide how he wants to handle the bowling depending on the match situation. Two, he can be really punishing to the spinners but for that he needs to get his eye in and he has a better chance of doing it at one-down than lower. Three - if he comes in after Das falls - we have two batsmen who understand each other and are used to playing together. If he comes after Sachin departs, then we have another agressive player to give company to Das so that the bowlers do not manage to get completely on top. Four - no matter what, we have a right-left combo at the crease.

Dravid has probably been our most consistent performer, along with Sachin. But pushing him too low down the order might not be the best of ideas because there might be others more suited to increasing the run-rate than he. He is the sort of player you need at one end to block that end (and rotate the strike) so that the batsman at the other end can go for his shots if required. Though we have all seen a transformed Dravid, not a lot of people look up to him as a "six-hitter". We need a sane head in the middle of the innings and what saner than his ?

Virendra Sehwag Sehwag gets this spot (ahead of Yuvraj) partly because of what he did to New Zealand and partly also because he is a player who will not waste time out there. This position and the next are extremly crucial battting points and especially while chasing, we need batsmen who have the technique and the strength required for the big hits. Sehwag has shown glimpses of these two so far. And do we want to waste him by sending him out to open and expect a NZ-like blitzkrieg every time ?

Yuvraj is another no-nonsense player. If only for his fielding and his bowling (if you notice, there are only four bowlers in the team) and his ability of running fast between wickets amidst the tiring fielders around will be an added bonus. Plus, he has batted at similar positions before and seems adept at handling the pressure.

Not a lot to be said about the tail because Dasgupta is new and the others (apart from Harbhajan, at times) have not delivered as much as is required of tail-enders at the international level. They will have to give the best possible support to a recognized batsman, if he is still around, or just play sound, intelligent cricket with the only motive being contribution.

Oh! I forgot - about the two spinners. Did I hear somewhere that the South Africans are not the best players of spin? Plus, both Kumble and Harbhajan have shown that they can bowl tight in the middle overs. In ODIs unlike in Tests, usually containment is more than half the battle won as it leads the batsmen to try and take a few risks to up the run rate. We also have Yuvraj, Sachin and Sourav to give a helping hand to the bowlers.

There, sirs, are my suggestions. And my hopes. The suggestions might chnage for the next series, the hopes are eternal. Because as an old Russian proverb goes: Hope, is the last to die.

Yours sincerely,

A cricket fan

Editor's note: Rediff believes that like its own editorial staffers, readers too have points of view on the many issues relating to cricket as it is played.

Therefore, Rediff provides in its editorial section space for readers to write in, with their views. The views expressed by the readers are carried as written, in order to preserve the original voice.

However, it needs mentioning that guest columns are opinion pieces, and reflect only the feelings of the individual concerned -- the fact that they are published on Rediff's cricket site does not amount to an endorsement by the editorial staff of the opinions expressed in these columns.

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