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Those who booed Sachin were right

By Arvind Lavakare
March 23, 2006 15:37 IST
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That a castrated English team ultimately shared the Test honours with our best on our home soil should compel us to hang our head in shame.

While the decision to field first after winning the toss in the third and last encounter may well have cost us dear, the reality is that our Test squad has one leak too many.

The sadder fact is that every one-day triumph of ours seeks to plug that plug with mere euphoria led by our media which sees in cricket nothing but a way to better its commercial ratings with the public.

Making icons out of our cricketers at the drop of our hat is becoming a debilitating habit that makes us miss the woods for the trees.

Sustained analysis is missing, criticism arouses anger; high praise and rewards galore are at a premium.

Just see the contrasts between the two teams in the recent series. England is crippled by the sudden departure of its opening batsman Marcus Trescothick, but Alistair Cook steps in his shoes and the man makes a century on debut.

Vaughan's knee compels him to leave at the eleventh hour but Paul Collingwood makes up with a first-ever Test century.

Even when the successful Cook is a victim of the Bombay belly, newcomer Owais Shah comes at one down and bats with authority, almost arrogance, for which our experience bowlers have no answer.

And when Harmison is unavailable, James Anderson makes his captain forget him altogether.

All of the above in conditions alien to them. All that against our very best.

And all that represents ability-cum-application not quite visible in our heroes of various hues and hooplas.

Doff your hat then to this never-say-die of Englishmen under a substitute skipper.

In the ultimate analysis, the sustained accuracy of England's fast bowling attack and the lift it generated with sheer strength punctured our much vaunted batting that could not reach 350 even once in our four completed innings.

To rub salt into our injury, England's two unheralded spinners sucked Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, two amongst our 'greats,' two times each.

That we had only one centurion, Wasim Jaffer, as against three of England's tells its own tale.

In contrast, our best paceman lately, Irfan Pathan, was a sad failure. Is that the effect of artificially transforming him into an all-rounder?

If not, how does one explain the sustained and dramatic fall in speed? How does one explain the sudden loss of his ability to swing the ball tantalisingly away from the left-handed batsman? To add to the woes, he has a wide ball too many.

Return, for a moment, to Matthew Hoggard's accuracy. Ball after ball after ball, he made our batsmen's life a struggle, nay a misery, as he brought the ball, new or old, from the good length, into the right-hander's stumps, forcing him to either gingerly defend the 130-and-above kph deliveries or get out lbw.

Short and outside the off-side? Hardly.

Full on the legs for an onside thrust? Rare.

Nagging, nagging, nagging, interspersed with the one at the chin or the helmet. For the connoisseur, Hoggard was the bowler of the series (with the very fast Flintoff coming second.)

And he succeeded in the main because our batsmen didn't have a strategy to counter that nagging. Not one of them had the courage of technique to stand a good foot or so outside the batting crease so as to disturb that length.

Next time you watch Australia play a Test, see how their Matthew Hayden constricts the fast bowler with the method.

In contrast, none of our bowlers, pace or spin, had the lethal quality -- not even on the fourth day of the Wankhede stadium Test when the pitch was affording bounce and bite.

A word here about Harbhajan Singh who continues to be dubbed as the 'Turbanator' despite the calamitous decline from his performance against the Australians five seasons ago.

When, oh when, will the great batsmen in our land, old and modern, get it into Habhajan Singh's head that an off-break turning into the stumps is more disconcerting to the right-handed batsman than the one than spins away to his right?

His penchant for the middle-and-leg stump line of attack is self-defeating. Just check out how few are the lbw victims he has had in his total. Relying almost exclusively on catches by close-in fielders and on the 'doosra' is not going take him as far as he should have been by now had he stuck to the proven orthodoxy with innovations being only a rarity.

No review, however brief, of the latest Test can be complete without touching on Tendulkar.

His failure in the last 11 Test knocks running has been pathetic, tragic.

This failure is being glossed over by the selectors and by the vigilante media for whom the man is expected to rise like the sphinx soon -- yes, sooner than later.

Only the handful who booed him for a shocking wave of his bat at the Wankhede after making one run off 21 balls had the honesty to tell him what he surely needed to be told.

Where is the real Sachin?

With yet another injury causing a hiatus in Tendulkar's incredibly glorious career, one is reminded of the dictum of Vijay Merchant, our outstanding batsman of the thirties and forties.

He often used to say, 'One should retire when people ask 'Why?' and not when they ask 'Why not'?'

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Arvind Lavakare