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Slowlee, softlee, catchee monkee

By Sujata Prakash
February 14, 2003 20:28 IST
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A lot of people were convinced in the ability of the Indian team to bounce back after the disastrous New Zealand tour. The players had gone home to rest, regroup, and catch up with their loved ones -- and sponsors.

The coach was quietly formulating a plan to combat all the evils that had dogged his team's footsteps in NZ. And importantly, the pitches of SA were not spelt Wellington and Hamilton.

The faith was vindicated when, in the first of the two warm-up matches against KwaZulu Natal, the Indians racked up 265. A sigh of relief ran around the world, or at least, the subcontinent -- this was more like it. Then the Indians lost the next match by 32 runs, chasing a target of 190. Hearts sank en masse, to a new low.

Ganguly did not seem unduly concerned. 'Do not overreact,' he told the media. 'We played too casually. It will not be repeated.'

He was right.

It wasn't repeated simply because the next opponent turned out to be Holland. It was a match won on the strength of Holland's main weakness -- the batting.

The Indians collected 204 runs painstakingly, with all the flair of ants collecting food for winter. Sachin, Yuvraj and Mongia displayed adequacy in digging the team out of trouble, but they didn't evoke confidence that come hell or high water, they'll do it again and again. Their hands faltered once too often when a bad ball came along. A few months back, even good deliveries were treated with contempt. But that was once upon a time. Before the team started suffering from neural malfunction.

It's nerves all right. What else can it be? The men are the same. Time cannot wither them. Their trainer will not allow it. Nor can it fade the lessons of the basics. Their coach will not allow it. But somewhere in between winning that Natwest final and riding a rocky road in New Zealand, the minds have stopped believing what the bat could once do.

Is it too late for India? The World Cup is swinging along, and many will have written the Indians off. They will say the Australian spirit is indestructible, the Pakistani bowling incredible, the South African home advantage insurmountable, the New Zealand fielding unbelievable.

Against all this, where does poor India stand, with only its glamorous image being enviable?

Despite the odds, I believe it's not too late for the Indians to show their mettle and play to their strengths rather than highlight their weaknesses. They are contenders for the Cup, and they must do all they can to win it. They owe it to themselves.

Paradoxically, the only way to do it is to relax. The butterflies must disappear. Saturday is the big day, but not the only day. It won't be the end of the world if they lose to Australia -- it won't even be the end of their chances.

But it will be the end if the batsmen do not try to come back to form. Being obsessed with the lineup and moving it around like children do building blocks will not improve overall batting at this stage. Batting is a personal calling. You can take away a man's position in the lineup, but you cannot take away his golden touch unless he himself gives it up.

So, a word of advice to those who seem to have given up the golden touch for reasons unknown:

Ganguly: Relax, captain. You can afford to lose a match or two. You can even lose your shirt. Just don't lose your wicket. Divine interference might help. Pray hard.

Sehwag: Do play your natural game; just don't be in an unnatural hurry to do it. You get 50 overs to smash a ton, not 5.

Sachin: You're number one and indomitable. The rest of the world believes it, why not you?

Dravid: It's the 80-20 principle at work. Don't get too tired, you might have to increase the workload to 85%.

Kaif: Welcome to the world of Indian cricket. Everyone loses form en masse. It's contaminating. Get a grip and get out of it. Too much depends on you.

Yuvraj: You're the bright hope for this tournament. Good luck, mate. On Saturday, remember Nairobi.

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