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India looking good to enter final

By Vivian Richards
March 05, 2003 19:36 IST
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I know they'll say it's a case of sour grapes, but the events over the last two days -- the South Africa-Sri Lanka tie and the Pakistan-Zimbabwe abandoned game -- underline the necessity of a reserve day in a tournament as crucial as the World Cup.

In their quest to pack in as many games as possible in three weeks, the organizers decided to do away with it and are now paying for the consequences. Those two gentlemen, Messrs. Duckworth and Lewis, should not have been allowed to dictate the semi-final line-up, but poor planning has allowed that to happen. Now we have a 'Super Six' that almost makes a mockery of that term.

A tournament of this stature must give every individual and every team an opportunity to play on a level field. I remember seeing a lot of smiling South African faces when the West Indies' game against Bangladesh was washed out. Well, the same rain came back to knock them out of the tournament, and there are not too many smiles anymore. They were pretty unfortunate to have two games decided by rain rules, but the organizers of this tournament knew rain is expected at this time of the year, and there should have been a contingency plan in place.

I'm sure India are rubbing their hands and licking their lips as they see the Super Six line-up -- no South Africa, no West Indies, no England, no Pakistan! All they have to do is to topple the Kenyans over, and they are into the semi-finals.

Is this how predictable we want the premier tournament of the sport to be? Some might argue that the tournament would have become endlessly long. I say, if a fortnight more is needed to ensure that the best teams get to play full games, so be it.

However, India are not to blame for their current situation; they just have to go ahead and enjoy it. They now have a serious chance of making it to the final, and I see them as the only threat to Australia. New Zealand are a gritty, fighting unit, but those qualities can only take you so far. After that you need talent, skill and consistency. They may prove me wrong, but I would be surprised if they go further than the semis.

My faith in India's chances has been bolstered by the form of Sachin Tendulkar. Batsmen of his caliber don't have to worry about peaking too early, because they don't have too many troughs. Class players don't peak; they play well on some days and even better on other days, and this is the case with Tendulkar. He now has to turn it on and ensure that his form lifts his teammates, and some more players come to the fore as the tournament progresses. Guys like Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly have not fired as yet, so we can expect contributions from them as well.

Sachin Tendulkar's challenge this World Cup is to ensure that he is remembered long after, just like Steve Waugh is for Australia's 1999 World Cup win. There have been whispers for too long that Tendulkar's big centuries and high average is more a reflection of his performance in inconsequential games. There are allegations that he never fires in finals, and that his best knocks are in the subcontinent and Sharjah. This is Tendulkar's chance to silence all these questions and prove to the world that great players always fire when it matters most, and even in conditions alien to him.

He was awesome against Pakistan, and was the only guy who threatened even against Australia. If he continues in this vein, India will go far, and I think he will inspire his teammates to lift their form as the big games draw near. He would have fulfilled his role in this tournament only if he is able to inspire his team to perform by his own brilliance.

(Gameplan)

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Vivian Richards