Eighth Column/ Arjuna for Dravid as Cup ’keeper
I don’t take anything for granted: Mudassar Nazar
Murali dislocates shoulder bone
Sourashish restricts Rajasthan
Brazil bound, Bagan in heart
Bagan return to rousing reception

 
 
EIGHTH COLUMN/ ARJUNA FOR DRAVID AS CUP ’KEEPER 
 
 
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Sharjah, April 17: 
Depth in batting was a key element during Sri Lanka’s remarkable World Cup success in 1996. And, now that the countdown to the 2003 edition has begun, Sri Lanka’s Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga feels India must play seven batsmen, with Rahul Dravid keeping wickets.

“Dravid has been given the job on and off but, if you ask me, he should be readied as wicketkeeper... The wickets in South Africa (where India play five of the six pool matches) are true and, so, he won’t be tested standing up... In fact, if I had to help plot India’s campaign, I would slot Dravid at No. 6,” Ranatunga, now an MP, told The Telegraph Wednesday morning.

Though Ajay Ratra is definitely promising, generally, it’s been a struggle to field a quality wicketkeeper who can bat.

[Incidentally, in the lead-up to the 1996 World Cup, there was a mild move to promote Sanjay Manjrekar as wicketkeeper. As it turned out, even that didn’t quite take off and Nayan Mongia did the job.]

Speaking at the Holiday International, in between his ‘homework’ on the Sharjah Cup 2002 final (Ranatunga, a major beneficiary, is part of the commentary team), he added: “Remember, back in 1996, I had Roshan Mahanama and Hashan Tillekeratne at No. 6 and 7... In a crisis, just their experience made the difference. Dravid, I’m convinced, will do well as wicketkeeper-cum-No. 6...”

Mahanama and Tillekeratne, it may be recalled, were preceded by Ranatunga himself, Aravinda de Silva, Asanka Gurusinha, Romesh Kaluwitharana and present captain Sanath Jayasuriya. An absolutely awesome line-up, really.

Significantly, in Ranatunga’s opinion, India shouldn’t open with Sachin Tendulkar during the World Cup.

“Sachin can launch the innings in the sub-continent, specially, but not in South Africa. The wickets are different and, by way of some protection, I would prefer sending him at No. 3. My openers, then, will be Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag. With the No. 3 slot being taken care of by Sachin, I would send V.V.S. Laxman or Dinesh Mongia — though I haven’t seen much of him — at No. 4, with Yuvraj Singh next... After Dravid, No. 7 could be Sanjay Bangar...”

Respected for having been more than shrewd, Ranatunga maintained India ought not to be rigid about fielding two specialist spinners in every game. “A horses-for-courses policy should be adopted (in the World Cup), wherein the two specialists can be played against teams like England. When up against some of the other sides, however, the XI should have one specialist spinner, with Sachin and Sehwag being asked to turn their arm over.”

Ranatunga named Jawagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan as his first-choice quicks, but didn’t specify who his sole spinner would be. If three quicks are to be fielded, Ranatunga indicated he would prefer Ashish Nehra over Ajit Agarkar.

Besides India, pool A comprises world champions Australia, 1992 winners Pakistan, England, Zimbabwe, The Netherlands and ICC Trophy runners-up Namibia. Only the match versus Zimbabwe, scheduled for Harare, will not be played in South Africa.

It’s to be seen what the selectors (Chandu Borde, Madanlal, Shivlal Yadav, Ashok Malhotra and Sanjay Jagdale) back home have in mind. Also, one isn’t clear to what extent John Wright and Sourav — though both have themselves flirted with the Dravid-option — will actually endorse Ranatunga’s thoughts.

Bottomline, of course, is that Ranatunga has given everybody something to think about.

   

 
 
I DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED: MUDASSAR NAZAR 
 
 
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Sharjah, April 17: 
As a player, Mudassar Nazar may not have been flamboyant, but he was very effective. Actually, he was a fierce competitor, both with bat and ball (the original Man with the Golden Arm). Now, as Pakistan’s coach, he is striving to sharpen the current players’ competitiveness. Mudassar, who spent a number of years in Manchester, spoke to The Telegraph Tuesday evening. He was, at times, brutally candid.

Excerpts

On whether he has settled down as Pakistan’s newest coach

(Smiles) This particular innings is six months old... Yeah, I’ve settled down... Have understood what makes the present lot tick. A coach really only settles down once he gets to know his players.

On whether, considering the high turnover of coaches in Pakistan, he too has that sense of insecurity

My contract is till next year’s World Cup...However, I take every tournament/series as a fresh challenge and do realise it could be my last. In the sub-continent, things can’t be taken for granted. Indeed, tomorrow could be my last day as coach...

On the PCB both offering him the job and withdrawing the offer within days, in late 1999

Well, yes... In fact, I was leaving for the (Manchester) airport when a call came saying everything had been put on hold! Did that make me bitter? It didn’t. After all, I know exactly how things work in Pakistan and, so, I removed the suitcases and instead drove straight to my provisions’ store. I didn’t fret and fume — would have been pointless. In any case, I hadn’t signed the contract... What I’ve learnt is that too many people want to have a say in the PCB. Probably wish to even control it entirely.

On his very first stint as coach, in early 1993

I wasn’t prepared, honestly... Not having spent time in Pakistan, I wasn’t familiar with the newer players. As for the seniors, having played with them till fairly recently, I was too familiar with them... That step was taken too early in life. However, I did learn from that experience.

On his approach as coach

I’m the positive sort and, indeed, Pakistan plays positive cricket…It’s important for a coach to believe in his own abilities. Also, he must believe in his players. So, not only am I confident about delivering as coach, I know my boys won’t let the country down.

We may not be as formidable as Australia, yet we have it in us to beat them on a regular basis.

On what should a coach really be doing

Having a say in selection, establishing a rapport with the captain, understanding the different individuals and ironing out errors in technique. For a host of reasons, even the most experienced can have errors creeping in. It’s the coach’s job to identify and help solve the problem.

On the top coach in his opinion

Bobby Simpson... Extensive knowledge of the game, an excellent work ethic and such admirable commitment.

On one-time teammate Sikander Bakht being part of his support team

He’s with the computer... Basically, he’s the computer analyst... It’s a new area for our team.

On a professional motivator/ “thought leader” also being on board

It helps... There’s a role for such people.

On the current team being packed with former captains and big names

I haven’t had problems but, yes, could have been difficult to handle... Unlike, say, the Seventies, this is a united Pakistan team.

On the Waqar Younis-Wasim Akram equation

Do I have to do the balancing-act? Well, yes and no, not that there have been drastic problems... I think both have realised they will finish with the World Cup and, so, are working towards a common objective: signing off with one last hurrah. Personally, their approach has helped me.

On Waqar as captain

He’s getting better, though I feel the captaincy ought to have come his way much earlier. He would, then, have been much wiser by now... Besides being a great bowler, Waqar has always been mentally very tough. That one trait is helping him in captaincy. If you aren’t there mentally, the pressure will simply get you.

On Pakistan’s USP

(Smiles again) Talent... Lots of it.

On Pakistan’s weakness

Physical fitness... Our boys aren’t strong enough. And, then, the fielding. That’s one area we do need to improve in a big way. I mean, I can give a hundred catches a day during workouts, but if the boys aren’t strong enough...

On whether Saeed Anwar will be recalled

The good thing is that he has resumed nets and, where I’m concerned, there’s a big role for him. It’s a pity his wrist injury wasn’t properly diagnosed, something which has made him miss six months of cricket. (After a pause) Yes, the death of Saeed’s young daughter did affect him enormously, but he has to learn to live with it... The loss, though, will always remain.

On Indian cricket

Your bowling continues to lack sting... That Anil Kumble isn’t the same bowler on pitches overseas makes it even more difficult... Actually, I’m quite surprised Indian cricket didn’t take off in the manner it should have after beating Australia last year.

On Indo-Pak cricket again having come to a halt

It’s a shame because, if you ask me, playing against India made me a better cricketer. Be it the ODIs or Tests, the pressure and related factors made me tougher... By not regularly playing each other, the present generation of cricketers is being denied...

   

 
 
MURALI DISLOCATES SHOULDER BONE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Sharjah, April 17: 
Muttiah Muralidharan, who dislocated a joint between the collar bone and left shoulder during the Sharjah Cup 2002 final Wednesday afternoon, may be rushed to Australia for surgery.

“We’ll know by tomorrow morning... If need be, Murali will leave for Australia (from Dubai) instead of returning home with the rest of the team tomorrow night,” Chandra Schafter, who has made a comeback as manager, told The Telegraph.

Murali, most definitely at the peak of his career, injured himself in manner not much dissimilar to Virender Sehwag, who couldn’t ‘break’ his fall during the Kotla Test against Zimbabwe.

As of now, Murali is out for “at least six weeks,” which means he will miss the forthcoming three-Test series in England. Should there either be complications or his recovery is slow, Murali will then also be in some doubt for the June 27-July 13 tri-series (in England) where India is the third team.

   

 
 
SOURASHISH RESTRICTS RAJASTHAN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 17: 
Sourashish Lahiri’s six-wicket haul put East Bengal in a commanding position on Day I of the CAB League final against Rajasthan at Eden Gardens Wednesday. The off spinner helped East Bengal bundle out Rajasthan for 196. At stumps, East Bengal were 39 for two.

Soumya Dey was the top scorer for Rajasthan with 60 while Afzal Siddiqui made 31. But the star of the day was undoubtedly Sourashish who ripped through the heart of the Rajasthan team.

East Bengal wicketkeeper Manoj Shaw twisted his ankle during the match and Pradipta Niyogi kept in his place.

Ajoy Verma also put in his consistent spell of off-spin to return figures of three for 26.

Batting second, East Bengal lost a couple of quick wickets. Nikhil Haldipur carried on with his disappointing run in the season as he was dismissed for three. Shib Sagar Singh also got out for three, sending a few tremors through the East Bengal camp. At stumps, Verma was batting on 22 and Srikant Kalyani on six.

BRIEF SCORES

Rajasthan 196 (Soumya Dey 60, Afzal Siddiqui 31; Sourashish Lahiri 6/68, Ajoy Verma 3/26). East Bengal 39/2 (Ajoy Verma 22 batting). Match to continue

   

 
 
BRAZIL BOUND, BAGAN IN HEART 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 17: 
Speculation is rife over Jose Ramirez Barreto’s future in Indian football. Even the magical Brazilian is tight-lipped about it but he does say: “Mohun Bagan is in my heart.”

Barreto left for Brazil Wednesday after returning from Goa, where Mohun Bagan clinched their third National Football League title with a thrilling win over Churchill Brothers on Monday.

Barreto said he doesn’t know whether he will return to India. “I will take some time off, spend some time with my family, before making a move,” the Brazilian said.

However, he confirmed that if he does come back, it will for the whole season and not just for the National League. The club, he said, will be Mohun Bagan.

Barreto, certain to be remembered in these parts for his pure brilliance with the ball, acknowledged the contribution of Mohun Bagan in his life.

“This is where I matured as player and if I do play in India, I will play for Mohun Bagan,” he said.

He was pleasantly surprised by the fanatic reception the team got at the airport and taken aback by the desperation of fans, who tried everything to catch just a glimpse of the player.

“I have never seen such euphoria,” he said.

He also remembers the drama surrounding the Churchill match. “It was the most difficult match of my career, with so many people chanting against us.”

Commenting on the Salgaocar setback where Mohun Bagan lost after leading 3-0, Barreto said: “It made us more resolute and we focussed our mind on nothing else but victory in the last game against Churchill.”

He is happy that his team stored the best for the last and squeezed out a win when it mattered most. “Yes, we lost some matches, but that is a part of the game.”

The Brazilian also felt that the team improved physically and technically, as the season wore on. “The turning point of the National League was our victories against East Bengal and Mahindra,” he noted.

“Moreover, six or seven of our players were performing consistently.” He picked Basudeb Mondal for special praise and said he was the best player in the country. “Basu is good enough to play in Brazilian clubs,” the champion striker commented.

Dempo down BMFC

In Pondicherry, Dempo Sports Club of Goa defeated Bengal Mumbai Football Club (BMFC) 1-0 in the final phase of the second division National Football League. Striker Dudo scored the goal in the very first minute.

   

 
 
BAGAN RETURN TO ROUSING RECEPTION 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 17: 
Scenes of unbridled joy marked Mohun Bagan’s return to the city Wednesday following their third National Football League triumph. Thousands crowded the airport to greet the champions early in the morning and the players’ bus led a convoy of almost 60 cars.

Traffic was thrown out of gear but that hardly discouraged the fans, who erupted in what seemed another holi, with green and maroon abir being splashed all over.

Jose Ramirez Barreto received most of the cheers and the players were felicitated at Baguihati, from where they dispersed homewards.

Almost all the players felt that the loss to Salgaocar in the penultimate match was a blessing in disguise. Captain Debjit Ghosh felt had Mohun Bagan won against Salgaocar, playing for just a draw against Churchill Brothers would have been tricky.

“After losing the Salgaocar match, we sat down together and decided to go all out in the last one,” the captain said. Asked about his shift from midfield to defence, Ghosh said: “It was the coach’s choice and I was ready to do anything for the team.”

Basudeb Mondal, the midfield general of this Mohun Bagan team, and considered the best Indian player by Barreto, was overwhelmed by the rousing welcome. “This proves that soccer is still alive in Calcutta,” an emotional Mondal said.

He also acknowledged the fact that Barreto had made the real difference. “I share a special relation with him and that gets reflected in our co-ordination on the field.”

Amauri da Silva, the other Brazilian in the Mohun Bagan ranks who may not be retained in the coming season, said it was a major pain for him to sit out the last match.

“I was sitting in the stands and only praying that we win,” the defender, who got a red card in the penultimate match, said. Asked whether he will be back next season, he seemed a bit touched. “I am going back to Sau Paulo. But I don’t know whether I’ll be retained.”

However, the players were unanimous that the match against Churchill Brothers was the most difficult they have played.

“In an East Bengal-Mohun Bagan match, there is pressure, but we also get support. But there, in such a crucial match, 15,000 people were shouting against us,” captain Ghosh said.

Somehow, Abdul Saliu, a late hero after the only goal in the last match, seemed far away from all the hullabaloo. As the fans almost mobbed Barreto, the unsung hero slowly made his way towards the team bus.

“After getting all the rough treatment earlier, I was motivated to perform. I am happy to prove a point,” the burly Nigerian said.

   
 

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