Cronje pockets initiative on opening day
The board needs a firm fitness test policy now
Azhar for one-dayers too
I owe everything to Marshall: Ford
EB in a spot over goalkeeper coach
State meet from March 18
Weight favours Stariano
Suave Star wins
Atacada shines

Bangalore, March 2 

Hansie Cronje may not have been nervous, at the toss, but he still was edgy. �Beaten� to the middle by Sachin Tendulkar, Cronje dusted his blazer and scratched his left eyebrow as the Channel Nine camera came into position.

All that was before Sachin �tossed� and Cronje called �heads�. The coin, though, landed on the other side. Cronje must have been very disappointed, yet he briefly glanced towards his dressing room and grinned.

It was important for the South African captain�s body-language to give nothing away. The disappointment had to be concealed. It actually turned out to be an Oscar-worthy performance from Cronje.

But, really, being edgy and becoming conscious of what needed to be conveyed wasn�t necessary.

Cronje lost the toss in Mumbai, but still won the first Pepsi Test within three days. The second Test, too, has seen South Africa start with the whip-hand. Again, after losing the toss.

So, the South Africans needn�t have hedged much on the toss itself.

They probably forgot their biggest ally would be the Indians themselves! That the Indians would be more intent on making a mess of first use of the Chinnaswamy wicket, instead of giving hundred per cent-plus to avert the first home series defeat in 13 years.

Clearly, the South Africans have been giving more respect than the Indians merit. That board president A.C.Muttiah has rushed a Chennai-based psychologist has obviously not worked wonders.

On a wicket which wasn�t even remotely akin to a minefield, the Indian innings didn�t even last the first day. Anil Kumble, batting at No. 8, emerged top-scorer (36 not out in 123 minutes, 95 balls, 4x4), while the extras� contribution was no less than 21 � matching Sachin�s effort.

The South African strategy was clear � attack with an off-and-away line to most; pepper comeback man Mohammed Azharuddin with short-pitched stuff. It paid huge dividends.

Of course, Kumble struck just before stumps, getting the in-form Herschelle Gibbs, but the ask for South Africa isn�t steep.

More than by the Indians, any damage to the South Africans will probably have to be self-inflicted. If they can get their mind-act right, winning the series could be more comfortably achieved than imagined by even the most optimistic South African.

The Sadagopan Ramesh fiasco forced the Indians to introduce their �newest� opening firm � Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer: The sixth of this season alone and 31st combination since Sunil Gavaskar�s retirement (1987).

[According to chief selector Chandu Borde, Nayan Mongia, who ought to have been the first-choice to open with Jaffer, wasn�t keen. �He was reluctant... Or, let�s say, not that keen,� Borde told The Telegraph.]

Dravid who, twice before too opened against South Africa, did look more comfortable than most other specialist openers, of recent times, but with wickets falling regularly, retreated more into his shell.

It didn�t help anybody and, eventually, Dravid fell to a faint inside-edge off Cronje. He was taken aback on being ruled out, but it�s the disappointment of one more failure which probably made Dravid stand his ground.

Dravid�s was the third wicket to fall. First was Jaffer, unable even to capitalise on a let-off off Mornantau Hayward, the quick who did get him, and then Sourav Ganguly.

The captain-designate, who went across and forward to combat lateral movement, fell to a beauty from Shaun Pollock which nipped back and held its line.

At lunch, India were gasping at 59 for three with a potentially combustible pair, Sachin and Azhar, at the wicket. Whatever their relationship, being pros, the duo did open an on-field line of communication.

In fact, they didn�t have a choice.

With Azhar around one expected Cronje to bring back Hayward, who had a wonderful first spell � aggressive with a nippy away-swinger � straight after lunch, but the captain stuck to his conventional �opening� pair of Donald and Pollock. It worked.

Never comfortable against anything above the waist, Azhar succumbed to Donald exactly one ball after a sizzling backfoot four. Then Sachin, who wasn�t anywhere near his best, misjudged Hayward, pulling one which simply wasn�t short enough, and paid the price.

Seventyseven for five in the 39th over and curtains were about to fall. That was delayed first by debutant Mohammed Kaif, who presented a straight bat and smart temperament, and Mongia and, then, by Kumble.

That Kaif, who underwent baptism by fire (which included a verbal dose from Donald), should be a good long-term investment has already been anticipated by a high-profile sponsor. Only, he will have to do better than score 12 and sharpen his judgement of line.

Mongia, showing pluck which wasn�t a revelation, ought to have learnt from Sachin�s dismissal in the second innings at Wankhede. He didn�t, and offering no stroke to Nicky Boje (preferred to Clive Eksteen), became the left-arm spinner�s maiden Test victim.

The wicketkeeper fell after tea, taken at 113/6.

Nikhil Chopra, the other debutant, used his feet to hole-out; Murali Karthik ran himself out (staying glued to the ball instead of quickly responding to a Kumble call) and Jawagal Srinath fell to the second new ball, predictably taken immediately.

With the Indian show so pathetic, there was a phase when the East Stand got so restive it appeared the fishing nets would come into play. Briefly, a few missiles were hurled but the nets stayed put.

Fortunately, that bit of dubious history got deferred, if not altogether avoided.

Much to his bowlers� delight, Cronje used them in short bursts, the one exception being Boje who had an 11-over spell which began before tea. While Boje returned the best figures, managing �bite� as well, Cronje himself did an excellent job. Pollock, mind you, deserved a richer haul.

Each run should be bitterly contested still, at the moment, all the initiative is in Cronje�s pocket.    

Bangalore, March 2 
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which has been paying little attention to real matters, must immediately announce a policy on fitness tests.

Though players have been known to conceal injuries and, occasionally, even fitness certificates have been questioned, the BCCI is far from consistent in insisting on fitness tests.

It�s ridiculous that while X must go through one, Y gets exempted.

Till this �discrimination� is done away with, the Sadagopan Ramesh episode � which found him being left out of the playing XI late yesterday � will continue to get repeated.

According to chief selector Chandu Borde, Ramesh last night �admitted� there was �a jarring sensation,� on his left thumb (broken by Brett Lee in the Melbourne Test, not Sydney, as reported in these columns), while facing Jawagal Srinath at the morning nets.

Ramesh was then put through a �test� by physio-cum-physical trainer Andrew Leipus, who opined it may be risky fielding him. So, though Ramesh was �keen� on playing, Borde took the lead in taking to a crucial Test with hundred per cent fit players only.

�I did ask Ramesh on what basis had he submitted a fitness certificate (to BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele), ahead of last Saturday�s selection meeting in Mumbai, and he explained he had done so after facing bowlers (in Chennai) who weren�t as quick as Srinath...,� Borde remarked.

In fact, The Telegraph reported on Wednesday itself that Ramesh (and Mohammed Azharuddin) didn�t exactly appear to be hundred per cent fit. But no less than the coach, Kapil Dev, himself went on record yesterday (at a Media conference) saying �everybody was fit.� It was, then, assumed there was absolutely no doubt.

As it turned out, Ramesh has posted Indian cricket�s latest tamasha. More than the rest, it has severely embarrassed the selectors, but as Borde pointed out: �When the secretary says somebody is fit, we take it at face-value. Who are we to question a certificate?�

It�s a valid point.

Now, at least, the BCCI must have just one criteria for all those making a comeback after injury: The fitness certificate has to be signed by the team�s physio and a BCCI-appointed doctor.    

Bangalore, March 2 
Mohammed Azharuddin�s Test comeback may not have been exceptional, but it appears he will also make the one-day team for the first set of matches, reports our Special Correspondent. The Telegraph�s sources say the following 13 are certainties:

Captain Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Azhar, Ajay Jadeja, Robin Singh, Samir Dighe, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi, Nikhil Chopra, Jawagal Srinath and Thiru Kumaran.

It is understood that the 14th slot could go to a hard-hitting batsman who is also a decent spinner.    

Bangalore, March 2 
Slipping gameplans under the players� hotel door isn�t something South Africa�s Graham Ford has in common with Australian John Buchanan but, otherwise, similarities between the two are many.

For one, both are extremely low profile. Secondly, both inherited a legacy that wasn�t easy to handle, yet both have already begun to carve a niche for themselves.

Incidentally, Ford was a top-notch tennis player not many years ago � he was a regular on the Satellite circuit at home � and is a Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi fan.

Generally somewhat reluctant to talk to the Media, Ford did set aside half-an-hour for The Telegraph last evening. And, answered all questions.

Following are excerpts

On his background

I played first-class cricket for Natal and got involved with coaching at a fairly young age� That innings began at the University in Pietermaritzburg, where I was sports administrator. I�m not very good with dates, but I think I took charge at Natal in 1992-93. Last year, of course, I succeeded Bob Woolmer.

On having served a period of �apprenticeship� under Woolmer

Helped enormously� Gave me an insight into what happens at the international level, allowed me to learn first-hand from Bob and, more importantly, prepared the team for what to expect. My appointment didn�t come as a shock to either the team or the system.

On what gave him the edge when the UCBSA was deliberating on who should succeed Woolmer

I suppose my record at Natal� Besides that, I don�t know� I�m sure some very competent candidates must have been around, but this isn�t an easy job. It keeps you busy all 12 months in a year, there�s so much travelling�

On whether Woolmer�s achievements, or his legacy, meant he started with the pressure of having to match (and better) everything his predecessor did

It probably would have been different had I not been part of the set-up, as an assistant, when Bob was there. I was around for part of the (1998-99) home series versus the West Indies, then went to New Zealand and was also there during the World Cup�

On whether he contributed to strategy when he was only an assistant

Look, the South African system is such that no one person ever is the complete boss. Everything we do is collective and the captain remains the biggest contributor.

On Woolmer

His record, both at Warwickshire and with South Africa, does all the talking. I don�t have to rate him� He laid the foundations of a good team, put systems into place. In effect, really, Bob made things comfortable for me.

On whether he intends being as innovative as Woolmer � first to use a lap-top, experimenting with a one-way radio and so on

I don�t have anything out of the ordinary in mind� We continue with things like video analysis� As for the one-way radio contact and ear pieces, I see wide usage in years to come. However, it�s got to be handled with care as we can�t have a situation of too many chiefs�

(Adds smiling) Occasionally, Bob did like to go in for fancy things but, where I�m concerned, I like keeping it simple.

On whether, with the technological advances, the coach could one day become redundant

The players will always need human back-up support. Despite the advances, today, players require and are provided with more back-up: Physios, psychologists, data analysts, specialist coaches� It�s a long list.

On whether he is surprised some of the coaches still don�t work off lap-tops

(Pauses) You know, somebody like the late Malcolm (Marshall) probably didn�t know how to switch on a computer, yet his brain stored everything he needed to know. So, it depends� You can�t only rely on a computer, as there will be times when you�ll have to judge situations and rely on your judgement.

On the general and specialist coaches in the provinces back in South Africa

Many of the players I�m working with in the South African team, learnt all their cricket under the care of provincial coaches. They�re the ones who�ve done the hard work. Indeed, they�ve made my job easy. I�ve just got to fine-tune players, keep them together as a unit. Really, it�s the cream which filters through to me and I�m fortunate to be part of such a sound system.

On a coach�s role

Basically, a coach is part of the support team� He�s got to provide players with whatever they need � it could be technique-related inputs, could be something else. Clearly, the needs of players can be different and it�s the coach�s responsibility to ensure they remain happy. If they don�t, performance will get affected. Therefore, a coach�s job doesn�t stop on the field or in the dressing room.

On his style of coaching

It�s democratic, in keeping with the system we have in place. I doubt if any team can perform to potential if things aren�t democratic� I do bounce ideas off the players. In fact, as this is my first trip to India, I spoke at length with the ones who�ve been here before.

On the man-management element

A big component� It�s all about building relationships and keeping them going. And, it needn�t be limited to the players on tour � a coach may also have to keep the vibes, with somebody overlooked for a particular tour, going� He must understand what upsets players. Equally, must understand what makes them tick.

On his understanding with the captain

At the end of the day, he�s in charge of the troops. I�m only part of the back-up. I�m not the main guy.

On the pressures coaches face

At this level, everybody is under presssure. It�s a fact of life and it comes with the job� You cross one hurdle and, straightaway, there�s one more. And another� Personally, I accept whatever has to happen, will happen, though I would much rather prefer to win than lose!

At the same time, I do know I can�t do a thing once a match actually begins. To get the satisfaction, from the job, you�ve got to enjoy the good days� Soak in everything because, no matter how much effort is put in, the bad days will still be there.

On the close rapport he shared with Marshall

I was fortunate that Malcolm was one of Natal�s players when I took charge� He was very supportive and had an outstanding cricket brain. Honestly, I don�t think I would be where I am had it not been for Malcolm�s support. Cricket, for him, was everything and he had a phenomenal memory. Malcolm could, for instance, recall spells he had bowled 10-12 years ago� Because he lived for cricket, and cricket only, all your time with him was spent discussing it.

Finally, on the areas where South Africa needs to improve

Spin bowling, for sure. It�s not that our frontline spinners aren�t good, it�s just that we need depth� Even variety, when we talk of the spinners coming through our system.    

Calcutta, March 2 
East Bengal are trying to wriggle out of a somewhat tricky situation that has evolved following an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) punitive stricture on club�s goalkeeper coach Tarun Bose.

The club�s assistant secretary, Dipak Das, however, maintains that this letter (forwarded to Bose by the AIFF yesterday), will not affect the club in any way.

The letter stated that Bose was suspended till April 28 and will have to pay a fine of $ 1,000 for having misbehaved with the match commissioner during India�s Asian Youth meet match against Pakistan in 1998.

Bose has, however, been coaching East Bengal regularly, and his name also features in the team list released by the IFA for the National League matches. Das maintained, though, that Bose was just helping out his team and there was no contract signed with him.

IFA secretary, Ranjit Gupta, however, felt that it was a mistake on his association�s part in allowing Bose to continue coaching. �The AFC can ask for an explanation,� he added.

Statutes say that all AFC strictures, routed through the national federation and the state body, will have the last authority responsible for implementation.    

Calcutta, March 2 
The state cycling championhsip, organised by West Bengal Cycling Association (WBCA), will be held on March 18 and 19 at Salt Lake Stadium and the SAI Eastern Centre. Moloy Roychaudhury, general secretary, WBCA, said today.

The track events will be held at the SAI complex, while the circuit events will be held in the stadium itself. The meet will be sponsored by TI Cycles of India, with Dr Amlan Kusum Dutta, an NRI, helping as a co-sponsor.

Charity show

Howrah Zilla Yuba Forum, along with West Bengal Artist�s Forum, will organise a cultural show the proceeds of which will be used to help needy sportspersons of Howrah.

The world of sports and films will come together in this venture and both fields will be well represented by stars like Shailen Manna, Sambaran Banerjee, Sudip Chatterjee, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Ranjit Mallick, Prasenjit, Indrani Halder and others.

Almost all well known show-biz personalities of Bengal will take part in the show, Prasenjit, secretary of the Artists� Forum, said.    

Bangalore, March 2 
The Darius Byramji-trained Stariano Is fancied to win the 1,200m Saptharishi Cup tomorrow. Placed lowly in a field of seven and maintaining form after his second to Silver Patriarch, the Green Forest-Pininfarina four-year-old in the hands of Aslam Kader may easily beat topweights Holy Heights and Cruden Bay .


2 pm: Concur 1. Supreme Glory 2. Adorer 3.

2.30 pm: Paddy Fox 1. The King And I 2. River Dale 3.

3 pm: Sans Eagle 1. Kilkemny 2. Carnival Craze 3.

3.30 pm: Roman Flame 1. Make No Mistake 2. Boss Tweed 3.

4 pm: Stariano 1. Holy Heights 2. Cruden Bay 3.

4.30 pm: Soul Of Gold 1. Chity Bang 2. Financer 3.

5 pm: Arnica 1. Admiral 2. Certain Ace 3.

5.30 pm: Tajik 1. Ronson 2. What A Pleasure 3.

6 pm: Super Premium 1. Hoyo Hoyo 2. Plain Truth 3.

Day�s Best: Stariano Double: Soul Of Gold & Tajik    

The Altaf Hussain -trained Suave Star scored an impressive victory in the Balchand Trophy at the Mumbai races on Thursday. N. McCullagh partnered the Alnasr Alwasheek-Bazooka Babe daughter to victory.


(With inter-state dividends)

1. Midori Plate 1,400m: (2-5-4) Placid (Prakash) 1; Akhnoor 2; Thunder Struck 3. Won by: Nk; 6-1/2; (1-26.1). Tote: Win Rs 16; Place: 10; 24; Quinella: 31; Tanala: 74. Fav: Placid (2).

2. Adler Trophy 1,200m: (2-1-5) Intel (Kharadi) 1; Little Champ 2; Barrier Reef 3. Won by: Nk; Hd; (1-13.4). Tote: Win Rs 32; Place: 16; 31; Quinella: 93; Tanala: 399. Fav: Mi Amante (3).

3. C. Minor Plate 1,200m: (7-1-5) Truluck (Aadesh) 1; Sure Flash 2; Hailstorm 3. Won by: SH; 3-1/4; (1-14.6). Tote: Win Rs 88; Place: 23; 16; 52; Quinella: 143; Tanala: 6,819. Fav: Sure Flash (1).

4. A. Geddis Plate 1,200m: (10-5-1) James Bond (Z. Sayyed) 1; Doctor No 2; Impatiens 3. Won by: 1-3/4; 2-1/2; (1-15.2). Tote: Win Rs 191; Place: 37; 33; 10; Quinella: 563; Tanala: 6,909. Fav: Impatiens (1).

5. Balchand Trophy 1,200m: (10-2-3) Suave Star (McCullagh) 1; Color Me Good 2; Desert Fighter 3. Won by: 6-1/2; 4-1/4; (1-14.3). Tote: Win Rs 15; Place: 11; 15; 26; Quinella: 20; Tanala: 118. Fav: Suave Star (10).

6. Kilshannig Plate 1,400m: (2-4-1) Perception (Aaron) 1; Orange King 2; Fin-De-Siecle 3. Won by: SH; SH; (1-27.1). Tote: Win Rs 83; Place: 27; 29; 29; Quinella: 366; Tanala: 8,073. Fav: Bohemein Dancer (12).

7. M. M. T. Pandole Plate 1,200m: (7-3-2) Dillinger (Eddery) 1; Victory Waltz 2; Green Paradise 3. Won by: 1-1/2; 1/2; (1-13.4). Tote: Win Rs 39; Place: 21; 44; 50; Quinella: 185; Tanala: 1,535. Fav: Dillinger (7).

8. K. J. K. Irani Plate 1,000m: (1-6-14) Substantial (J. Irani) 1; Draculla 2; Val Rouge 3. Won by: 1-3/4; 4; (1-1.4). Tote: Win Rs 46; Place: 20; 12; 75; Quinella: 47; Tanala: 1,958. Fav: Draculla (6).

Jackpot: Rs 1,34,470 (Carried over); (C) Rs 34,578.

Treble: (i) Rs 10,190; (ii) Rs 1,600.    

Calcutta, March 2 
Atacada and Consul�s Secret were impressive during the work outs today.

Outer sand track

1,400m: Consul�s Secret (Razzak) in 1-41s; (1,000m) 1-13s; (400m) 30s. Moved well. No Regrets (Manohar) and Prizren (Rb) in 1-51s; (400m) 30s. Both were level and easy.

1,200m: Desert Force (Rutherford) in 1-34 3/5s; (400m) 32s. Bonzer (Kasbekar) in 1-34s; (400m) 30 4/5s. Easy.

1,000m: Atacada (Rabani) and Aracruz (Islam) 1-10 3/5s; (400m) 27 4/5s. Former was too good. Alesund (Islam) and a 2-y-o no. 103 (Rabani) in 1-12 2/5s; (400m) 29s. Both were level and easy.

800m: Light Reflections (Rutherford) and Rising Chorus (Merchant) in 1-1s; (400m) 30s. Both were easy. Abstone Queen (Gurang) in 1-1s; (400m) 30s. Anntary (Rabani) and Soviet Sky (Islam) 56s; (400m) 28s. Both were level. Jayaashva (Razzak) in 56 3/5s; (400m) 28 1/5s. Was urged. Persuasion (Manohar) in 1-4s; (400m) 32s. Easy.

Sand track

1,200m: Silver Rising (Rb) in 1-20 2/5s; (400m) 27 2/5s. Fit.

800m: Magic Ring (Akhtar) in 58 3/5s; (400m) 27 3/5s. Alceste (Rb) 1-3s; (400m) 30s.

600m: Run Ahead (Haroon) in 42 2/5s; (400m) 27 2/5s. Classy Twist (Rb) in 41 2/5s; (400m) 27 2/5s.    


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