The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The most unpredictable game of cricket turned out to be very predictable after all. The defeat of the Indian team yesterday might have disappointed the Indian cricket fans who, in an exaggerated bout of optimism, expected the Indian team to return home with the World Cup. The better — more correctly, the best team — became the world champions. In the finals, India was outplayed but the Indian team did not quite disgrace itself. It began the tournament disastrously and made a comeback when everyone was beginning to write them off. The highlights of this return to form were Sachin Tendulkar’s batting and the seam bowling of Jawagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashis Nehra. But in the finals — when it mattered most — it was the bowling that let India down. Line and length were both awry when the Indian captain, relying on his bowlers, had put the Australians in to bat on a wicket that had some bounce. No team which gives away 38 runs as extras deserves to win the World Cup.

Indian cricket fans, when they forget their patriotism and pause to think of the performance of their heroes, will be forced to accept that if India had won on Sunday, it would have been even more of an upset victory than the one in 1983. The present team is nowhere near as good as Kapil Dev’s side. Sourav Ganguly’s team also faced a side that is more professional and more consistent than Clive Lloyd’s squad. Thus the overdrive of enthusiasm and optimism should not be followed by a fit of utter demoralization. It is important to underline this since in India, icons, when they belie expectations, become villains overnight. There is the danger that the Indian captain will be excoriated for his decision to make the Aussies bat first. It was possibly a bold and justified decision under the circumstances, and there is very little point in being wise after the event.

Apart from India’s defeat and Australia’s win, the World Cup brought to light certain features which have profound implications for the future of the game of cricket. One of these was the age factor. At a time when in all other sports, the average age of participants is coming down, there are cricketers in the international arena who are “old” in sporting terms. The names of Wasim Akram, Andy Flower, Aravinda de Silva come immediately to mind. This was the fifth World Cup outing for Akram and de Silva and the fourth for Flower. Their presence suggests that younger talents are not emerging in cricket and those that are emerging are not good enough to dislodge these veterans. India has a relatively young side, but the mainstays of the Indian side, Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ganguly, are pushing 30. This does not augur well for cricket. Without the adrenalin of fresh talent, cricket will lose its energy and its ability to survive in a world that privileges youth and speed. The age factor perhaps explains why the standard of cricket on display in this World Cup was so poor. Only the Australians played like a top class side. It is fitting that they won even though the opposition to them was never really challenging.

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