The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A game too harsh for India

March 25: India’s cricket czar has promised harsh decisions after the loss to Sri Lanka. What will these harsh decisions be — a new coach, a new captain, or both' Or is it going to be a new team'

Greg Chappell isn’t a popular man. After his comment “I’m not answerable to you” at Friday evening’s news conference, he may have gone a few rungs up the unpopularity scale, if that is possible.

He hasn’t delivered the result — he’s a foreigner to boot, already there’s talk in the cricket board of not picking firang coaches any more — and knowing how things work in India, no one will be surprised if his head is the first to roll. That should be enough to lift Sharad Pawar, the czar, and his billion from the blues and start getting a good night’s sleep again, secure in the satisfaction of having done duty by the nation.

Rahul Dravid should be easy meat, too. Losers can’t be keepers, however generous or considerate he might have been in defeat. Dravid picked up the evil-stinking can of India’s laughable World Cup campaign with both hands, shielding his team and its star members.

“I take full responsibility,” he said, reports suggesting the dour man was at breaking point. He might have to go, though he was the only one at Queen’s Park Oval on Friday who did take full responsibility, the only one who inspired some belief that so long as he was around and someone gave him company, there might just be a possibility.

If he were on the verge of crying at the news conference and still didn’t allow the tear ducts to flow, that was because he had already won a tougher battle against the urge to weep four hours earlier.

First Virender Sehwag, who got out as though that were a better option than to look Muttiah Muralidharan’s round-the-wicket doosra in the eye. Then Yuvraj Singh, who — even in the few balls he played — was showing the unhurried fluency and elegance that make him the best show in the side these days went for a run which perhaps wasn’t there. Dravid, of course, wasn’t even looking at his partner whose call it was.

The anguished captain kicked the dust. With Yuvraj there was a definite possibility.

Next, it was Samson. Mahendra ‘Samson’ Dhoni, who gave the impression that he had come to the wicket to become the first cricketer in history to walk to a leg-before appeal. His back foot rooted to the crease, as is his wont, Murali made the long-haired Ranchi boy whose pretty-locks presence is mandatory in every Indian ad look like he’d be better off holding a pair of scissors rather than a cricket bat.

This time Dravid was on the brink of crying. Fortunately, it was only cramps that overtook him.

So when the discussion comes round to captaincy, anyone speaking up for him will be severely cramped for room. So, off with Dravid’s head' That’s the easy part. After Dravid, who' Sachin Tendulkar is the deputy, so should it be him' Or should it be the tried and tested Sourav Ganguly' Some comeback that will be!

Or should it be Yuvraj, who has still nine years to go till 34 — that’s how old Sourav is — and eight till 33, Sachin’s age'

The trouble is such has been the team selection and the performance in this World Cup that the gloom doesn’t end with the last ball bowled at Port of Spain. There are no takeaways from this tournament for India. Rarely does such misfortune befall a country’s sport that even a straw doesn’t emerge in the swift-flowing tide of disaster to grab at.

Cup 2007 shows no flicker of light in the tunnel of the future. Except maybe two lessons that are unlikely to be of any use.

First, the importance of the “process” Chappell has been talking about. The constant process of renewal of talent where the system will throw up the best XI, not star value. His process — and the experiments to find the right combination — has now come to be maligned, apparently because what works in Australia won’t work in India. But not just in sport but in any activity of the mind or body, the process is everything, bigger even than individual talent, which is merely the icing on the cake.

Somewhere along the line, the Chappell way was abandoned to the preference for the traditional Indian way which then prevailed in team selection. Chappell is unlikely to say this isn’t his team but this is a consensus — and, therefore, a compromise — team. It’s not the coach’s team.

Youth was discarded. Perhaps they were not good enough, or so some say. Experience didn’t pay either. Sourav lost his way, and his wicket to a desperate slice to break free of the Lankan shackles when his experience should have told him to hold his patience. Sachin got out to an incoming ball for the nth time — experience, it appears, hasn’t taught him how to tackle this.

The second lesson may lie here. Experience may not always get the right students.

So what harsh decisions does the czar take' Maybe, just maybe, he can try and see if the “process” can be given a longer run.

And, two, he can hope that some retirement announcements will drop into his lap rather than he and his team — god forbid — having to take the wrenching decision of dropping the Rs 10-crore plus brands. Sell-by dates are harder to see when they’re stuck on one’s own forehead, so Sharad Pawar shouldn’t bank on it.

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