Vol. 5 Num 418 Sat. July 30, 2005  

Life without the legends

India wake up to a life beyond cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly as they launch a new season with a triangular cricket series match against Sri Lanka here on Saturday, hoping that new coach Greg Chappell would be able to arrest their sliding fortunes.

Never in the last 10 years have the two giants of one-day cricket been missing together from a one-day assignment though Ganguly, after a reduction in the ban against him, would reappear for the second round of matches from August 3.

Tendulkar and Ganguly first set up history's most profitable opening partnership and then staggered their roles in one-day line-up to emerge with 13,642 and 9,945 runs from 348 and 270 games with 60 centuries between them. India, incidentally, have played only 584 one-day games.

It is a hole which is not easily filled even though VVS Laxman is substituting for the experience of the two legends.

Unfortunately, Laxman has more sceptics than believers in his one-day ability.

Mahender Singh Dhoni will be looked upon with hope to whip up a verve and dash of his own while Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif can no longer complain they get limited overs to showcase their talent.

Emphatically, the last few years have shown that Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid remain India's best bet and whenever the two fired together, Indians had runs on the board. Look at India's fine performances, be it Tests or one-dayers, in the past 12-16 months and these two would have featured prominently.

Both choose different ways to go about their task in one-day cricket. Sehwag uses the advantage of infield in the first 15 overs to rattle up a string of boundaries while Dravid hopes to bat for long enough to cut loose in the last five overs.

If India take care of the early and final overs, they can hope to be competitive in the park. Unfortunately, it has not happened often since the 2003 World Cup.

Worryingly, since then, whenever they have batted first, India struggled to last the full quota of overs. To make it double trouble, Indian bowlers have struggled to bowl out opposition within the stipulated 50 overs. It has been more of a feature in sub-continental conditions.

Of the last 10 matches India played against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the sub-continent, they have got the rival teams all out in only three games. And not even once, in last three games in Sri Lanka. Till they get some help from the wicket, they are no good.

No wonder, India's track record is abysmal. Since the 2003 World Cup, they have played 50 games and won 22, 11 of these wins coming against the likes of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Kenya and UAE. They have been particularly bad in Sri Lanka against the hosts: just three wins from nine games in the last five years.

Clearly, Indian batsmen need to fire to give their bowlers something to bowl at. They would be hoping to win the toss and bat first since chasing has always been a difficult proposition under lights here.

Somehow the cool breeze and humid conditions in evening afford swing bowlers extra zip and movement with the new ball.

The visitors will also be hoping that Sri Lankans are still as wobbly as they were against the West Indies in the recent two-Test series though it is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that those games still finished in three and a half days and margins were as big as six wickets and 240 runs.

If India want too many variables to fall in place, Sri Lanka inspire great depth and flexibility from their eleven.

They have batsmen who can bowl and bowlers who can bat. They have always been an above-average fielding side.

They boast respectable names such as Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene, Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumara Sangakkara in batting but it is in bowling that they are outright dangerous.

The pace combination of Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa, Farveez Maharoof, Dilhara Fernando and Lasith Malinga, whoever of the three who play, are sharper and livelier than their Indian counterparts.

They also have a reasonable lower-half in batting. Unlike the Indians who will be looking at inexperienced JP Yadav to shore up the lower half of Indian batting, Sri Lankans have cheeky customers like Russell Arnold, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Chandana, Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan to string together fine contributions.