It is mighty strange that the Indian team has agreed to carry on in the Caribbean without the services of another fast bowler. The man they lost is no ordinary pace bowler either; Srinath had been carrying the major burden for a long time and it is, thus, doubly strange that the Indian team management should be content with a batsman-turned-off-spinner as a substitute.
The decison becomes even stranger when one considers that the third Test, scheduled from March 27, will be played on what is probably the fastest wicket in the Caribbean, though, arguably, slower than what it once was. But the fact remains that Barbados will be a wicket on which a fast bowler will be able to do something. Salil Ankola had been asked to wait in readiness for a call-up but now he will not be required to wait in a state of suspended animation. How come the Indian team management is suddenly satisfied with what it has? Why then was there talk of Srinath rejoining the team if he was ruled fit enough to do so later on in the tour?
There is more than one reason for this studied silence. A report in the Indian Express, which pointed out that the severity of Srinath's injury had been known by February 6, much earlier than the Board was willing to admit it knew of the same, has probably put everybody on the back foot. Not a peep has been heard from the board about this report. Neither has any member of the team management -- coach Madan Lal, manager Sunil Dev and captain Sachin Tendulkar -- had anything to say. The same goes for the physiotherapist Dr Ali Irani.
The three non-playing officials have kept quiet because they know that any statement would mean the end of their lucrative jobs. Madan and Sunil Dev are on good terms with those who are at the centre of power in Indian cricket and they know where their bread and butter -- and plenty of jam as well -- comes from. They would be loath to bite the hand that feeds them. The same goes for Dr Irani, though he has been with the team for a long time and would, therefore, be less affected by a sack order. Tendulkar probably did not want to get mixed up in any controversy; he has enough problems on his plate.
But why has the coach not asked for another pace bowler? Madan went on record at the time the team was announced, saying he had asked for five new-ball bowlers. In the present situation, the team has got only one, that too a man who looks thoroughly jaded. Kuruvilla is not a new ball bowler; he is opening the bowling with Prasad because Srinath is absent. Suddenly, Madan Lal is satisfied with these two and a man like Ganesh who is unlikely to play a single Test.
Why is the captain silent as well? Has he suddenly discovered that a man whose name he did not know -- "which David?" was his reaction when told that an off-spinner named Noel David would be joining the team -- is the best player to join a team which has lost its main strike bowler? Or are there other off-the-field reasons for this sudden silence?
There is reason to believe that both Madan and Sachin fear their jobs are in danger. That is the main reason why there has been no outcry over the funny replacement which they got. Madan has been in charge after Sandip Patil quit in disgust. And the former medium-pacer has done nothing spectacular. He is a poor spokesman for the team. He is a singularly (in more ways than one) poor planner of strategy. If the team does badly in the remaining three Tests, he has good reason to believe that there will be calls for his head. He has his supporters in the seats of power but there will have to be scapegoats if things do not go well and he may well be one.
Tendulkar, quite frankly, has impressed no-one by his captaincy. He does not seem to learn from his mistakes and this was evident in the second Test against the West Indies when he repeated a number of errors which he had made in the third Test against South Africa. In both Tests, India could well have pushed a little harder for a result as they had nothing to lose. In both cases, poor captaincy put paid to whatever chances the Indians had. Over-cautious or simply ignorant one cannot say, but certainly not the man whom the hour needed.
He is probably taking comfort in the fact that he is unlikely to lose the captaincy so soon. The one-day jamborees are set to start after the Indian team gets back from the West Indies and Tendulkar may do something during these matches to regain the name he had before taking over as captain of the team. He would do well to bear in mind that a captain can hold his place by virtue of his performance and not because he is captain alone; if the team is winning, and doing so due to the captain's tactics, then the axe may take some time to fall -- witness the case of Mark Taylor. But it will not be delayed indefinitely.