For once there was a touch of honesty about Sachin Tendulkar as he faced the cameras after the demoltion job had been completed. He admitted India had been outplayed. It was a measure of how helpless he had felt that he mentioned the figure of 1,000 when asked how many runs India would have needed to beat Sri Lanka in the final. He looked like a little boy who had got lost on the way home from school, one who was in urgent need of some comfort. In no way did he resemble the skipper of an international cricket team which had been beaten. The pressure seems to be getting to him.
One refers to honesty here, because after the league match against Lanka, he had tried to blame Rahul Dravid for slow scoring and attribute the fact that India had not got past 250 to the one-drop batsman's strike rate. Of course, he did not take into account the fact that Dravid had to drop anchor because the skipper and two others had perished to injudicious strokes and left the team poised precariously at three down with less than 60 on the board. Dravid had Azhar at the other end and he correctly played the anchor role, leaving the histrionics to the senior man. Tendulkar, it must be mentioned, never got a decent score in the tournament -- 53 is not good enough, not by his own standards.
When team selection is mentioned, there is often talk of a "brains trust". This commodity is absent when it comes to picking the Indian team. There is a singular lack of intelligence. The selectors back home had set the day before the final to pick two additional players for the series against Lanka which follows -- can anything more calculated to demoralise a team be imagined? When this was put off, the selectors were hailed as a wise lot! Anyone with the intelligence quotient of the common cockroach would have scheduled a date after the final for fresh selection. Or were they so sure the squad they had picked would not make it to the final???
The victory over Bangladesh was blown out of all proportion, not realising that this is an outfit which is still getting its feet wet. With all the hype that was generated, I think India genuninely felt that they had done the hard part of the job; beating Sri Lanka in the final was the easy half. So, a lot of heads were put together and some truly brilliant suggestions were made. Play an opener who has not had a match in the tournament. Drop the one bowler who can be truly termed defensive. Change the batting order. And the cardinal mistake -- changing a winning combination -- was made. As a result of this Sidhu was thrown out to open; he has not had a match for some time and is, understandably, short of match practice. Tendulkar, the regular opener, dropped himself down the order. Why?
There was more. Kuruvilla was dropped and off-spinner Nilesh Mohanty picked. Again, why? What had the tall Bombay medium-pacer done or not done to be dropped? Why try to give a man his debut in the final of a tournament which, though not the most important of one-day trysts, could well have served as a confidence booster for the team had they won? The same kind of thinking persisted after the match began; Karim, who was (according to the selectors) picked because he can bat better that Mongia, was sent in when there was little or nothing of the innings left! No, there are intelligent forms of life in that selection panel and they used all the grey matter at their command -- this was the main problem.
Sri Lanka did not change their approach. The main difference is that Ranatunge can out-think Tendulkar and most other captains in today's game. He stays cool no matter what happens. He has some trick up his sleeve all the time. And despite his age, he is willing to experiment. He knows how to get to the other team and he uses all his knowledge of the other team to rattle them. He also has good lines of communication open and his teammates obviously respect their boss. Man of the series was a fitting reward. Notice that Aravinda de Silva, who is often portrayed as the lone man capable of scoring runs for this team, did not trouble the scorers much. And yet Lanka won all their matches, barring the one against Pakistan, by big margins.
Sri Lanka do not play only by instinct anymore. They have a game plan ready. If it fails, they do not panic. Ranatunge can play by note; he can also play by ear. He gets the players whom he wants and knows their abilities and weaknesses. He even gets the coach he wants. And he is quick to give credit where it is due; "the change of grip advised by Sir Gary Sobers," was his answer when asked if anything he had recently was responsible for the sudden flow of runs from his bat. This Lankan team can be beaten but it will take some doing; a couple of standout performances are needed to make that happen.
After this mauling, India will begin the series against Lanka with a serious handicap. The team changes will not make that difference; in fact, they will add to the turbulence. Mongia and Chauhan have come back into the team to replace Karim and David. I pity the latter; why pick a man and take him along as a tourist? There is an answer to this and everybody who knows even a little about Indian cricket knows it, so let me not repeat it here. Will he ever be picked for India again? There are two additions in Kambli and Khoda. Tendulkar has got his way there. There seems to be a surfeit of batsmen again. Maybe somebody along the line has forgotten that one has to take 20 wickets to win a Test.