The Indian team will reach the West Indies later today to begin a tour that is likely to make and break some careers. But ere they left the shores of India, there were indications that the coach Madan Lal is bracing for the worst -- not for what could happen to the team, but rather to him if the performance in the Caribbean does not satisfy the cricket bosses back home.
Captain Sachin Tendulkar, at 23, is acutely aware that questions are beginning to be asked about whether the captaincy is affecting his batting. There are reportedly doubts being voiced that he was made captain too early and those who backed him for the leadership are themselves beginning to wonder whether they have done the right thing. He is under pressure to perform and the West Indies is not exactly the place where one can make a comeback. It is one of the tougher tours for any captain, leave alone a man who is on his first tour as skipper.
But Tendulkar knows that, no matter what happens in the Caribbean, he will have at least a couple more chances to prove his leadership can work for India. It is unlikely that he will be removed even if the West Indies run all over India. The selectors are not likely to seek a replacement for some time now that they have chosen to go with him at some risk. He will not be under the same presure as the coach.
Madan, on the other hand, knows that he could be one of those who will suffer if the team does not give a creditable performance in the West Indies. He has gone on record, saying that he is worried about the fact that there is no settled opening pair. But in his singular manner (he is another one who never uses the plural), he has, in the next breath, apparently exuded confidence that the team will do well. Big man, him speak with forked tongue! If the team does well, he has his reasons ready. If they fail, lo and behold, Madan has no problem -- he has his backside covered. It must be remembered that he had asked for three openers and has been provided with them in Sidhu, Lazman and Jadeja.
Madan's other demand before the team was selected was rather funny. He wanted five specialist new-ball bowlers in a squad of 16. This would have meant, along with the two keepers and two spinners, space for seven batsmen. Whom did he have in mind apart from Ankola and Kuruvilla? Or was it just another tactic to cover himself if the team did not come home with something to show for itself?
Tendulkar has not exactly exuded confidence before the team left and this would be worrying Madan no end. There is just one regular opener in the squad -- Sidhu. The fact that the man who was best suited to partner Sidhu -- and one who distinguished himself the last time India visited the Caribbean under Dilip Vengsarkar -- has been left behind and this may be beginning to prey on the captain's mind. After all Manjrekar was considered his big brother in the team before he ascended to the position of captain.
Madan occasionally voiced opinions contrary to those which the captain held during the tour of South Africa. The third Test was one such instance. There have been cases in the past when differences have surfaced between skipper and officialdom -- in the semi-final of the World Cup against Sri Lanka, Azharuddin decided to bat second on a freshly laid wicket and the decision was one that other officials later dissociated themselves from.
There is bound to be tension within the team anyway -- the return of Sidhu ensures that Azhar will have to go the extra diplomatic mile to avoid any clash. Tendulkar has gone on record as saying that he will try to ensure there is no problem. A coach who is on the defensive will not help matters. India have a big enough task in hand tackling a West Indies team which is wounded and looking for victory to forget what could have been Down Under. These internal problems will not help any.