Question mark on Kolkata’s approach

Intensity. An urge to do well, even better. That separates a champion from a man.

By Kashinath Bhattacharjee

Not that there was any doubt about it. But the situation demands something else. Something extra, too. So, Sourav Ganguly had to have an extended session in the nets.

Never ever he was a master technician, a la Rahul Dravid. His batting was timing personified. Critics like Geoffrey Boycott and Ian Chappell, praised his heavenly timing number of times. As he is out of the international circuit for more than two years now, it seems, he is searching for those sweet spots in his willow.

And there is no better place than the nets to regain the touch, is an old cricket-saying. On Wednesday evening, Sourav decided to leave all his thoughts regarding team composition away for at least quarter to an hour. He batted in three of the four available nets. First against faster bowlers, then the spinners and then against balls delivered by a bowling machine, operated by none other than Dav Whatmore. And, at the end of the last session, the coach was seen to be too happy to caress his captain!

As Sourav is desperately seeking his lost touch, so are his bowlers. In utter desperation, an above-45 ex-fast bowler had nothing to do except picking up a white Kokaburra to bowl to his captain. The intention was clear. Bowling is not a chapter to be taught in the class room, in front of the black board. So, demonstrate exactly what you want to do to those like Ishant Sharma, Langeveldt or, even, Shane Bond.

The sight of Wasim Akram taking probably the shortest of run-ups and producing a few faster deliveries his captain had problems to counter, was indeed mouth-watering for any cricket-lover. His elder brotherly attitude, speaking to the batsman after each delivery, brought a relief to his captain, who always believed and stated, “Wasim is the best of them all (I’ve ever faced in international cricket)”.

In doing so, Akram was not only giving his bowlers a demo, but he was helping his captain, too. Sourav had problems facing genuine quick left-arm fast bowlers. Zaheer Khan had him almost all the time he had played against the Mumbai fast bowlers. Against Hyderabad in the tournament opener, it was Chaminda Vaas. Hyderabad has RP Singh in their rank, too. As an opener, Sourav will have to face both Chaminda and RP. Akram had an eye on it, too. It must have been planned by the bowling coach who wanted his captain to feel comfortable against the impending left-arm fast bowling attack. At least, there was a thought behind the move.

However, the overall approach of Kolkata, does not seem to be so. They are yet to finalise their first XI, even after 7 matches. Not only that, the experimentation with the batting top four is still there. How can an inexperienced new-comer like Mandeep Singh be preferred to David Hussey at number three? Why is Laxmi Ratan Shukla, the Bengal-captain and an allrounder overlooked for the last three matches? How Ishant Sharma is continuing to find a place in the first XI despite his poor shows? In fact, Ishant could not be bowled more than an over in the last match against Delhi. Cannot Shukla – a better batsman and fielder than Ishant – get another chance over Ishant? Was Ajantha Mendis signed because Kolkata batsmen feared facing him as an opponent?

Probably, there are too many questions to be answered. Probably, that is why the press conference had to be finished within 7 minutes. Probably, the think-tank were too cautious.

It’s a battle between the sixth and seventh teams in the 8-team tourney. Both the teams have similar kind of problems, as pointed out by Adam Gilchrist, the Hyderabad skipper. The top order is not firing, batsmen have to quicken up, bowlers have to bowl according to the fielding set and so on.

However, in a team sport, the most important thing is to have a tension-free air of the dressing-room that makes even the youngest member comfortable and play freely. The way Kolkata owner is twitting his mind out to the world, certainly that was the last thing needed. He could have said anything to his players within the four walls of the closed room. But his tweets, and his decision to send one of his friends to be present in the team meeting, are not helping the cause.

But then, the affinity of the Kolkata owner and his closed pals in the team management to the Aussies cannot be denied. Remember Steve Waugh, writing in his ‘London Times’ column, asking Glenn McGrath to do his duty and give the team early break-throughs in important matches, during the 1999 World Cup? McGrath replied his skipper with the prized wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara.

From a fit and raring to go Shane Bond, probably SRK would be looking forward to get the same for his team, too. And if that happens in Eden Gardens today, Kolkata will beat the scorching heat to congratulate their beloved sons – of the soil and off the soil, both!

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