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Garland the ground staff by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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November 6, 2006

Garland the ground staff

Was it this same year when the carnage happened at Wanderer's stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa? The sight was pretty gruesome – bodies thrown everywhere, the cuts, the bruises and the blood-letting. Not a single bowler escaped unscathed, when each side ran through the opposition's bowling department, plundering in excess of 400 runs each. And some even went on to the crown that match between Proteans and the Poms as the greatest one day game ever played. While the title is a little far fetched when measured in terms of performances in each of the departments - bowling, batting and fielding, instead of stellar performances in just one category alone, there is virtually no contest awarding the "Black Monday" epithet for the day for the sheet toll the match inflicted on everything - bowling, fielding, senses and the very essence of cricket. First, it was the 300 barrier, then it was the 350 hurdle and then this 400. And the only one that still remains standing (wobbling) is the individual 200 mark. And by the current standards of feather-beds, docile and shaved-off turfs, the day is not far when the final pin is going to come down without a whimper. If one days chipped away at the technique, temperament and skill of the game, one rule (almost always favoring the batsmen) at a time, then the feather-beds provided for the perfect cemeteries for the art of bowling, closing in on the coffin one restriction at a time. A few years from here, it would no wonder, if one walks into a one day game, and find that the bowlers have been replaced with ball hurling machines at the opposite end, and all that the game entails is, how many times a bastman can hit the ball thrown at him, over the ropes.

Once the administration smelt the scent of the green in the game, and the prospect of crowds in rapture over the batsman, propelling himself a few feet forward from the crease, and carting the cherry into the stands, seemed like a golden goose, the charade has truly begun. The game became as much an even contest between the bat and the ball, as much it is fair game throwing a young pup in the ring against Mike Tyson in his peak form - without any gloves on. Amidst days of such gloom and gore, that part of the purist mind which stills yearns for an fair treatment of the leather against the willow, rejoices in joy at the rare sight of the ball continuously and menacingly dominate the bat, just as it did in the just concluded Champion's trophy. Australians didn't win the trophy and neither did the West Indies lose it. The victory was for bowlers everywhere. It is the bowling fraternity cutting across the party lines that deserved the kudos and the bravos and the congratulations here. The sight of the batsman coming way forward and hitting a good length delivery over the mid-wicket region by just throwing his bat across and connecting, the sights of a no-name tail-ender who tries to reverse sweep a fast bowler for a boundary and succeeding at that, the sights of a technically sound batsman abandoning his natural game of great flair and instead resorting to wild antics to please the cheering galleries – Champions trophy was a slap in the face of every such sight. The ball had the bounce, it produced the occasional zip, it curried favors even to the slower bowlers. Whenever the batsman seemed to be running away with the game, getting carried away by the blaze of his personal glory, the pitch stepped in and pulled them back, providing the much needed succour to the bowler, gifting him with a surprise bounce or an unexpected skid.

If it is the bowlers that worked for this applause on the field, there is one more category working behind the scenes that deserves special mention and sincere appreciation and that is the ground staff – the rollers, the preparers and the curators. They are often ignored when the batting bloodbaths happen, and they are unceremoniously blamed, when bowlers take an upper hand. For once, here, in the month-long proceedings, they cannot be blamed for the immaculate variety in the the pitches they offered, quite unusual for the standard subcontinental fares - hard, juicy, bouncy and above all, lively. Along with the bowlers, they are the ones that emerged the true champions.

And then, there are the Australians. The closest that anybody could come to having this kind of ruthless hegemony that Aussie cricket has, in sporting history, is the West Indies cricket during the early to the late seventies. A seemingly unending supply of pace batteries, batsmen, who seldom offer truce (leave alone, respect) even to a deserving opposition, and the fielding department that could produce blinders from the thin sky and which is capable of hitting the right from anywhere in the entire ground, without the benefit of the margins of error - the Australian unit is just an unstoppable juggernaut that is leagues ahead, in every aspect of the game, right from behind the scenes administration to on the field implementation, when compared to the rest of the "also ran" sides. Whenever an occasional blip occurs in their sporting graph, like a rare drubbing from an unsuspecting minnow (read, the memorable Bangladesh victory), the system automatically corrects itself, rectifying the anomaly and continuing on the path of progress, as though it never occurred in the first place. Going the current evaluation of all the other sides' strengths and weaknesses, it is highly unlikely that this Australian side is going to be threatened, with anything other than a facile one off victory once in a while, in years (if not, decades) to come. And anybody who gets to beat these one-day champions on any given day deserve to be called just day – one day champion, not more.

If only hopes, wishes, dreams, prayers and aspirations can double for runs, wickets, boundaries, catches and run-outs, Team India can become the de-facto champion of any tournament it takes part in, given the strength of the one billion number behind it. Until that wishful thinking can turn into a reality, here is to one more tournament of losses, early departures, disappointments, near misses and split milk. The unit has to become professional exclaimed an exasperated fan after yet another loss - well, the team is playing round the clock in any given calendar year, with no time for recuperation or regrouping, the contract system has been firmly put in place, assuring the wary lot worrying on the fringes and the sidelines that they would be taken care of no matter what, coaches of all kinds (bowling, fielding, physio, psycho etal) have been hired. Yet the results seem to be completely contrasting when it comes to serious tournaments involving all the major teams. There are 2 options here - 1. Acceptance, that the team is only average to above-average at best, and this is the best it could do in the best of circumstances. Train an ass in all the latest and greatest methodologies and techniques at the disposal of the humankind, and it still does things in its own asinine way. Accept the fact and move on. 2. Changing things - not the team, but the turf. And this does not involve professionalizing the team, hiring coaches and drawing up contracts. All it takes is hiring dispassionate curators, who cringe at the idea of chopping off the green in the middle, and exhibit the heartless ruthlessness of providing only bowler friendly conditions, even if it means fewer runs and shorter game time.

Unless the opposition dreads at the idea of peppering short deliveries to intimidate the batsmen, for the fear of being pulled into the stands for maximum runs, unless the opposition is forced on constant back foot, confounded with the kind of delivery to be bowled next, for the reason that the batsmen are quite equipped to handle all sorts of deliveries - and this can only happen if the grass is green on this side - the rest is all just dressing on the dinner plate. If the BCCI is indeed serious about the future and the prospect of the team, retaining the same ground staff that has worked for this trophy seems the only way out, for, they truly know how to spot champions.

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