Can India do a Samba act?
NR Vijay Anand - 18 July 2002
Just a week after the scintillating finals of the football World Cup, sports-lovers were treated to some exhilarating displays of brilliance and - more importantly - great team efforts by the Indian cricket team in England. Being in the US, though, I was unfortunately only able to catch the excitement through match reports and repeated usage of the Refresh button to view the latest scores on the live card.
Thinking back to the build-up before the football World Cup, some comparisons made themselves obvious, and although it may be taking similarities a tad too far, I find many common points between the recently victorious Brazilian team and the Indian cricket team - whom I'm backing to win the World Cup next year.
The first similarity lies in the setup of the team? The Indian team has always been regarded as a collection of individually brilliant stars, just like the Brazilians. If batting in cricket were to be considered akin to offence in football, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly could be compared to the three famous Rs in the Brazilian offence. Sehwag's batting can sometimes be as sublime as Ronaldinho's amazing runs, and Ganguly's down-the-track-and-over-the-top shots are as effective as the left-footed missiles from Rivaldo.
But can Tendulkar do a Ronaldo act when it matters most? I think it is time for the little master to answer his critics by turning in more match-winning performances. And what better stage could Tendulkar choose other than the World Cup? The Indian one-day teamís batting strength is as strong as it has been at any point in its cricketing history, just as the Brazilian offence was in the World Cup. Even in bench strength, India could match the Brazilians man for man; VVS Laxman can on his day be as brilliant as the gifted Denilson, while Dinesh Mongia can match Juninho for power and talent.
Before the World Cup, most analysts regarded the Brazilian defence to be the poorest in recent memory, accusations similar to those hurled at the Indian bowling. But the performances of Cafu, Carlos, Edmilson and Lucio when it mattered most won the day for Brazil. If the seam attack of Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan and a much-improved Ajit Agarkar, along with a spin attack comprising Anil Kumble or Harbhajan Singh, can match the Brazilian defence's doggedness, India are capable of going on to clinch the World Cup in style.
I may be dreaming, or even out of my mind, but this comparison must surely merit attention. At least in the batting department, India have a very balanced side, with the left-right batting combination possibly continuing right until the last pair. In bowling too we have two left-armers matching a right-arm seamer and a right-arm spinner.
These aspects apart, the team appears to have been injected with fresh optimism and enthusiasm courtesy the newly included youngsters. And finally, just as much as the Brazilians love their football, India's passion for cricket is at par - if not much higher. It is to be hoped that the Indian millions will rejoice on March 23 just like the Brazilians did on July 1.