Zimbabwe vs India, 1999 at Leicester © Getty Images

 

 

By  Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

 

Dear MS Dhoni,

 

You are no doubt aware of everything there is to be aware of before a World Cup. Nobody needs to give you any more spiel about expectations, history or legacy. You are obviously thinking a lot about the first game, the XI that will step out onto the field and the strategies you plan to employ.

 

You’re just 29 but you’ve already won a World Cup, an IPL, a Champions League and are yet to be defeated in a Test series. So you obviously know what it takes. Well, of course you do.

 

But as a fan of India’s cricket team down the years, I do have a few requests. These are by no means unreasonable, in fact you may find many of these funny, but you will do us fans a huge favour by keeping these in mind.

 

1. If you win a toss in an important game (yes, we know that’s a big if but just in case) and are even remotely thinking of saying ‘we’ll field’, take a deep breath and think again.

 

Twenty four years ago, Kapil Dev took that decision, hoping for some early swing at the Wankhede Stadium and spent the next few hours watching Graham Gooch sweep the bejeezus out of Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri (some of those Gooch shots were almost like tracer bullets pinging the fence).

 

Two World Cups later, Mohammad Azharuddin, either scarred from a Sanath Jayasuriya carnage in a group game in Delhi or lured by a few extra zeroes in his bank account, did the same. In Calcutta! The same Calcutta where Anil Kumble, 6 for 12 and all, had bamboozled West Indies in the Hero Cup Final a few years ago.

 

Sure, India got three wickets early but Aravinda de Silva walked in, then walked on water and the pitch, as if mortified at his genius, simply gave way. At one point in the run-chase, Murali had to be kept out of the attack because the ball was spinning so much. Both Sanjay Manjrekar and Ajay Jadeja were bowled around their legs. And then some Pepsi bottle hit Kambli and he cried. Or something like that.

 

And two more World Cups later, as if he had to uphold a glorious tradition, Sourav Ganguly did the same. He would say that he had to back his bowlers, given that they had done a sterling job until then, but that logic may hold water 99 out of a 100 times but not in a World Cup final, not when you’re up against one of the greatest sides in history.

 

2. Tell your No.10 and No.11 to remember that when you need 4 runs in 1 ball, the minimum they need to achieve is 3. Also tell the No.11 that there is no need to finish the second run and look quizzically at his partner, wondering whether this was a good time to negotiate for a third.

 

Our dear Venkatapathy Raju, Muscles they called him, did just that in the league game against Australia in Brisbane in 1992. Considering his size, the man could have flown that last run, like a feather through a gust of wind, but he gawked and considered and hesitated and introspected, as if he was bargaining for a pair of shoes in Bandra’s Linking Road, and ran himself out. India lost by one run.

 

3. I’m sure your openers are prepared for a team that opens the bowling with a spinner but just don’t bring up the topic when the chairman of selectors is around. One March morning in Dunedin in 1992, Krish Srikkanth, wriggling his nostrils while squinting at the sky, saw his irritation go out of control at the sight of Dipak Patel with the new ball. He waited two balls and appalled at Patel not only continuing his over but also grow in confidence, he decided to deposit him into the nearest sheep farm. He got only as far as long-on.

 

4. If one of your fast bowlers is getting larruped, tell him that the best way to solve the problem is by altering his line or his length. He could even try some change of pace. But please don’t tell him to try offspin. Manoj Prabhakar has been there against Sri Lanka in Delhi in 1996. Having no answer to a rampaging Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, he decided to achieve something which no other fast bowler in history had managed – he wrote his retirement speech, wrapped it around the white ball so that it would be a perfect camouflage and delivered it to the batsman as a feeble offbreak. It was dutifully tonked outside the ground (or at least it should have been)

 

5. If India need nine from two overs with three wickets in hand, with a recognised batsman at one end, please tell everyone concerned that it would be criminal to lose from there. In 1999, against Zimbabwe at Leicester, we had a taste of How-To-Extinguish-All-Hope-In-One-Over 101.

 

Robin Singh popped the second ball of Henry Olonga’s penultimate over to cover, Srinath had finished his ugly hoick by the time the ball was halfway down the pitch – so ugly were those Srinath hoicks that his head was facing the roof of the stadium at midwicket even as his stumps were being uprooted behind his backside. And Venky Prasad, good ol’ Venky, walked across the stumps, ensuring that both his pads were in line with the timber, and watched the ball strike his front leg. If ever there was a definition of plumb, this was it.

 

So dear, MS Dhoni. Hope you understand the trauma we’ve endured. Many of us still wake up in the death of the night and remember these matches. And we wish there had been a power failure when these gory events actually unfolded.

 

Which is why we genuinely hope you stay clear of these historical blunders.

 

Yours psychologically scarred,

 

Sidvee

 

(Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, popularly known as sidvee, blogs at http://sidveeblogs.wordpress.com)