TELFORD VICE, Mumbai
THE crisis of confidence cricket is suffering in India was writ large on the front page of the Times of India on Friday when Kapil Dev dared to have a go at Sachin Tendulkar.
Yes, that Kapil Dev. Yes, that Sachin Tendulkar. Neither plays for India anymore, but they remain powerful reminders of what Indian cricket strove to become and then – for a time too short to satisfy many here – became.
It is SA’s good fortune to be in the right place at the right time to make the most of signs of disunity on the Indian side of the fence.
They have already won the one-day and Twenty20 series. Can anything stop them from sweeping India by claiming the test rubber, which starts in Mohali on Thursday?
Of course, but squabbles like this won’t help India prevent that from happening.
The Times story, which originally appeared in the Khaleej Times, quoted Kapil as saying Tendulkar “did not know how to make double hundreds, triple hundreds and 400, although he had the ability to scale such peaks”.
Tendulkar “didn’t do justice to his talent – I always thought he could have done much more than what he did”. He “should have spent more time with Vivian Richards than some of the Bombay guys who played just neat and straight cricket”.
Had Kapil had more involvement with Tendulkar, he said, he would have “told him, ‘go enjoy yourself – play like Virender Sehwag; you will be a much better cricketer”.
Before Tendulkar’s retirement not quite two years ago, such heresy would not have been spoken in India. That it has been is an indication of how concerned Indians are about their relationship with a game they thought loved them as much as they love it.
Kapil became a giant of that game in an era when India were treated and behaved like the North Korea of cricket – a sealed world within the world. He was also a star, which is not the same thing as a giant, and enjoyed the trappings of both.
Tendulkar played 200 tests and Kapil 131, and their careers overlapped for 32 of those matches as the latter’s comet faded and the former’s cleared itself for take-off.
Kapil was a vision of what Indian cricket could be, but Tendulkar was central to fulfilling that dream and helping it last from November 2009 to August 2011 – 21 months when India were the top ranked team.
Those days are gone and India have awoken to masala tea gone cold. The milk in that tea will curdle if SA win the test series.
The visitors will have to overcome an Indian team who are being urged by anyone with an opinion to return to their North Korean tendencies.
SA should expect the driest pitches and to have semi-serious discussions over how many seamers India will pick: any?
Although the visitors have come a long way against spin, making a success of facing an almost ceaseless ooze of the slow stuff would remain a challenge for them.
But in their five weeks in India they have acquired and built something that goes beyond the skill and temperament needed to face whatever style of bowling or to wonder whether the views of a former player about another could have an impact on the current lot.
What is this thing? It’s a C-word: confidence. SA have found a reliable supply of it. Kapil had it as, when Tendulkar played, did India.