Sunday January 29, 2012
Lions at home, off-pitch away
By Coomi Kapoor
Indian cricket on the international stage seems to be in the grip of a downward spiral, and the fans are not amused.
LIONS at home, lambs abroad. That very neatly sums up the story of the Indian cricket team. After the morale-boosting triumph in the ICC World Cup in Mumbai early last year, Indian cricket has been in the grip of a downward spiral.
Its uneven performance, especially a humiliating loss in away matches to not-so-fancied English and Australian teams, has led to urgent cries for a complete revamp of the entire cricketing establishment.
Currently touring Australia, the Indian team has already been pummelled badly, having lost three straight Tests. At the time of writing, it was set to lose the fourth and last Test as well.
Saurav Ganguly, India’s former captain, reflected the mood of gloom and doom among millions of cricket fans when he said the other day that the national team “cannot win abroad”.
Earlier, the much ballyhooed Indian team had suffered a complete wash-out in England, losing all four Test matches. It was by all accounts one of the most humiliating performances by the Indians.
Surprisingly, a few months later when the English visited India, they lost the One Day International (ODI) series to the hosts.
Last month on the eve of their departure for Australia to play a four-match Test series and two ODIs, the usual cricket pundits enthused that this was the best chance for “India to beat Australia in Australia”.
In the end, these pundits were terribly let down by M. S. Dhoni’s boys, who repeated the disgraceful show they had put up earlier in England.
Given that the Indian squad was dominated by time-tested veterans like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, etc., while both the English and Australians were in the process of transition and rebuilding, it was argued that the Indians would do well against both these cricketing nations. However, the greatest setback was that the ageing seniors in the team failed to perform.
Therefore, the question of whether the time had come to drop the seniors and inject fresh blood has gained urgency. Tendulkar might well be a great batsman, but if the entire nation has to wait indefinitely with bated breath for him to score his hundredth century even as he keeps getting out cheaply, will it be fair to persist with him in the national squad?
While it is for the players to decide their own retirement plan, the selectors of the Indian team, it is argued, should be under no compulsion to pick them for national duty if both form and physical fitness have deserted them.
On that count, another player who deserves the axe from the national squad is Laxman. He has nothing to show on the on-going tour of Australia.
It is remarkable that despite their legendary reputations, managers of the English and European football teams routinely bench players when they fail to perform well. However, the way the Indian cricket is organised, vested interests distort what should be an a priori selection process, resulting in the inclusion of players well past their sell-by dates.
Curiously, some players have blamed the fast-paced pitches usually found in England and Australia for their poor performance.
After the pasting in the on-going Australian series, ace-opening batsman Gautam Gambhir was quoted in the media as saying that India should prepare “out-and- out turning pitches” when the foreign teams come to play here. The sentiment reflects the current defeatist mindset of the entire national squad.
Another factor widely cited for the poor performance of the national team is the Indian Premier League (IPL). It is argued that the shortest form of the game has injected too much money into the game and made the players disinterested in giving their best while doing national duty.
For sure, the IPL has over-crowded the annual cricket calendar of the star players who usually select themselves for the national team.
M. S. Dhoni, the Indian captain, has often blamed “too much cricket” for their side’s poor performance in international competition, though that may not be the sole cause for their complete wash-out in England and Australia.
Of course, there was no question of any player wishing the end of the big money-spinner IPL.
It has enriched star players beyond their wildest dreams, paying them millions of dollars (IPL players’ fees are denominated in US dollars) for five weeks of what critics call “a degraded form of pajama cricket” completely lacking in any form of skills and aesthetics.
The Board for Control of Cricket in India is under pressure to ensure that the IPL does not in any way clash with the national priorities of Team India.
Senior players who are still keen to don the national colours may have to be rested while the fifth edition of the IPL gets underway in April-May.