Call a spade a spade !
The CHANGES , that CHANGED the game !
CHANGE- this simple word was the key to the master-lock for the Indian team; the master-lock that had been formed out of the numerous defeats in the last couple of years, which had not only locked our way to glory and success in the aftermath of the World Cup 2011 but also created an enigmatic question mark on the entire future of Indian cricket. And yet, the cricket fraternity of our nation was silently bearing all humiliation without a grunt! The same team got thrashed across almost every cricket playing continent, and our administrators kept dwelling on the laurels that the team had earned in the yesteryear on the greats who were still kind enough to allot their time to playing cricket for India and on the Indian Premier League, of course. The maze of failures only served to swerve our cricket fraternity from good sense, and India’s misery remained untrammeled by the various cosmetic changes that were being introduced every now and then, until some kind cricket fan looked up the dictionary and discovered the word CHANGE from within its inner sanctums. The acknowledgement of that simple word in Indian cricket metamorphosed it from top to toe- and such an episode is fondly reminiscent of the the late 20th century and early 21st century when Indian cricket saw a sea change in its entire paraphernalia with the introduction of a magical captain in the form of Sourav Ganguly. This time, though, the change had to come from somewhere else, for even among the devastating ruins the captain had stood tall and firm and that entirely eliminated the chances of a change at the very top of the team.
It was not easy to decipher the real bugs that were causing all the damage to Indian cricket- everything was apparently fine, though nothing worked out in reality. And it ultimately took a thrashing from England and Pakistan at home to reach the genesis of the myriad woes that had plagued us. There was something missing quite badly, something that had pulled Indian cricket out of ugly quagmires time and again- Yes, the ebullience, creativity and vitality of the youth was found wanting in Indian cricket. This youth was the prime factor behind India’s rise to fame time and again, be it early 21st century or the T20 World Cup 2007 or the World Cup 2011 and this had slowly been pushed into obscurity in the contemporary history of our team. A few jarring changes were made – the seniormost bowler was dropped from the Test squad and the erstwhile masterly opener thrown out with disdain from the same Test squad that once beckoned their presence for a fruitful completion. The signs were clear, the administrators were wringing out the ‘changes’ from the many folds inside Indian cricket. Rookies like Shami Ahmed, Bhuvaneswar Kumar and Ashok Dinda were thrown into the limeligth with startling alacrity and consistent domestic performers like Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan were called upon to answer the clarion call, in place of heavyweights like Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina. With Sehwag’s axe following his lacklustre outings in the first two Tests against Australia, the Indian team has now become an apostle of the ‘perform or perish’ theory. Such a blitzkrieg in Indian cricket beckons under-performing assets like Rohit Sharma to either renew their tenacity and fight to live another day or gracefully make way for talented benchwarmers like Manoj Tiwary. The effect of such changes has been exemplary- even though India lost the home series to Pakistan just after these changes were introduced, it immediately made up for all the cardinal sins of the past by beating the touring Englishmen in an ODI series early this year and have now taken an unassailable lead on the Australians who had drubbed us 4-0 on their turfs last year. After all this media hype about revenge to be exacted from England and Australia, wouldn’t it be nice if we do get some of such lofty claims materialising into a 4-0 series victory for India now?
The CAPTAIN, who defined and redefined himself !
This man has polarised opinions of seismic proportions in Indian cricket, ever since he made a swashbuckling entry into the annals of fame and glory with his unbeaten 183 against Sri Lanka in an ODI at home. However, he seemed to have run out of all ammunition in the recent past when he failed to weave his magic and save the team from the consistent run of failures at home and abroad. The exigencies were taking a huge toll on him and people were getting restless with the selectors continuing to persist with a charmless captain for the national team in all formats of the game. Suggestions kept pouring in, yet the skipper stoically chose to stay away from the cesspool of garbage that was being thrown at him. His phlegmatic outlook during such hardships seemed a tad too stretched, even to the point of being insensitive and careless, until he broke the jinx of failure with two mesmerizing knocks- one at Nagpur in the 4th Test against England in November and the other in the 1st ODI against Pakistan at Chennai in December last year. Both these innings were fragments of priceless diamonds shining bright from within a sea of mediocrity. The former ended mercilessly short of a much-deserved and eclectic ton when he was run out after scoring 99 majestic runs that saw India through the ordeals of the last Test in a series that had seen India hit staggering lows on friendly conditions. The latter innings brought the dialectics of Indian cricket focusing back on Dhoni once again- when the Indian team collapsed like nine pins at Chennai, against a Pakistani bowling line-up spewing venom with every ball, the captain churned out a piece of beauty – an exemplary knock of unbeaten 113 runs that reinstated the skipper’s position as a team leader once again. His indefatigable spirit slowly started gaining ground from that day and though India eventually lost both the match and the series, Dhoni’s sublime form rejuvenated the whole team. What many an observant eye has failed to notice is that the Indian revival is actually an earthquake which has its epicentre in the two aforesaid pieces of craftsmanship from the captain. The earthquake has shaken Indian cricket out of its slumber and forced us to make a critical reconnaissance of our cricket fraternity and one can only hope that the effects of this earthquake drive some hard lessons into the team for it to take on sterner challenges in the near and far future !
The ATTITUDE, TEAM SPIRIT and the MEDIA
Just as the team selection strategies and the captain’s vigor underwent massive changes recently, so did almost all the concomitant factors that were earlier impeding major progress for the Indian team. There was a typically media-made hype created in India before the Englishmen arrived here and eventually registered their first victory on Indian soil after 28 years. The media actually flaunted the series between India and England as some sort of a ‘revenge’ weapon that India would leverage successfully to rout the tourists and exact appropriate revenge for the humiliation that they had faced a year ago while touring England. The ultimate result of the series turned out to be a big let down to the build-up that it had been accorded with, and all the humiliation that India was supposed to heap on England got effortlessly boomeranged ! Why ? Because matches are not won on verbal duels in the media or elaborate presentations on paper, they are won by meticulous application of skills on the field and the Indian team had never bothered to understand that simply because of the garbage that had been cooked up by the media in the run-up to the major bilateral encounter. The generation of such garbage has thankfully stopped in the aftermath of India’s back-to-back home series losses to England in Tests and then to Pakistan in ODIs. Such a development has actually let the players concentrate a lot more on actual cricket than on the impression they wished to make in the viewers’ minds through farcical advertisements and brand promotions which were of no good use to Indian cricket. The captain’s morbid fascination for rank turners has degenerated, too, after he witnessed the carnage effected by the Frankenstein’s monster which he had himself created so painstakingly in the Tests against England- the rank turners at Kolkata and Mumbai. The successful elimination of all these niggling factors from the team’s framework has augmented the team spirit by leaps and bounds and given a major fillip to the on-field skills of many under-performing members of the team. India is a team of 11 players now, a couple of months back it was a grotesque amalgamation of 11 wayward entities who were otherwise endowed with phenomenal skills.
Things look rosy for the moment and the Indians are well poised to upset the Aussie challenge in the subcontinent yet again. But, that should not deter us from making elaborate preparations for all the predicaments of future. The currently out-of-favour personnel like Gambhir, Sehwag and Zaheer Khan should be made aware of the roles they are expected to play in the team, and then subsequently they should be strongly backed to perform out of their skins and reinstate themselves into the team, which is now a place for energetic youngsters and performing experienced campaigners like Sachin and Dhoni jostling for glory and fame by dint of good performance and dedication to the cause of the team. The new-found sensation in Ravinchandran Ashwin and the slow revival of the classy instincts of an inconsistent Murali Vijay beckon deeper introspection, so that their juices can flow for a long time to come. Even though pundits like Gavaskar have touted Dhoni to linger on till the 2019 World Cup, it looks realistically unfeasible. This entails an immediate start to the campaign to search for the next Indian skipper, and thus the probable options should suitably be groomed from now on. Virat Kohli looks set for the the top spot, and if some ghastly apocalypse does not upset his career in the near future he shall, in all probability, take over the reins of the team from the charismatic MSD. Lastly, the think-tank should be highly wary of the complacency factor. A few big wins at home should not satiate the team to such a level that it starts taking things easily when the time to tour the foreign lands comes knocking. The performance of this reformed team, overseas, shall be one of the vital determinants of India’s future and also the indicator of the necessary steps that need to be taken to bolster the team to an improved stratum ! The Indian team is currently envisaging a great team in the making, and wins abroad are going to be vital finishing touches for this team-in-the-making.