Indian cricket needs to stop living in denial
The thing with any team in any team sport is that there comes a time when the greats/legends/old horses leave or retire and then the team needs to re-build and find the next generation of superstars. This so-called transition period is a natural and expected one, and everyone associated with the team acknowledges and understands that. A period of lull in terms of wins or trophies is only considered a part and parcel of this transitory phase. The Indian Cricket Team is sadly going through this very phase, but everyone from the current players to the coaches to the selectors to the “passionate” fans are just living in denial.
Why else are the conditions and other such external factors being blamed for India’s losses over the past year and a half ? No one wants to accept that we frankly don’t have a strong and settled side to compete against the big 3 (South Africa, England and Australia) and are in the midst of a natural (from a sporting perspective) phenomenon called the transitional period- something England, South Africa and Australia also went through in the recent past. The Kangaroos have only just started climbing their way back up and with Ponting’s recent retirement, they still have some way to go before re-claiming their unchallenged supremacy of the past. England too have gone through a complete change in the way their cricket is directed, by having separate coaches and captains and squads for the different formats of the game. A policy that is now beginning to pay its dividends.
So yes, hapless losses away from home and now the loss at home in Tests to England are definitely a low point in Indian cricket; but it’s a point that is reached at the end of any era only because it’s heading towards a new beginning. And that is what needs to be duly accepted and worked upon instead of blaming the dew, or batting 2nd, or losing the toss, or rain or a bad pitch. The excuses need to stop and an acceptance of the reality and the will to find long-term solutions need to prevail. Because if on the same pitches and under the same condition, the opposition can pile up runs and take wickets Test match after Test match and series after series, then it definitely indicates lack of energy and fitness or the case of dwindling of skills with age or the players not giving it their best to prepare for tours, or the regression of fast bowlers and the spinners just not being effective enough, or all of the above.
It almost feels as if the Indian team is living in this bubble where it has started believing its own excuses. England are no doubt a good team but not a great one yet and they themselves came into this series at the back of a loss at home to South Africa. Yet they came and decisively and convincingly beat India at their own game, which only shows how poor the Indian team has become and how the bubble needs to burst now. The decline of the Indian Test team was an expected one after stalwarts like Kumble, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly retired but the process has been aggravated by denial of the fact that the team is not as good as before and the re-building phase will be a long one. The likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were always going to be difficult to replace, and the time has now come for India to seriously look beyond Sachin Tendulkar too. But with the likes of Virat Kohli and Pujara, the feeling is that the batting may still not suffer that much. The most worrying sign though is the absolute lack of any quality bowlers coming through the ranks. It’s worse in the case of spinners as we are yet to really produce a proven world-class spinner since Harbhajan Singh, and he too has been low on confidence, plagued by injuries and made the scapegoat instead of being given regular playing time.
This crisis can be an opportunity for a better future, but only if Indian cricket recognises it as one and not continue on its ignorant path of denial. In the absence of a better alternative, Dhoni could still lead India in Tests and ODIs in the near future. But simultaneously and with immediate effect, Kohli needs to be given the reigns of the T20 squad thereby taking a step towards the future, as with leading in T20s, Virat will find his feet as a Captain and be ready to take up the mantle at the Test and ODI level as well. The Indian squad for the next Test series needs to be picked by keeping in mind not the next series but the next season as well. This probably sounds cliched, but despite it having become a cliche, it still remains to be implemented.
Considering the media and the Board, the question on Tendulkar’s selection is bound to be the centre of attention, but frankly the time has now come where the answer to that question cannot just be left to him. To put things in perspective, consider this example of the legendary Spanish striker Raul Gonzalez.
After having made his debut for the senior Real Madrid side at the age of 17 in 1994, he went on to represent the Spanish giants for the next 16 years. In his tenure at the club, he made a total of 740+ appearances and scoring a staggering 323 goals for Real Madrid. He won every possible club competition including the Spanish league titles, Champions league titles, Spanish Super Cups, UEFA Super Cup, Intercontinental Cups. He is also till date the leading goal-scorer in Champions League history. Such was his magnanimity at the club that he was nicknamed “Mr. Madrid” and at times the fans referred to the club as “Raul Madrid”. Yet, in 2010, at the age of 33, with the younger and faster attacking players competing for a starting place, he selflessly left the club as he knew he was no longer the best option for the club’s attacking options and as he wouldn’t fit into the new scheme of things. Indians and the Indian team will always have highest level of gratitude for Sachin Tendulkar, but the time has now come to look at the bigger picture of Indian cricket as a whole. Yes, he has been an absolute legend, but even legends need to become statues eventually.
The Indian team have suffered a dramatic free-fall and the next step of re-building may well be slow and unpleasant. It would need high levels of commitment, grit and patience from everyone associated with the game, but it’s something that absolutely needs to be done or else the future of the Indian Cricket will plunge into darkness.