R.I.P India! Let the postmortem begin
Yet another eventful bilateral series has entrenched itself in the lexicon of Indian cricket. India have now successfully registered their first series defeat on home soil since 2004; they have now given a hitherto famished English side enough leeway to bask in the glory of the success that they have managed to achieve after 28 years of tumultuous warfare on Indian soil – England have now registered their fourth Test series victory in India , the third having come way back in 1984 when the English centurions in NagpurTest (Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott) were hardly three years old! Though a handful of overly zealous Indian cricket followers have expressed ‘unfathomable grief and anxiety‘ after the conclusion of the 4-match Test series, the result comes about as no surprise for people like me. And, the result hasn’t even surprised former captains like Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, who sat in the commentary boxes throughout the series, using aphorisms and euphemisms of all kinds to describe the bottomless abyss that Indian cricket has currently plunged into!
Are we really ignorant about the causes of such humiliation at the hands of foreigners who had been greeted with ribaldry about their inability to play spin bowling ‘properly’, every time they came to the subcontinent? This time though, they not only played spin bowling well, they also taught us how to bowl spin well. The touring Englishmen have well nigh ‘murdered‘ Indian cricket, and that too without any formidable resistance from the hapless victim. However, cricket crazy fans like me, though deeply aggrieved and crestfallen after being witness to such a historical massacre, find more solace in performing a postmortem of the corpse rather than hoping for the corpse to rise like a phoenix from its ashes, in the home series against the redoubtable and resurgent Aussies just a couple of months later! Let’s scrutinise the postmortem report fastidiously and with great care:-
(1) Fascination for rank-turners: Of late, the illustrious and over-worked captain of the Indian national team has been thoroughly immersed in convincing pitch curators of the need to prepare rank turners for Test matches at home. The baffling reasons that are forwarded to support this demand are -
(A) Rank turners shall act as ideal lessons for the touring team who resort to ‘bouncy’ and ‘green’ pitches when India undertakes a tour.
(B) Rank tuners shall successfully showcase the huge pool of talented spinners that India has, and accordingly let India go into home test matches with enhanced strength!
The Indian subcontinental pitches have been historically famous for producing fascinating Test matches whose results have been primarily determined by the ability of spinners in respective sides. This, however, was never been a reason when it came to producing outstanding fast bowlers of the calibre of Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan in the Indian side and their ilk in other Asian sides like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Chaminda Vaas, who could bowl on those same ‘spinning’ wickets and end up taking truckloads of wickets every year. The recently concluded series against England has clearly revealed the paucity of spinning talent in the Indian side!
Spinners do get help and get nurtured when provided with amicable conditions that suit them. But that is not the single biggest reason behind the array of talented spinning wizards that India has produced in the past. The likes of Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Erapalli Prasanna and Bishen Singh Bedi rose to towering echelons of fame not just by playing on rank turners; they flourished because of a subtle and masterly combination of their innate talents and relentless hard work. It was Harbhajan Singh who had taken a 7 wkt haul in the 2nd innings at Cape Town, when Indian played the last Test match of the 2010 tour to South Africa; it was Anil Kumble who was instrumental in maneuvering past tough conditions and helping India win abroad on a number of occasions in the last decade; Bishy and Prasanna need no mention of the skills they employed to fortify the bowling attack of the Indian team in hostile conditions.
Have we forgotten the rich legacy that these ‘spinners’ have left behind? Are our spinners today only meant for bowling ‘crafty variations’ in T20s? Where is the heritage and where is the combination of talent and hard work in the Indian spinners today? The English side was never considered good enough to posses quality resources in the spin bowling department; but they have turned such baseless expectations on their heads this time- Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann bowled and prospered miraculously under the same conditions which our Indian spinners found ‘hostile’ and ‘unhelpful’! That is ample evidence to show for the thoughtlessness that is deeply embossed in our captain’s mind- the captain who takes more care to implore the curator and prepare a rank-tuner and ‘help’ his fledgling spinners than take the pains of grooming a few talented spinners who can bravely face the ordeals on any pitch in the world and strive to produce positive results for the team!
(2) Can anybody bowl ‘fast’ in this land of billions?: So deep is the romance between spin and Indian cricket at present, that we have become blissfully oblivious to the fast depleting ‘non-renewable resource’ of fast bowlers in this country! Dhoni might once have thought of completely doing away with this compulsory quota of fast bowlers in the team when he played 3 spinners and a lonesome Zaheer on a turning Wankhede wicket, the strategy that ultimately culminated in a defeat for India and provided England with the first drop of blood in India after a painfully long time. I shudder to think of the kind of lesson that a prospective fast bowler in his teens shall derive from this attitude of the Indian captain; and the day is not far when fast bowling becomes extinct from Indian cricket, given the national captain’s hysterical obsession to play on rank turners in India.
With its power and clout, the BCCI may even go as far as to suggest the kind of pitches that India shall play on in the foreign lands. Attrition of talent is proceeding at an alarming rate in the fast bowling department of this country. Fast bowlers grow up either to get benched forever (the glowing example being that of Ashok Dinda) or to get injured repeatedly and continue sailing on their past laurels (like Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth). Such a farce at the national level can only help legends like Kapil Dev laugh at themselves! Such untrammeled disrespectful treatment meted out to the fast bowling fraternity of the country shall only result in embellishing our future with more whitewashes in the ‘tough’ foreign conditions, only for the humiliated cricket fans to later press for ‘revenge’ at being greeted with ‘bouncy’ and ‘spin-less’ pitches abroad!
(3) Batsmen still think that India is the NO.1 team in Tests: To sound as less pontifical as possible, I ought to say that the Indian batsmen have forgotten how to ‘fight’ in Test cricket. Sparing the doting Sachin, whose retirement is round the corner, the others have never really shown resilience and character in the last couple of years. The woeful run of form of the openers- Sehwag and Gambhir- has only incremented the haplessness of this team. Plain statistics can successfully reveal the strong connection between the success of the Indian team and the performances of the openers! Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are still fledgling replacements for the big boots of Dravid and Laxman and they require a considerable amount of time at home and abroad before they can become reliable forces in the Indian batting line-up. The selection of an unfit and doting Yuvraj Singh, with a not-so-impeccable Test career, for the No.6 spot did sound weird and ultimately ended up yielding ‘nothing’ useful, neither for the team nor for Yuvraj. Dhoni’s insouciance with his batting in Tests has continued in total disregard of the condition that his team is now into. Except his last innings of 99 at Nagpur, the skipper never showed any determination or mettle with the bat in the Tests. Naturally, in absence of batsmen who can graft an innings in Test cricket, it comes about as no surprise that the Indian team has rarely scored more than 400 in the last two years.
(4) The captain, the team, and the SPIRIT – India is a team that is still bent upon toiling with the illustrious Dhoni as the captain in all formats of the game. Except his vocal presence behind the stumps at Nagpur, Dhoni’s concern for the team in the rest of the series was rarely extended beyond appearing for the toss on behalf of the team or lodging a complaint with the BCCI, expressing dissatisfaction at ‘Gambhir’s alleged selfish behaviour that was hurting the team’. Somebody in the BCCI would have done Indian cricket a whole lot of good by asking the captain, at that point of time, about the benefits that ‘his’ ‘altruism’ and ‘sagacity’ are yielding for the team! The team morale is fractured, and the spirit to win under tough conditions has vanished into obscurity. Such a mentally devastated team can hardly be expected to win important test matches, leave alone taking revenge for humiliation heaped upon them abroad!
Success shall elude us till our captain tries to play every format of the game with equal nonchalance. Don’t we understand that curators can’t win Test matches for us but a dedicated team of 11 playing with hunger and pride CAN ? Such a team can win OFTEN, and win CONSISTENTLY and with PRIDE, both at HOME and ABROAD!