The unbearable duress of being an Indian fan
India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, center, walks back with teammates after winning in the Cricket World Cup final match between Sri Lanka and India in Mumbai, India, Saturday, April 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
The only problem with having a Midas touch is that you eventually lose it. And ironically it usually happens after one has tasted lofty and unimaginable heights.
Less than a year ago, it was all about Mahendra Singh Dhoni (MSD) – captain courageous, captain cool, greatest Indian captain ever… the sobriquets were endless. At the helm of the number one Test team and the side which won both the Twenty20 and One-Day International World Cups, MSD could do no wrong.
His calmness in tough situations was the stuff of legends and his man-management skills were much applauded. In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. There is usually just one way from the summit – down!
Over the past 10 months – since the World Cup victory – MSD has had the ignominy of leading India in two consecutive overseas whitewashes, a feat that remains unprecedented in Indian Test history.
He floundered repeatedly throughout the Test series with the bat, and his team selection always left a lot to be desired. Meanwhile, his on-field calmness actually became a misnomer for what should actually be called inertia. Instead of owning up that there was a serious problem with the way the team was playing, he chose a mid-series press conference to explain his plans for the future, his preparations for the next World Cup, and how it would probably be prudent give up Tests post-2013.
MSD probably forgot that a place in the Indian team, let alone the captaincy, was not a legacy that had been acquired by way of inheritance. MSD also forgot that he, unlike Ratan Tata, had no business doing succession planning when he was proving to be incompetent with the bat and his team was getting walloped.
The one-day series was expected to be a lot better, and so it seemed at the start. After four games each, India were on top of the table, looking ahead to a spot in the final. After the next two games, the scenario had been reversed.
India are now at the bottom of the table, and to make matters worse the team is in disarray.
In hindsight now, the losses seem comprehensive and the victories marginal. In both the tied game versus Sri Lanka and the victory against Australia the hand of fortune was unmistakable (recall how both games featured over-waist-high no-balls, which fetched crucial runs in the closing stages).
As in the Test matches, MSD’s tactics have been baffling in the ODIs as well. His selection of the bowling unit has been inexplicable – his insistence on picking Jadeja and Vinay Kumar, while resting proven performers like Zaheer and Praveen Kumar is difficult to fathom.
On the batting front, he should have known that by following the rotation policy he was opening a Pandora’s box. It was natural for the seniors to resent the rotation and while MSD claimed it was done with an eye on the future, when the tide turned against him he went for the ill-advised path of publicly mocking their fielding abilities.
For the second time on this tour – and both times when his team was precipitously placed – our once media-savvy captain chose to court controversy over accepting blame.
The task ahead in the series is an arduous one and it will take a lot of pluck from MSD to lead this disunited team out from this quagmire. Irrespective of what happens in the remaining games of this tri-series, my expectations for the medium-term future of this team are bleak.
My reasons for believing this are:
- We have a captain who is losing both his touch and his command over the team.
- We have a coach who, in the last ten months of his appointment, has not done anything to address the continuously-falling performance of the team.
- The chief challenger to the captain, Virender Sehwag, has done absolutely nothing in the last year to justify his place in the side, let alone be made captain; not even his double-century against the hapless West Indies attack should permit him to keep his spot.
- Sachin Tendulkar continues to treat the Indian team as if it is a branch of his personal restaurant chain. Some times he chooses to dine, sometimes he doesn’t. Following the World Cup win he chose to play the Indian Premier League (IPL), yet not take part in the Caribbean tour. He again chose to sit out of the one-day series against WI but chose to play it in Australia. I doubt any other player in the game, however great, has been given the privilege of choosing his matches. If Tendulkar wants to limit the amount of cricket he is playing, then why not retire from the format he does not prefer? His mental block over the 100th ton (a stupid feat created by the media) has cost the team dear.
- The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) allows Tendulkar to get away with doing anything he likes. Consequently they can’t say anything when MSD – who is the captain – chooses to play IPL only to take a rest on the Caribbean tour. This looks particularly bad when compared to the Australian captain Michael Clarke, who made a conscious call not to play IPL so that he could improve himself as a Test cricketer.
- The BCCI has no consistent strategy for Indian cricket or how it should balance the three formats. All it cares for is the moolah the IPL/Champions League will generate.
The selection committee has no vision for the future; they pick Dravid for the England ODIs and refuse to give young batsmen a chance when the seniors are failing in the test series. However, they seem to approve of a rotation policy for the seniors in the ODIs when the youngsters are failing.
- The young batsmen (with the exception of Kohli, who also has temperament issues) have shown no inclination to grab the chances that they’ve been given. They are too rich, too spoilt and too lazy (courtesy of the bounties of the IPL) to have any stomach for a fight with the big boys.
India will still win some games, and some victories will no doubt spread cheer amidst the gloom and doom that has become Indian cricket. But if we are to become the team that we want to, the Indian cricket fan will have to wake up. The empty stadiums for home games are a sign. Polls asking whether Tendulkar should retire from ODIs is a sign. The falling television ratings of the IPL are a sign.
As Indian supporters, we are the ones who gave the team an easy route to stardom. Now we must be the agents of catharsis. So come this IPL season, let’s choose the sitcoms and the movies over the cricket. Let’s send a message to the players and the BCCI that the true Indian cricket fan shall not be taken for a ride.
It takes a lot of effort for a fan to follow a match. Let’s force the other stakeholders to reciprocate!