“A bad Board lets a good side down.” “RIP. World’s No.1 Test Team.” “India surrender No. 1 Test Spot.” “Humiliation is complete, No.1 crown lost.”
The headlines in the DNA, Times Of India, Hindustan Times and Indian Express read as above on an Independence Sunday, for the Indian cricket fan to absorb fully a dismal, abrupt, abject end to the Indian team’s pretensions to greatness.
The knives are out, reams of analysis will be printed, experts will make a million suggestions and scapegoats will be discovered and punished over the coming weeks and months.
Should the surrender be total, and it is certainly more than a mere possibility despite MS Dhoni’s brave words at the post-match conference, the stewardship of the Indian cricket team would be on the line.
Saurav Ganguly remarked that no captain can keep winning all the time; sometimes he has to taste defeat and it would make Dhoni a better leader.
He is correct but to a point. If the lessons from this English summer sojourn are consigned to the dustbin of history (once the team returns to its winning ways), it will be an opportunity lost again.
There are calls for a change in the batting personnel; young talent should be blooded – no doubt, and soon – but let us not throw the baby out with the bath water.
As Dhoni rightly pointed out, this is the same Indian batting line-up that served the team well in the past 18 months. Rahul Dravid, one of the veterans, is so far the man of the series for Team India.
The difference being that their opponents were able to call up several men of the series: Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Alastair Cook, Jimmy Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Eoin Morgan.
Dhoni claimed that this Indian side performed at 60-65 percent of their potential. He is spot on. This Indian team was a caricature of their former selves.
Coming back to MS Dhoni, will he or can he continue as Indian skipper? The man has immense faith in his leadership abilities. This is his first taste of defeat. It is a bitter pill to swallow. Has he lost his Midas touch?
Make no mistake, there will be more such losses down the road.
Will the Indian selectors let him stay on? They are not renowned to be forgiving of wretched capitulation, never mind their own role in the current misadventure.
The answer, my friends, is blowing in the Kennington Oval wind. Can Team India negotiate a small corner there?
The English have stated their intention of annexing the ODI world champions tag as well. Is there any doubt that they will come hard at their already demoralised opponents in the upcoming series?
A tale of three captains
MS Dhoni can skip back through the pages of history to draw inspiration from three skippers who turned their sides into world-beaters.
The first of those is Clive Lloyd.The bespectacled leader was skipper in 1975-76 when West Indies toured Australia only to be humbled 5-1. That hurt the gentle giant, no end.
The pain of that defeat led him to turn the Windies into a formidable outfit that rode roughshod over all contenders over the next decade and a half.
He instilled steel and pride in his men, pulverising batting sides with a four-pronged pace attack led by men like Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts and Colin Croft.
Some would argue that he had awesome talent at his disposal: Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Larry Gomes, Alvin Kalicharan and himself.
But then so did Dhoni, in this series.
Another skipper that Dhoni could learn from is Allan Border. Border took over from Kim Hughes when Australian cricket hit its nadir in 1984-85.
Border was not an overnight success. His team struggled over the next three years.
The World Cup victory in India in 1987 was the turning point. Allan Border, with vital input from Bobby Simpson, transformed his men into world-beaters. Players such as Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor blossomed under his tutelage. They later went on to lead the kangaroos to greater glory.
Closer home, Saurav Ganguly is an exemplar. He sowed the seeds of India’s (now ended) reign as No.1. When Ganguly took over from Sachin Tendulkar, his ascension to the throne was greeted with derision and shock.
Ganguly proved to be an astute leader; he is best remembered for the 2-1 series win over the then-mighty Australia at home in 2001 and the series draw against them in their own backyard in 2004.
The younger core of the current Indian cricket team owe their places in the side in the faith placed in their abilities by Ganguly.
The road ahead will not be easy. MS Dhoni has his work cut out.
There is a gaping void to be filled once the stalwarts – Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman – retire.
The phase of rebuilding should begin in earnest. That was the mandate given to Duncan Fletcher when he was brought in as Gary Kirsten’s successor – to mould young potential into seasoned campaigners.
Can the Dhoni-Fletcher partnership emulate Border and Simpson?
Change is the only constant. If you don’t move with the times, the times will move you.
England could very well sustain their No.1 status in the coming months. It is even possible that they could enter the pantheon of great sides. More about that later.
Can Team India afford to be left behind, on the altar of sentimentality?
Yes, maudlin nostalgia contributed to the defeat of this Indian outfit. An unfit Zaheer Khan, a patently out-of-touch Virender Sehwag, an under-confident Harbhajan Singh were all selected on the basis of past exploits. Their performances were not subjected to due scrutiny.
Sunil Gavaskar labelled this team “schoolboys”. The professionalism and bloody-mindedness exhibited during the World Cup was a thing of the past. The players lapsed into old habits. Bulging midriffs were par for the course.
One got the impression that the English tour was a joke, the players going through the motions, a long holiday after the exertions of the World Cup, the IPL and the Caribbean.
The BCCI is not solely to blame. If Ricky Ponting, Michael Clark and Tillekaratne Dilshan can get their priorities right and put Test cricket above anything else, why can’t our Indian cricketers do the same?
Is it any surprise that the men who have contributed most with the bat, Rahul Dravid and (to a lesser extent) VVS Laxman, are Test-match specialists?
If the selectors believe in a horses-for-courses policy as evinced by their choice of Rahul Dravid for the ODI series, can someone counsel them and ask them to choose one with a valid premise?
Test players can transition to ODI cricket and sometimes T20. But to expect flat track bullies to soar to Olympian heights in trying Test cricket conditions is stretching things a mite too far.
Much has been made about England’s superiority in the ongoing series. Former English cricketers believe that this is the best English side in recent times, that they could go on to dominate this decade much like the West Indians of the 80s and the Australians of the 90s.
One swallow does not a summer make.
Yes, they are a very good side. Yes, they rolled over Australia in Australia.
But great? Not yet.
This is the same English side that struggled to put it across Sri Lanka in the recently concluded series. Except for one hour of madness on the last day of the first Test, the Lankans proved to be an adequate match for the hosts.
Their bating did not falter as often and put up 300+ scores in each Test. The Indians simply failed to match up in that department. The Lankans’ bowling line-up can be adjudged weaker than the Indians’.
The islanders were better prepared. They had two warm-up games unlike the solitary one the Indians had. They won both games. How could Indian fans be surprised at the team’s performance? Their form was brutally exposed in the warm-up game.
Sri Lanka are currently No.4 in the Test rankings. Does this imply that India, as a Test side, are deserving of the fifth spot or lower? Food for thought.
If there is one lesson to be learnt from this tour, it is the following. It does not matter how many runs you have scored in your career, how many centuries you have under your belt; if you are not adequately primed, you will be shown up by better preparation and planning.
Reputation counts for nothing. On the field, it’s performance that makes or breaks the side.
Reports in the press indicate that a pall of gloom has descended on the Indian dressing room. The youngsters are shell-shocked. Team India has been down this route before. The first round exit in the 2007 World Cup springs easily to mind.
Victories have to be savoured, no doubt. But the pain of defeat has to be remembered and recalled and used to spur the team on and guard against complacency.
Success is a treadmill; you have to keep running to stay in the same spot.
Quote of the day: When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. – Hunter S. Thompson