So, the great Indian cricket team is back after getting beaten black and blue in the Asia Cup. Another overseas drubbing only contradicts the belief that the Indian players have become good travellers, a theory that surfaced in the wake of a string of series wins under Ganguly and Dravid.
It is not as if Indian cricket is going through a cyclical phase where defeats follow victories. Rather, there seems to be a deeper malaise that has more to do with discipline than talent.
Gavaskar publicly questioned the team’s work ethic, notably the inexplicable “optional practice” that strikes a jarring note when the players are struggling and the side is going through a difficult period.
I doubt the Indian team would have fared any better even if Dhoni were to be playing. With all the recent globe-trotting, the team in the Asia Cup was clearly running on a near-empty tank, but I would fault the team management for its failure to give opportunities to those on the bench even if it was just to give the “regulars” a break.
Even against Afghanistan in the inconsequential final game, the Indians were reluctant to try out the reserve players who I am sure were itching for a bit of action.
It augurs well that captaincy has not weighed down Kohli who has all the potential to develop into a top class skipper, though he still has ways to go. I would say that it was good fortune he tasted defeat at the outset of his captaincy innings, for I always believed that you learn more from adversity rather than success. A few knocks early in the innings would do no harm to Kohli who in fact will emerge a better player from these experiences.
In the Asia Cup, it was not just the batsmen or the bowlers or the fielders who failed to deliver, but it was a collective failure. The fielding, in particular, was abysmal while the batting in general fell short of expectations and the bowlers struggled as usual against quality opposition, like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Amidst all these ruins and while the players are rightfully getting a bit of stick, one wonders about coach Fletcher who is all but invisible. Since he took charge of the team, the fortunes have been going south and by the look of it, there is no end in sight.
Clearly, the coach has been unable to turn things around for the team and one can only speculate at this point in time whether Fletcher has been assertive at all in handling the team.
With the T20 World Cup just around the corner and requiring another trip to Bangladesh barely a fortnight from now, the Indians would be hoping that the performance would be better. Dhoni will be back at the helm after opting out of Asia Cup and perhaps fresh in mind and body.
To say the least, he will be under closer scrutiny than before especially because the lack of success overseas during his captaincy. The World Cup, being played in the sub-continent as it is, presents a wonderful opportunity for him to get back to winning ways.
It is debatable whether India, like Australia, will bounce back. If anything, the Aussies under Clarke have displayed rare character to clinch two back-to-back Test series against England and South Africa on sheer high-class performance. While Johnson has been terrorizing the batsmen with his pace and aggression, his Aussie team-mates have chipped in well with both bat and ball.
The Aussie victories have by no means narrow or unconvincing. Rather, their success has been a reflection of their dominance besides quality all-round performance. Yet, the Aussie script has more to do with Johnson’s brilliant bowling that was well-supported by the likes of Harris who ignored a dodgy knee to grab crucial wickets, notably in the series deciding third Test.
Like Johnson, the Aussie story has been about Warner who seems to have put personal issues behind him to transform into a quality opening batsman. So long as he minds his public statements and sticks to the straight and narrow path, he can only get better from here on, and there is plenty more in his tank.
Watching the Aussies dismantle the Proteas, one could only wish that the Indians had a Johnson in their ranks and a captain like Clarke who besides being aggressive, always puts the team’s interests above those of the individual, much unlike Dhoni whose defensive approach against New Zealand was rightly questioned and condemned.
The fact is that Indian cricket is currently on a downward curve. Apart from the overseas debacles, the sport also has to deal with the IPL controversy and we haven’t heard the last of it.
If the Supreme Court decides to make public Justice Mudgal’s “sealed” report, then rest assured there will be more egg and rotten tomatoes (if nothing else) on the face of Indian cricket.