Just as well that there is a near two-month break before the next series when the Aussies visit our country and perhaps, that is just the kind of breather that Dhoni and Sachin would welcome. The interval between the Test matches will help calm nerves and emotions that touched a new high after the series defeat to Cook’s England.
No doubt, Dhoni deserves the brickbats for his lackadaisical leadership that was tinged with desperation born out of his own poor form with the bat, and perhaps, as Srikkanth pointed out, physical and mental fatigue. But then, we are barely half-way into the new season and there is so much cricket is still to be played, though in the immediate weeks, it will be all in coloured clothing with a series of T20 and ODI matches before the Tests against Australia.
If anything, the defeat to England only reflected the poor preparations of the Indian team that turned complacent after a bright start with a win in Ahmedabad. However, for reasons best known to him, Dhoni seemed to have panicked, going by his shrill demands for turning tracks. Finally, he was given what he wanted, including the team, but England proved more than a handful.
One must salute Cook’s England team for the manner in which they fought back after losing the first Test. Denied any exposure to quality spinners in the warm-up games, England displayed the kind of professionalism (unlike the Indian cricketers) that helped them to get up from the mat and knock out their opponents. However, Indian cricket is a poor learner and I doubt if our overpaid and over-hyped stars are intelligent enough to learn anything from the defeats, much less their opponents.
The cricket Board on its part, couldn’t care less so long as the money is flowing into its coffers. The senior officials are so insensitive to criticism or reality that it is hoping for too much to expect any firm steps to put the game back on track. We hear the same old statements that a series loss is no reflection of the game’s health in India. The Board said the same after the losses in England and Australia and now, at home.
Obviously, the knives are out, trained on the captain (rightly so) and coach Fletcher who, it appears, believes that silence is golden. Some of the players have already begun a whispering campaign against the coach and poor Fletcher must be wondering at the mess he has got himself in, surrounded as he is by well-fed millionaire brats who wear their prosperity on their ever growing waists.
Ultimately, I believe that attitude is something that percolates from top, especially the management and of course the seniors. Sadly lacking is a willingness to accept reality, introspect and learn from mistakes. It is a historical curse in Indian cricket, and something that is getting more obvious. Inaction and lack of accountability are hurting Indian cricket far more than any other factor.
In a couple of months, the national selectors will meet again to pick the Test squad for the series against Australia. It is anybody’s guess whether heads will roll, beginning with a change in captaincy and how the wise men will address the ticklish issue of non-performing seniors like Gambhir, Sehwag, Sachin and Dhoni himself, apart from the likes of Zaheer Khan.
What is most worrisome that our exalted senior batsmen have fared miserably in conditions they had previously excelled. Dhoni missed out on his sixth century (his previous five have all been in the sub-continent), Sehwag failed to add to his 23 centuries, 18 of which have been in the sub-continent, as did Gambhir and Sachin, both of whom have been as scratchy as others in the past couple of years.
Kohli and Pujara are just too young and wet behind the ears. Both are still works in progress, and it would be another season or two before they peak. As such, they need to be persisted with. The likes of Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh seem to be running on reserve tanks while Zaheer looked a spent force against England. He was not missed at Nagpur where Dhoni erred in packing the side with spinners when another quick would have been far more beneficial.
Yet, the big debate revolves around Sachin who has averaged 23.80 in the 2012 calendar year from nine matches. It has been one of his worst performances ever, comparable to the 17.00 (5 matches) in 2003, 29.00 (3 matches) in 1995.
On the six occasions when Sachin notched 1000-plus runs in a calendar year, he scored a combined 27 centuries in a total of 71 Tests. Only eight of these centuries were made outside the sub-continent (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan). Under the circumstances, it is only natural to expect the maestro to come good on home pitches, especially considering the fact that he hammered 1562 runs in 10 Tests in the sub-continent and four outside just two years ago.
Sadly, that has not happened. For all his achievements, Sachin looked a shadow of his former self and accustomed as we are to his high standards, his repeated failures have only fuelled the growing calls for his retirement. It is awful to watch a stalwart being hounded so, but that is the reality. In the age we live in, only the present matters and in sport, you are only as good as your last performance. For Sachin, there is no place to hide.
We can endlessly try and justify that the Indian team is in transition following the exit of Kumble, Ganguly, Laxman and Dravid in the past four years, but the irrefutable fact is the time is ripe for an overhaul. The question is: Who will bell the cat?