India lacks the hallmark of an outstanding team

Last Updated: Wed, Nov 28, 2012 10:51 hrs

The recriminations have started and for once the outburst is justified. Normally following an Indian defeat the outcry goes way overboard and all sorts of baseless accusations are hurled at everyone - from the captain and players to the coaches, administrators and even the curators. 

Constructive criticism is given the go by and harsh, even personal criticism takes over. But this time the anger is understandable for it is not often the Indians are beaten at home. It was not just another loss but a humiliating, embarrassing defeat in a little over three days. 

Even in the midst of the double disasters in England and Australia last year they still comfortably got the better of West Indies and New Zealand at home. India’s awesome record in their own backyard has been well documented. Since the series loss to Australia in 2004 the Indians had lost just three Test matches – twice to South Africa and once to England before the recent defeat. 

Moreover, following the comprehensive nine-wicket victory registered at Ahmedabad it appeared that Alastair Cook’s team did not have the class, skill or ability to bounce back or even win a Test in the four-match series. And yet just a week later the hunter became the hunted as England notched up an even more emphatic ten-wicket win to square the series most unexpectedly. And suddenly with the Indians in disarray the visitors look to be the favourites.
How did the astonishing turn around take place? With all due credit to the fighting qualities displayed by the Englishmen it must be admitted that the Indians too did not exactly cover themselves with glory. Confidence is one thing, over confidence quite another. The rather casual approach at Mumbai seemed to suggest that they were taking England lightly especially after they were given the turning track the captain had asked for. 

It all brought back memories of another match against England 28 years ago. There was a touch of complacency about the Indian showing at New Delhi in the second Test after they had won the first Test at Bombay by eight wickets during the 1984-85 series. That England team led by David Gower was several notches below India – or so it was assumed – for they came to this country after having suffered a 5-0 'blackwash' at the hands of the West Indies at home. 

This self satisfied approach had serious consequences for England won the second Test by a similar eight-wicket margin and then went on to take the five-game series 2-1 becoming the first team to win a contest in India after being a match down.
For the Indians not to let that happen again several measures will have to be taken. But have they learnt the lessons from the rather embarrassing defeat in the just concluded second Test?  It doesn’t appear that they have. For starters the captain is insisting on turning tracks again. When will this obsession with such surfaces end? 

If a team’s think tank is of the view that it can only win on one type of wicket it clearly means it is not a world beating side. During their long period of dominance the West Indies and Australia used to win everywhere and on all surfaces. That was the hallmark of an outstanding team. And in any case the Indians are losing on surfaces they are supposed to be unbeatable on.
Besides displaying a general lack of confidence such defensive thinking also sends wrong signals to the pacemen. Has anyone thought what must be going through Zaheer Khan’s mind every time the captain asks for a turning track? Here is a bowler with nearly 300 Test wickets, a tally next only to Kapil Dev’s. 

He has been the Indian pace spearhead for more than a decade, has won matches for his team, is one of Wisden’s cricketers of the year for 2007 but these days he is reduced to being the first or second change, is rarely given the new ball and sends down only a few overs. 

Just when things are looking up for Indian pace, when there are a number of young hopefuls around such lop sided thinking will only hinder the emergence of pace bowlers and this can’t be good for Indian cricket in the long run.                    
Then of course there is the problem of persisting with players who are failing repeatedly or picking the wrong personnel or obstinately sticking with the same squad despite it getting beaten comprehensively and with the failures clearly out in the open. 

Should the selectors go by form or reputation? If the recall of Harbhajan Singh was a retrograde step his retention in the team for the Kolkata Test makes no sense. In addition the lack of form of some established stars is a lack of concern but they seem to be smug about it since they know they will not be axed. 

Drastic situations call for drastic measures but the safe, conservative approach of the selectors can sometimes be quite an irritant and hinders progress. It is not that there are no worthy young candidates around for the various slots but then a bold, far sighted vision is required and that is lacking in those responsible for Indian cricket’s future.          

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