I confess I am flabbergasted by the result of the ODI series between India and New Zealand. I predicted a close contest after considering various factors – the much higher ranking of the Indians as compared to New Zealand, the fact that New Zealand are tough opponents at home, the distressing away record of the tourists.
But of course I am sure I am not the only to be confounded by the one-sided verdict. Even the most cynical Indian cricket follower could not have bet on the Indians losing 4-0 and what is even more frightening is that the visitors came within one run of suffering a clean sweep.
When a side has been outplayed like the Indians have been there will be questions galore. But finding answers to these questions will not be easy. With just over a year to go for the World Cup – incidentally to be played in Australia and New Zealand – Indian cricket is at the crossroads.
Can India win only at home while continuing to suffer successive setbacks abroad? To lose is bad enough but to be thrashed like they were in the just concluded series has predictably sent shock waves in cricketing circles.
After all it must not be forgotten that this reverse has come hot on the heels of a 2-0 defeat in South Africa which also could easily have been 3-0 if the final ODI was not been rained off.
The "tigers at home and lambs abroad" theory which has gained momentum thanks to repeated routs away was not always as strident. While there is a marked difference between India’s record at home and abroad overall the team did win Tests, series and important limited over competitions in foreign lands.
In the new millennium for example India have shared Test rubbers in Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka and won contests in West Indies, England, Pakistan and New Zealand. The T-20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007, the CB Series in Australia a few months later and the Champions Trophy in England in 2012 were notable limited over triumphs.
In addition, India finished runners-up in the Champions Trophy in Nairobi in 2000 and the 2003 World Cup and were joint winners of the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka in 2002.
Why then is the squad back to the bad old days when the Indians were repeatedly trounced whenever they went abroad? It cannot be that the Indian team is going through the kind of slumps that affected the Australians and the West Indians once their invincible outfits broke up thanks to the retirement of their all time greats.
Yes, in the last few years India has lost the services of Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar while Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh are out of favour on grounds of form.
But the replacements all seemed to have settled down in their respective slots. Indeed on the eve of the team’s departure for New Zealand MS Dhoni pointed out that the squad has a well settled look with the transition phase virtually over.
And the performance of the Indian team received official backing with the ICC rankings having India as the No 1 ODI side and No 2 in Tests and T-20 internationals. The rankings are systematically based on the overall record so they were not to be scoffed at. Individually too some of the Indian players has risen up in the rankings.
So what then went wrong in New Zealand? I can straightaway rule out over confidence on part of the Indians. There was certainly no complacency in their play. But the fact remains that they did not learn from their errors and made the same mistakes over and over again. This was true of both the batting and bowling.
Otherwise I just can’t believe how Shikhar Dhawan who made a commanding 187 on Test debut should be reduced to scoring just 81 runs from four innings. Or Rohit Sharma who is only one among three batsmen to notch up a double hundred in ODIs be cut down to such a strokeless wonder.
Or Ajinkya Rahane who promised so much in South Africa can be restricted to only 51 runs from five innings. Or that Ravichandran Ashwin who raced to the fastest 100 Test wickets by an Indian would finish with one wicket at an average of 227.
Indian cricket has almost always boasted the best batting lineup in the game and so one supposes the batsmen will have to shoulder more of the blame. But the bowlers too made the same mistakes over and over again.
It is clear that the Indians played several notches below their potential and this more than anything else led to the emphatic defeat. Sure, there might have been other contributory factors like incorrect team selection, strange decisions by the captain on the field and the fielding and catching not being up to international standards but these were minor reasons.
When the going gets tough the tough get going and the Indians were just not up there temperamentally and technically.
So what is the solution as the selectors’ obvious plan is to prepare for the World Cup? Do they go in for an overhaul? Do they turn the clock back and recall the seniors? Or do they persevere with much the same combination and hope that they can iron out their weaknesses in about a year’s time?
Dhoni has hinted that he will prefer to keep his faith in the current crop adding that the players were just going through a bad phase and hoped that they come out of it soon.
Perhaps a change or two needs to be made but one would not advocate a thorough overhaul or falling back on the seniors for it will disturb the planning for the big event which has already commenced.
Repose confidence in the current lot (more or less), put them through the grinder, give them the opportunities to weed out their technical and temperamental deficiencies. That is perhaps the balanced way to solve the issue.