With Michael Schumacher battling for life and Dhoni’s men taking a 10-wicket beating in South Africa, it is hardly a nice way to end the year. As I join millions of Schumi’s fans in wishing him a speedy recovery, my thoughts go back to all those wonderful years when he dominated Formula One while redefining speed, his controversial wins in Benetton, the incidents at Jerez and Adelaide, besides of course those seven world titles, five of them with Ferrari.
It is to be hoped that Michael will win this race and gets to enjoy his retirement years in a more befitting manner while watching his children grow and succeed. As a racer, Michael always sought new limits as he drove his cars to the very edge while almost tempting fate. The worst injury he suffered through the 300-plus F1 races was a broken leg in 1999. And so the irony that he is now put down by a skiing accident after surviving all the dangers of a racing track.
Here I quote the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio who said of F1 drivers and Schumacher in particular: “We racing drivers are adventurers. The more difficult something is, the greater the attraction that comes from it. Michael Schumacher is the greatest of the adventurers.” Schumi just about survived a horrific super bike crash in 2009. Yet, those who know him swear that he never took unnecessary risks off the track.
Whatever, I call it fate that Schumi should eventually crash on the slopes of the Swiss Alps while skiing with his 14-year old son. And to think that he turned down an offer from Lotus to race in 2014! The doctors believe that his age (turning 45 on Jan 3) and fitness could help him pull through. We can only hope that the doctors’ opinions are prophetic. However, at the time of writing this column, the outlook is quite grim.
In the faraway South Africa, the news has been no better though it is not about life and death, but the cruel expose of Indian cricket team that has again underlined that our boys are only heroes at home, but almost always struggle on foreign soil and conditions.
Dhoni and others might talk about “positives”, something I find only fashionable, but in my book, only four names stand out – Pujara, Kohli, Rahane and Jadeja. True, Vijay almost scored a century in the final Test, but he never quite looked assured, though there is no doubting his potential.
His partner, Dhawan, looked totally clueless against pace and movement, as also Rohit Sharma who continues to be a source of frustration. Perhaps, it is about time, he is given the boot for good and hopefully, we stop talking about his “talent and potential”. He has been given sufficient opportunities and it will be a service to Indian cricket if we look beyond him.
Indians might have batted well in patches, but the difference was that we didn’t have a Steyn or a Morkel or a Philander to take 20 wickets and win a game. Zaheer’s return to the Test squad has had little impact and the likes of Shami and Ishant, just didn’t have the express pace to trouble the South African batsmen. As Dhoni rightly put it, this is an area of concern that needs to be addressed at the earliest.
The biggest problem is that our fast bowlers have not been consistent enough. Shami, after his fairytale debut, could not reproduce the fire and accuracy in South Africa; Ishant, for instance, was once a tearaway and was spoken of highly, but over a matter of few seasons, he has failed to live up to the early expectations, though on occasions, he has looked the part.
Perhaps, it is not in our genes to bowl fast like Steyn or Johnson, but then, abroad, you need the big, strong boys who can hurl the ball at 140kmph or more. Until we find such lads, I am afraid, the story would be the same each time an Indian team travels abroad.
I do not subscribe to the view that Indian cricketers have become good travelers in the context of standing up to rival teams and pressure. Yes, our boys have become aggressive in their approach and attitude, but these have not always translated into performance and which is what matters, not so much your ability to look the opponents in the eye or snarl back or engage in counter-sledging. Such traits do not get you the wickets or runs, and in fact, not even brownie points.
It augurs well for India that Pujara and Kohli have settled down nicely at No.3 and 4. But the worrisome fact is that those who immediately precede and follow this pair have not exactly excelled. Given Rahane’s form, I would rather he bats at No.5 rather than Rohit and may be, Rayudu, who didn’t get a game in South Africa, deserves to be tried at No.6.
From South Africa’s perspective, their team provided an excellent farewell to Kallis whose retirement from Tests meant we have the last of the greats of this generation walk into the sunset. In the past few years, we have seen Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Ponting, Gilchrist, Sachin and Kallis, to name a few, stepping down. The onus will be on the new generation to fill the void and that takes some doing!
Hopefully, the New Year brings more cheer not only to Indian cricket but sports worldwide, and lest I forget, all you fans out there.