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India's chronic problem: Giving up too easily - Suresh Menon Column
by Suresh Menon
Sep 02, 2008
Occasionally, international players hold up a mirror to Indian cricket; sometimes we like what we see and at other times we react self-righteously. When they say that India have the finest batting line-up in the world, we draw ourselves up to our full height, flick an imaginary speck of dust off our collar and nod knowingly. At other times, we write angry letters to newspapers and call the players all kinds of names.

When Australian batsman Matthew Hayden said a few years ago that Indian players were more interested in personal glory and in achieving personal landmarks than in team effort and international victories, he created a storm in India. He made the statement just ahead of India’s tour of Australia and it was put down to the classic Australian technique of throwing the opposition into disarray ahead of a tough series.

Privately, many of those involved with Indian cricket might have believed there was some truth in what Hayden said, but it was not politically correct to admit to it. Generations that had grown up without significant international victories had found succour in individual performances. One former captain once told me honestly: "All of us like to say publicly that we would rather score a zero in a victory than a century in a defeat, but that's all nonsense. We'd rather score runs, regardless of whether we win or lose."

Now Sri Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardene - one of the most cultured of international captains - has said, in the context of his own team, that Indians tend to give up the fight too easily. This, coming at the end of a five-match series which India had won by the fourth game, is a devastating indictment of a team which prides itself on being second only to Australia, whether the rankings agree or not. Jaywardene was making the point that unlike India, Sri Lanka were a fighting outfit, and that was underlined through the series even if Sri Lanka lost 2-3.

India did take their foot off the pedal in the final one-dayer, and their attitude was unprofessional, especially as rain approached, and the possibility of the Duckworth-Lewis system being applied loomed large. India could have afforded not to have scored at a rollicking pace, but they could not have afforded to lose wickets. And the recent problem of losing wickets in bunches of twos and three meant that once Suresh Raina threw it away, the floodgates were open.

For many years now, India have developed the habit of losing the first Test of a series, and then struggling to get back despite their wonted middle order. Part of this has to do with acclimatization to conditions abroad, part to lack of serious match practice, but a lot to Jayawardene's diagnosis: giving up too easily. The number of times V V S Laxman has had to bat with only the tail for company has become embarrassing.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to state the obvious which we might be in denial about. Jayawardene might have done the Indians a favour by brutally pointing out the truth. It has been a chronic problem, and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. It is easy to pull out a list of psychological reasons for this lack of toughness, but to understand it is not necessarily to condone it. Obviously, a 4-1 scoreline and a difference of three is superior to 3-2 and a difference of just one. To win mathematically is one thing; to win psychologically is something else. And that is what Jayawardene was gently suggesting.
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