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By Sunil Gavaskar
India’s defeats in the first two Tests has inevitably prompted plenty of criticism much of it warranted and some a bit harsh. That’s the hazard of being an India cricketer of course. The brickbats are more than the bouquets. When the team won the World Cup the country’s joy knew no bounds and the players were feted by all and sundry and deservedly so.
The country had been waiting for this moment since 1983 and when it came all dams burst and the outpouring of gifts was spontaneous. Even the BCCI, normally so tight when parting with money doubled its prize after the players cleverly planted some stories in the media about how the earlier amount was not enough for their efforts.
If anything, the win instead of galavanising the players made them complacent which is a typical Indian trait. Some of the players took Indian cricket for granted by deciding to play in the IPL despite not being fit and thus jeopardising their chances of playing for India. Some pulled out with illness, some wanted time with family, some just wanted rest from international cricket. They could have had all that by resting from the IPL and thus keeping themselves fresh for India’s matches but the pull of the IPL contract and the glamour of the tournament meant that the IPL was preferred to Indian cricket.
The BCCI despite knowing the situation and having the players under contract looked the other way and who can blame them? How would it look if a World Cup winning player was told to rest from the IPL, the BCCI's own domestic tournament to get fit for India’s international commitments later? The reaction would have been as hypocritical as the British medias has been on Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s decision to withdraw the appeal against Ian Bell and allow him to continue his innings. The Brit media went to town about the laws of the game being trampled for the unwritten spirit of cricket. The same media would have had Dhoni for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner for the rest of the summer if Dhoni had not withdrawn the appeal and called him, the team, the BCCI all kinds of cheats etc.
How out of tune they were, became evident when the jeers for the Indian team turned to cheers as soon as the crowd saw Ian Bell resuming his innings. It is the crowd that pays good money and support the game that matters and not those who pontificate about laws and spirit of the game. The crowd realised that Dhoni had taken a call in the larger interests of the game and with that had also sent a message that despite India not being in a good position at that time his team would not resort to methods that don’t go with the way we have been brought up to play the game.
International sport is about being in peak physical and mental shape and that comes with being challenged regularly. Look at the McEnroes and Borgs who took a sabbatical from the game at the time they were dominating it and found that suddenly others had come in and were now winning. McEnroe and Borg were never able to recapture their form simply because the game had got a bit faster and the absence from competition had dulled their reflexes and stymied their mental responses to crises.
Have a look at the two guys who are doing better than others, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. They have been playing in the West Indies and so are in good shape physically and mentally to take on England. Dravid has got three centuries in the five Tests from the West Indies and that’s simply because he has stayed with the competition. How come nobody mentions fatigue about the oldest player in the team. He played in the IPL too so it’s not as if he had been resting and then came to West Indies. The others may well get there but it could be a long process by which time the England series could well be lost.
The problem is that India does not have the bench strength which can put the current guys under pressure and which is why they know they can take a break and still come back in the team. If Abhinav Mukund had converted the starts he got into hundreds how could anybody come in his place however good he may be.
If India are to be the number one team then they should be led by BCCI who should take a call on how much cricket is good for a player and which player deserves a rest and when. It should not be left to the player to decide for he will invariably take a decision which is good for him but may not be so for Indian cricket. It is not rocket science at all but plain common sense but sometimes even good men lose that don’t they?