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By Suresh Menon
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings and chief of selectors. “The batting did not click for us,” Krishnamachari Srikkanth has pointed out with devastating honesty. “We also did not do well in bowling and fielding.” As a summing up of India’s performance in England, that can’t be bettered. So what were India good at? Appealing? Arriving at the grounds on time? Who is responsible for the terrible performance?
“Nobody is to be blamed,” says Srikkanth. As brand ambassador of the Chennai Super Kings, which is owned by the Board Secretary N Srinivasan and is led by the Indian captain, Srikkanth is entitled to his opinion. Of course no one is to be blamed. Just as no one is to be blamed for the Great Train Robbery or the galloping price of petrol or the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
“Let us not indulge in the blame game – on the players, or the administrators or the BCCI,” he clarifies. Who does that leave, gentle reader? People like you and me – we are responsible for the disaster that was the England tour. Unfortunately, Srikkanth doesn’t explain just how, but we can guess. Perhaps it is because we supported the IPL so thoroughly that there was no focus on Test cricket. Perhaps it is because we insisted that India prepare for a major tour of England by not preparing at all. Perhaps we were wrong to allow Virender Sehwag to play only 11 IPL games before his dodgy shoulder was fixed.
You can fool us, Srikkanth but you can’t bribe the gods of cricket. The comeuppance was swift and severe. Two first-ball ducks in a single Test.
You can pretend that Zaheer is fit, or allow the bowler himself to hide his real condition, but you can’t bribe the gods of cricket. Suddenly, India were not only a bowler short, they were a whole bowling attack short.
You can’t refuse to see the decline of your leading spinner from an attacking wicket-taker to a defensive run-saver and hope that when you keep your eyes closed the rest of the world can’t see too.
“Now that we have lost,” says the chairman of selectors putting on his philosopher’s hat, “we have to accept the loss.” In other words, let us do what we have been doing all these years – nothing.
While there is something charming and adult about accepting loss and moving on, it would have been nice to see the chief selector a little more worried than all that. Or is it only that the fans feel bad, while the officials merely see the defeat as just another day in the office? If you don’t feel badly at the loss, how will you ensure things change? You don’t have to feel so bad that you stone M S Dhoni’s house, but you have to feel bad enough so you try to get things back in order.
Between now and September 2012, India are scheduled to play 106 days of international cricket. Then there is the Champions League and the IPL. It is not a huge number (even allowing for travel), but there is the question of balance. How do you ensure that the team is prepared well enough for a particular series? The next major tour is to Australia in December. And guess what? Only one match, against the Chairman’s XI in Canberra, has been scheduled before the first Test.
Sadly, unlike astronauts who can get a feel of space travel in simulations at NASA, Australian conditions cannot be simulated in our cricket academies. The best preparation for playing in Australia is playing in Australia. One match – the same as in England before the Test series there – is woefully inadequate, as India have been discovering with embarrassing frequency on virtually all their recent tours.
Another India captain has been more forthright. Tiger Pataudi has said, “I fear the players are going to say it's only a bad dream, just forget it and get on. The BCCI is not going to show a great deal of vision. Cricket will continue the way it is but I sincerely hope that some sense does come in.”
The English tour might have shown up some of the players, but mainly it has exposed the BCCI’s skewed priorities, and its lack of respect for the game. The gods of cricket are angry, and can be mollified only if they are approached with humility and common sense.