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By Suresh Menon
Bubbling up through the frustration, anger, disappointment, disenchantment, is the overriding emotion at India’s pathetic showing in England. Sadness. England were not as powerful nor India as weak as the 3-1 scoreline suggests. And yet there was such an inevitability about India’s final collapse, that a silent prayer for our Gavaskars and Vengsarkars of not-so-long ago came unbidden to our minds.
And sadness for so quickly replacing the Dravids and the Tendulkars with the unfinished products of the current team. There is nothing you cannot say about the 2014 disaster that was not said after the 2011 disaster. We blamed the openers then, the middle order, the lack of sting in the bowling, the poor preparation, the excessive focus on the IPL to the exclusion of most other things.
We discussed the apparent indifference of the captain, his strange and inexplicable decisions on the field, his refusal to try anything new while batting or to make choices that were not thrust upon him by circumstances like injury.
We said he must go. And then followed that with the theory that there was no alternative, as if Mahendra Singh Dhoni was so indispensable that if he chose to retire we would pass a law in Parliament requiring him to come back and lead the team. We said then that a win at home – against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, anybody – would signal a revival. We beat Australia 4-0 (after losing to England, after which series too Dhoni survived), and all was not just forgiven but forgotten. And now we have the West Indies visiting soon for a three-Test series. Another win, and another bout of amnesia are both guaranteed.
Then there is Mitchell Johnson and company awaiting us in Australia. And what are the odds history will not repeat itself ? Circle of life. How can you not feel sad?
Sad because we didn’t just play bad cricket, we lacked the will. On previous England tours that were labeled “disastrous” – 1959 (5-0), 1967 (3-0), 1974 (3-0) – not only was India a struggling team (except before the 1974 tour), there were off-field disasters too. In-fighting, bad captaincy, lack of cohesion, poor man management. India were amateurs. Now, post the No 1 ranking in the world, India are far more professional, there is the confidence of being the ones to lay down the law in world cricket.
Sad because we will hear all the old arguments again. There is nothing wrong with our slip catching. We need a truckload of specialists who do not seem to have made the slightest difference. Duncan Fletcher cannot be responsible for what happens on the field. He is the best man for the job. Our Ranji Trophy standards are low. We need to invite foreign players to participate. It will go on and on.
Sad because there is a new theme now, introduced by the pundits in the commentary box. Indian players should play county cricket in England. This will solve everything. Funny if it weren’t so sad. The players do not bother to play even in India’s national championship, after all. And which county can afford their fees?
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the richest cricketer in the world, Dhoni, had made a point of acknowledging that he and his team had let the fans down, themselves down and gone beyond platitudes and teasers after the defeat? He was happy to get two days’ extra rest, he said after Manchester; now he has another two days after the Oval loss. Should we celebrate?
Cricket is not played in a vacuum. For decades now, the Indian cricket team has reflected its society. The Tendulkar era highlighted the nation’s newfound confidence, the rise of the middle class, the conviction that success and money are not bad in themselves. Dhoni’s current team is not a mirror image of our society. Instead of the youngsters aspiring to be cricketers – successful money-makers – we now have cricketers hoping to be like our professionals, with acceptance that comes from a good record abroad.
Now there will be serious discussion on the efficacy of Test cricket. The spiral begins with defeats, lack of interest from television and sponsors and the consequent diminishing of the BCCI’s interest in Test cricket. Why bother when you can win any number of forgettable one-day internationals and T20 matches? And why bother to win abroad? After all – as one Board official pointed out – the Americans call their local baseball the “world series”. We can call the IPL the world series and crown ourselves world champions. So much better for the sponsorship. And that is saddest of all.