The Tipping Point… Where to from here for Team India?


There is a time in its journey when a sporting team could find itself perched on an important cusp. An opportunity presents itself to break itself away from a state that it is in and launch itself into a higher state. I believe that Indian cricket’s first break-mould moment was in 1971. Its second moment arrived in 1983. Its third was in 2001. It is presented with another opportunity now. Whether the team takes it or not is upto the individuals in it and the team manegement.

India has, without a coach, managed to beat England 1-0 in England. This is a creditable result for the team which is in a strange rebuilding phase that the team found itself in after the World Cup debacle.

There can’t much doubt that the most exciting period in recent memory for a Team India fan was the one from 2001 to mid-2003. This was the period when John Wright was Team India coach. India won important matches overseas and India won a massive series in Pakistan. Nothing will matter to an Indian cricket fan more than that win in Pakistan! It seemed like Indian cricket had finally turned the corner. It was after then that the wheels started falling off a bit.

The departure of John Wright and the arrival of Greg Chappell gave one the impression that the upward momentum was going to continue. Sourav Ganguly was a terrific captain — a player who has fascinated me for a long time with his unique brand of leadership. He was, though, rightly asked to step aside. There was a staleness to his leadership as well as his batting. He had to go and Greg Chappell made a tough call — a right call, in my view. Rahul Dravid came in as a breath of fresh air. Together Chappell and Dravid crafted their vision and put in processes. They tinkered with batting orders to put personnel in hitherto unfamiliar roles; to test them in environments of pressure that they may not have otherwise encountered. Losses were seen as tactical gains; as necessary sacrifices in view of the bigger picture. India had won an important away series in the West Indies. India also won several important games in India and started making some impressive strides in the ODI arena. Ganguly went away and transformed himself. Even Ganguly’s re-entry was welcomed.

But all of that came to nought when India crashed hopelessly out of the 2007 World Cup. All the experimentation and short-term-pain-for-long-term-gain strategy fell completely flat and there was a hollowness to it all. Greg Chappell had taken over when the foundations to the house were in place. He left Indian cricket after having seen the construction of a fully built house. But the manner of his leaving and the mess that he had left behind suggested that the house wasn’t built to specifications. Urgent reinforcements were in need, lest the house fall in a heap.

Moreover, within a few months of his leaving, the house needed to be looked into critically. It was almost like we had to build an extension to the house a few months after it had been newly constructed!

These extensions and reinforcements were attempted shoddily, hastily and arrogantly by the BCCI. The extension was secured but did not quite sit well with the rest of the house!

And in amongst this mess, four months and 10 days after India’s torrid exit from the World Cup, India conjured an away series win in England! Set in this context, this was an impressive win for the team. Not perhaps as impressive as India’s ground-breaking win in 1971 against a strong England team. Not perhaps as comprehensive as the win in 1986 when Kapil Dev’s team won 2-0 — and almost won a third match too!

Nevertheless, it was an impressive series win. Some people have knocked the win as a shallow one, given the absence of Flintoff, Harmison and Hoggard. Perhaps they, in their haste to knock the teams’ and the fans’ celebrations have ignored three basic issues: (a) It was Englands’ batting that let the team down, not the bowling, (b) Barring Anil Kumble who did not have too much of a role to play in the series, the Indian bowling was as (in)experienced as the England bowling, (c) A team plays with the team that it has! Period.

In that epic 2001 series, India won against Australia without Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, its two frontline bowlers! And that series win is still being talked about. It will still be talked about 10 years from now! New players are born when key players are absent. This was an opportunity for a few players to step up and be counted. In that series, Harbhajan Singh and to a lesser extent, Zaheer Khan stepped up to the plate! Kumble was replaced in the three Tests by Rahul Sanghvi (Mumbai), Venkatapathy Raju (Kolkata) and Nilesh Kulkarni (Chennai)!

So, this win cannot be made shallow by claims that England was decimated by the absence of Flintoff, Harmison and Hoggard. Tough luck. Teams have to ride the storm. India cannot whinge about the lack of a coach, for example, if India had lost! Them’s the price that one pays for the relentless amount of cricket that is being played.

Having said that, my own view is that this win has come at a huge cost — Rahul Dravid’s batting. My own view was that on day-4 of the Oval Test Dravid was carrying a huge load on his impressive, strong, resillient, yet human shoulders. A coach relieves the captain of minutae. A coach takes emotion out of the equation by absorbing it. These are the situations when a coach becomes much more than a vehicle that takes the team from the hotel to the ground and back. After having borne the cross for the whole tour, it was perhaps to be expected that, at a crunch hour Dravid simply appeared, to me, to freeze.

So where to from here for Team India? One word sums up the path ahead. Opportunity.

There is a time in its journey when a sporting team could find itself perched on an important cusp. An opportunity presents itself to break itself away from a state that it is in and launch itself into a higher state. I believe that Indian cricket’s first break-mould moment was in 1971. Its second moment arrived in 1983. Its third was in 2001. It is presented with another opportunity now. Whether the team takes it or not is upto the individuals in it and the team manegement.

This opportunity was, I believe presented to the team on day-4 of the Oval Test match. My disappointment was that the team did not sieze the moment and launch itself into the next state. By playing on and playing positively with a we-are-going-to-win mindset, the team could have launched itself into the next state. It did not. But the opportunity still exists.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, the author presents a thesis that (ideas and) behaviors act like outbreaks of infectious diseases that create social epidemics. The Tipping Point is the moment in an epidemic when critical mass is reached. These are “boiling point” moments. Moments that we often describe using the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Dramatic moments when something unique becomes common. Moments at which little changes can make a big difference.

A little change on day-4 would have meant “positive batting“. The big difference could have been, “Hey! We can do it”. Winning is a habit.

India has that opportunity to move forward now. The team has to sieze this moment. These moments don’t arrive often. But when it does, one has got to sieze it and make the most of it, if one wants to.

I’d like to deconstruct this opportunity in terms of 3Cs: Consistency, Coach, Conversion

Consistency

The 2003 version of Team India showed that it could be consistent. This team needs to show consistency too. And it has the chance. I can’t think of too many years when the team plays 3 marquee series in the same year! India has just beaten England in the first of the three marquee series. India play Pakistan in October-November and then immediately take on the might of Australia in Australia from mid-December 2007 onwards. India has an opportunity to show consistency and class in these two important upcoming series. The time to start showing this consistency is now.

Coach

India needs a good, strong coach. I do not believe the team can afford to have Dravid play the way he did in England. Dravid was the core around which the consistent 2001-2003 performances were built. His innings in Kolkata — not much is made of the sterling 180 that he made in Kolkata alongside Laxman’s splendid 281 — started a magic phase for Dravid that has seen him be the bed-rock on which several famous wins were constructed (Headingly, Adelaide, Rawalpindi, Sabina Park, etc). The team needs him to play authoritatively and with minimal emotional burden. And for this, the team needs a coach who would take care of all the minutae relating to the team. The current state of affairs is shoddy. The BCCI needs to fix this now.

Conversion

I have no doubt that the time for blooding newcomers is now. For a long time now, the bare bowling stocks was highlighted as India’s main problem area. It was seen as the area that needed addressing if India was going to win consistently overseas. However, I actually think that this area has come of age in this series.

In Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Sree Santh, India does have a good portfolio. The bench strength, with Munaf Patel, V. R. V. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Yo Mahesh, Ajit Agarkar, Ranadeb Bose, Ishant Sharma, et al, seems steady, if not promising. And some of these players on the bench have been blooded into the international arena already!

Piyush Chawla for Kumble seems to me to be an like-for-like replacement when Kumble decides to call it a day

In Harbhajan Singh — a proven match winner — and Romesh Powar, India has its off spinning stocks covered although the cupboard is bare once you remove these two from the equation! An area of concern is certainly the left-arm spin option. These are two areas for future-investment and development.

The batting is, to me a concern. India needs to convert some of its bench personnel into toughened and hardened international cricketers. This is an opportunity. We can’t have Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman retire in a heap. This will leave the team vulnerable and exposed. I actually think that there are replacements for these four stalwarts in Sehwag-Rohit-Yuvraj-Badrinath for example. And then there are others like Raina and Tiwary waiting in the wings. But these conversions need to be made in a staged manner. And the time to start is now.

And this is where I believe the team should be thinking in the medium-term of a clear, cogent, planned and convincing rotation policy. Given the amount of cricket that is being played these days, it is not necessary for Dravid, Ganguly, Tendulkar and Laxman to play in every game! One of them could be rotated out — even in a Test match — for cricketers like Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, S. Badrinath, et al to play in the middle order! Apart from providing greater longevity to the careers of the Fab Four, it also provides for a sustainable future.

The Fab Five are going to retire in the next few years. Indian cricket cannot afford to wait until then to think of replacemements. These retirements need to be planned and managed and the way to do it would be through rotations and strong India-A tours.

The Australian rotation policy is centered around providing rest opportunities for key players. I do believe the time has arrived for India to form a core-group of 25 cricketers and devise a rotation policy that is focussed on sustainability and bench-strengh development. Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid commenced this exercise but I felt that they panicked and took their eye off the ball in the lead up to the World Cup. Cricketers need to be blooded and hardened. Just as Australia slowly brought in Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Phil Jacques, Stuart Clark, Shaun Tait, et al with a view to the future, India needs to do the same through a carefully crafted rotation policy. And the time to start this is now.

India has a few taxing series coming up. By planning for these along with a coach, India can make that Good-To-Great journey from being a good team to a great team. But this requires resolve. It requires a bunch of individuals that care about the future of Indian cricket to make some hard decisions. It requires the ability to realise the tipping point and also realisation of what it takes to tip…

These are mere discussion starters from me… Comment away!

— Mohan

Advertisements

7 responses to “The Tipping Point… Where to from here for Team India?

  1. Mohan,

    Wishing you a happy Independence day!!

  2. I hope dey show pakistan no mercy at the twenty20 worldcup….the icc has done well as far as the fixtures are concerned …chk dis site has got the fixture and the jelly bean video of the england test match…damn funny…

  3. I hope dey show pakistan no mercy at the twenty20 worldcup….the icc has done well as far as the fixtures are concerned …chk dis site has got the fixture and the jelly bean video of the england test match…damn funny…www.twentytwentyworldcup.com

  4. i am sorry….i want you to give the deserved respect for irfan.first of all i dont think u should compare or put him in the category of those vrv singh,…and all.what do u mean not promising?public memory is short.irfan is a proven match winner and he is the best allrounder to come up in world cricket since 3 to 4 years.he was the ceat indian cricketer of the last season.how come this sreesanth and rp singh has been considered by u as better than irfan?think down the memory lane and find the difference between…..u will get who is promising and who is not.if that dhoni and yuvraj singh are considered as greats…what less irfan has done?he has been our main streanth and he will b.. otherwise the article is good.

  5. Pingback: Has Team India missed another “Tipping Point”? « i3j3Cricket :: A blog for fans of Indian cricket…

  6. Pingback: Team India Performance in New Zealand: Tests « i3j3Cricket :: A blog for fans of Indian cricket…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s