Monthly Archives: December 2012

As the world laughs, IPL Saints and IPL Warriors argue

World Champions in cricket to laughing stock of cricket.

That statement represents Indian cricket’s journey over the last 20 months; the Indian cricket team has slipped from being World Champions in the 50-over format of the game and in Test cricket, to being a laughing stock of world cricket. India has not been playing good cricket for well over eighteen months. That is known. At the Eden Gardens in Kolkata last week, the team played terrible cricket.

But there is more to being the laughing stock than just ugly cricket.

***

The power that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) wields in world cricket is delivered by its impressive fan base. The fans weather rotten conditions — and  abject treatment from stadium officials — to watch the game at ill-equipped grounds in India. The fans often endure a breathlessly unceasing series of advertisements (and sometimes the verbiage of boisterous and clamorous anchors) to watch the game on television sets across the globe. The fan supports the game and continues to provide power to the BCCI, which, in turn, continues to stretch the boundary conditions of the blind commercial greed envelope that it holds — mostly triumphantly.

It is not the BCCI’s fault that they have this power and this advantage at the global decision table. It is not to the organisation’s credit either that they continue to tear into the game at every level. And despite their best intentions, they do.

There is a growing view around the world of cricket that the BCCI is a self-serving organisation that does not have the best interests of either world cricket and/or (more sadly) Indian cricket. Gideon Haigh develops this thesis compellingly in his lovely book, “Sphere of Influence”. Others have been more vocal in expressing more or less this view of the BCCI and the way in which it runs (er, ruins) cricket in India; and the way in which it throws its weight around in world cricket. I do not subscribe to that view entirely, merely because the BCCI has been allowed to be a “bully”.

***

When the Indian team was performing exceedingly well, it is likely that this perceived bullying built up envy and resentment in cricket communities around the world. But, all of those negative views were ignored or brushed aside mainly because the team performed well and was well-served by strong and impressive individuals in it like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Saurav Ganguly; virtuous men of integrity, probity and repute.

Most of them have now exited, stage-left. And with them, the results went too. Today, the envy and resentment in several cricket communities around the world has given way to Indian cricket being a bit of a laughing stock.

India may still win the last Test against England in Nagpur to square the series. There is much pride at stake. India does not easily lose series at home; and that too by huge margins. But the scars inflicted by England at the Eden Gardens will, I believe, remain for a long time.

We accepted when the team lost badly in England and Australia. We accepted when the team scrapped to secure wins at home against New Zealand and West Indies. Today, the team does not appear to have the ticker to win even in home conditions.

The exit of Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid and Laxman exposed the strange functioning of a selection committee. It is not easy to replace experience overnight. The replacements weren’t ready. That is to be expected. Teams — even good teams — go through peaks and troughs. However, the better teams bounce out of the trough through review, introspection, reflection and honest self-examination.

Instead, what we have seen is consistent denial, a plethora of weak strategies, weak policies and an unsure domestic competition. The nature and the number of tweaks to the domestic structure over the last few years suggests a lack of clarity about the role that domestic cricket plays in India. The domestic competition has been tinkered with much more in the last few years than Shahid Afridi has retired.

***

After India had won the World Cup in April 2011, a handshake in Dominica started the slide. Cricket fans were polarized into two groups: the Keyboard Warriors who criticized the Dominica handshake and the Keyboard Saints who were calm and dispassionate in their understanding of the handshake. The saints nodded wisely and poured cold water over the warriors in a bid to calm them.

Since the Dominica handshake, a succession of humbling defeats against England and Australia were hard to fathom. The few hard-fought wins against West Indies and New Zealand at home provided a smokescreen that concealed a malaise that probably ran deeper. What hurt most was this recent capitulation against England — at home!

Today, many of the then saints have become warriors and the warriors have all but given up on the team.

At the start of this important journey, the team stood on the cusp greatness. A ‘clutch’ moment was discarded. The team now stands on a perilous and unhealthy ledge.

The saints and warriors, meanwhile, continue to fight: over the IPL and its impact on the team’s slide from greatness to near obscurity.

***

In my view, the IPL has had a major role to play in this decline. I am an IPL Warrior.

The IPL Saints will point out that the tournament was first played in 2008. India became the number 1 Test cricket side only in 2009. The IPL Saints will argue that the IPL may, therefore, have had a positive impact on the Test side. The other argument that the IPL Saints normally put forth is that other teams like South Africa, Australia and England have T20 tournaments too. Moreover, players from these countries play in the IPL too. Yet, these three teams have reached higher rankings in the last 18 months and play better Test cricket than India has. Hence, they will argue that there is no real correlation between the IPL (and other domestic T20 variants) and the national Test team performance. Finally the IPL Saints also argue that India has more domestic cricket players and can, hence, support an IPL competition without the concomitant burn-out risk to players in the national Test team.

Wrong.

The ‘strength in numbers’ argument is as lazy as the one that goes “India is a country of over 1 billion people, why can it not win even one Olympic Gold medal?”

In terms of physical stresses, we just cannot easily compare players from Australia and South Africa to Indian players. That argument does not carry easily. Firstly, people from different cultures have a different structure and make up; Indians work and train differently. Indian players approach the game differently. We aren’t renowned for the intensity of (and focus in) our training. We lack the excessive reliance on science in our training methods. That is very much an occidental approach. Teams from Australia, England and South Africa rely on focus, agility, physical strength, team discipline and ‘playing for each other’. It runs in their blood. Indians rely more on hand-eye coordination, hand speed, timing and silken skills. In that sense, we are more VVS Laxman than we are Rahul Dravid.

The IPL does therefore, in my view, stress out players from India differently. The length, the duration, the intensity and the incessant nature of the competition takes a great toll on the bodies and minds of players from India. The fatigue was apparent in Dominica. It was obvious in the 0-4 loss to England. Since then, I believe the team just lost it completely. I cannot explain the 0-4 loss to Australia in any other way. I am unable to come to terms with — leave alone explain — the loss at Eden.

The arguments will continue; and they must. The team must introspect and reflect. So must the board and we fans. For example, we still do not know if a report on (and review of) the 0-8 loss was even commenced.

The time for change is now. A loss at Nagpur ought to commence it. A win at Nagpur may only provide band-aid that will serve to delay change for a while longer…

— Mohan (@mohank)

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India does not deserve Tendulkar!

As I watch this series, as I watched this team over the last 18 months or so, watch their insipid performance I get angrier and angrier. I don’t give a damn about the talent, artistry and all that crap. I am simply astounded, amazed and humbled to see the great man deal with all this. This team does not deserve him or for that matter the retired greats, VVS, Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble. India, with the presence of the fab five, have had to go through similar phases in their career more often than not. But they come out these troubled times as better cricketers, players with greater respect and dignity, and simply better human beings. There was humility in their acceptance of defeat, while at the same time, a visible resolve and determination to fight back and earn back the respect on the field through their performances. They were the greatest group of cricketers ever to have taken the field for India and none will compare ever. The greatest of them all continues to fight even as the world turns against him, runs on the field like every run stopped matters, no shortage of inspirational words to his pathetic and undeserving team mates. I wonder how he puts up with this group which seems to think that it can talk, moan, and whine its way out this phase. Oh and the BCCI joins the chorus too!

This Indian team is a cocky, arrogant, spoiled lot that seems to be complete in self denial. What a depressing contrast to the fab five. The color, texture, chemical properties, physical properties, moisture content, contaminant levels of the pitches, the ambient air, noise levels in the stadia, water quality in the pavilions seem to be winning formulae for this team. Humility in defeat, dignity in victories, application in play, focus in action all seem to be irrelevant and simply unnecessary to playing the game. I am getting tired of this “natural flair” in play and speech of Sehwag. He is irresponsible, childish and borderline asinine everytime he opens his mouth, his blade occasionally gives hope but that is diminishing too. Gautam Gambhir is better off in Indian army. Virat Kohli’s world cup speech may have brought a tear or two in the eye but that, on hindsight, seems more like a well rehearsed drama. His commitment to the longer version is still largely uncertain. Yuvraj Singh thinks he is constantly in a reality TV show. I don’t know what to make of MS Dhoni anymore. Zaheer Khan seems to give the impression that he is turning out for Shivaji Gymkhana or some charity event. Do we have spinners playing for India? I haven’t spotted any. Harbhajan Singh is better off forming a bhangra band with Sreesanth. That leaves us with Pujara, probably the only fellow on the team who is worthy of standing next to Tendulkar on an Indian test side for me. During their down time, some cricket players are known for their interest in making music in a dubstep studio.

I have never hated this game and this team as much in my 38 years of following Indian cricket and the members on the team barring the great man and maybe one or two more who are to blame. Thank god for Ranji Trophy. At least, there seems to be life in that form of the game after all. I believe that format was given a rebirth thanks to ideas emanating from guess who, members of the Fab Five!!!At least one of them remains on the field and two provide some sanity in the commentators box. I miss them already.

– Srikanth

They had a field day.

Some of us have to give the argument about where India performed worse at Wankhede a rest. Everybody has had a wild swing at both the batsmen and the bowlers. Cool off a bit. You can all continue that debate next test, depending on whether or not the team changed (if at all) according to your views.

Join me. Focus all your outrageous energy on a common focal point- fielding.

Atleast 10 of the 12 sessions of play I attended of the first and second test matches had England batting. Which meant I had a lot of time looking at Indian fielders. The more I did, the less I wanted to.

There was exactly one fielder in either test who would field well. In the Ahmedabad test, it was Umesh Yadav. In the Mumbai test, it was Ajinkya Rahane. It was such a joy to watch those two field like they never wanted to let the ball go past them.

Umesh Yadav, at Ahmedabad, was rarely given the ball. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni also had spinners bowling with the new ball. So, Yadav was mostly fielding at mid on/off or deep point (left hander) / fine leg (right hander) region. He would cover a lot of ground if the ball went his way. He would dive. His thrown came in like a bullet. Flat, right over the stumps, into Dhoni’s gloves, after which Dhoni would make a fancy movement with his arm, ball inside the glove(s), like all keepers do. It was fun watching him. When the wickets didn’t fall, Yadav’s energy spilled into the spectators. We stood up to clap for his efforts. Neither 3rd session I watched there had an English wicket fall. Yadav helped soften that pain a bit.

Yadav moved like a Komodo Dragon that has just spotted a prey. It wasn’t  a beautiful run, but it was assuring that he would reach the prey.

In the Mumbai test, Ajinkya Rahane came in as a substitute fielder. I don’t remember for whom. Cheteshwar Pujara? Nevertheless. Rahane was stationed at forward short leg. He was the most entertaining forward short leg fielder I’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t the normal squat and wait. It seemed a bit different. Like how wrestlers squat, slightly flexing up and down at their knee so they can move once they know when to strike. Rahane was that tiny creature perched right under Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen (and others too, later) who wasn’t afraid of what the batsman hit at him.

There was this one effort from Rahane when he was standing up to Alastair Cook. I don’t remember the bowler. Cook went forward to kneel and positioned his bat to swivel and sweep the ball. Rahane sat up a bit in a quick jerk, and moved his left leg behind and more to his left, and as soon as the ball made contact with the bat, Rahane dived left and was able to reach the ball with a full length effort. That was anticipation at its best. I was left gaping. People I was talking to me were clapping, shouting praises. Some (at North Stands) had stood up. Dhoni and Virender Sehwag were patting Rahane’s back. It was beautiful.

It wasn’t the only occasion. Rahane went on to prevent more runs in that region. His bravery there eventually ended up in a bruise. But, all the while he as there, he looked as threatening as a Frilled Lizard.Small, but dangerous. Guarded the territory well. You don’t want to go near an angry Frilled Lizard which is on the attack.

That’s the only joy I got while watching the Indians on the field. Kohli’s presence  at slips or other stationary positions, and his athleticism couldn’t be utilized much. Most of the rest were plain eye sore.

When Sehwag goes chasing after a ball, I thought he must’ve decided at breakfast itself to let the ball win the race. When Sachin Tendulkar goes to field a ball, it is like he is dancing a weird version of a slow Western dance. He would jog to the ball, lazily bend and scoop the ball, turn around and lob is back to the keeper/bowler. Yuvraj Singh was so not the Yuvraj Singh I like to remember. He was parked at the boundary for the whole time, much like how Samit Patel was for the English side. When Zaheer Khan moved, jokes moved faster. The best one was – “Zaheer is waiting for an autorickshaw to give him a lift to where the ball is headed.” Ojha is not a great fielder by any means. It was a very awkward dive that caused him an injury in the Ahmedabad test. (I’m happy it wasn’t a severe injury) Ashwin, well, I’ve seen Shaquille O’Neal run better, and more enthusiastically.

I don’t know how, but Indian fielders have perfected the art of diving after the ball goes past them. And the ball would’ve gone from under the belly. Every run saved counts, even in test cricket. Fielders in the circle, if sharp, can keep the batsman stagnated, can induce foolish strokes out of them. If they hit a ball for four, so be it. I’d prefer them to hit a 4 rather than give them fours singles. Right now, a dab 5 yards away from the fielders gives enough room for the batsmen to cross over. It reminds me of the old tactic some would apply while playing Australia – Hayden was slow (is he flat footed? I remember reading so somewhere.), and people would dab the ball just away from him at gully and steal a single. The Indian team has more than a handful of those slow-pokes.

The fielding has to get its act together, so any pressure from the bowlers does not go waste and there is no extra burden on the batsmen to mop up when they bat.

Bagrat