India lost 0-4 to England in England 2011 through poor preparation, a wrong team, a sudden and indescribable inability to play the seaming ball, injuries and overall fatigue. Oh! And the opposition played brilliantly too.
India then went on to lose 0-4 to Australia in Australia. Injuries and fatigue could not be blamed for that loss. India had prepared reasonably well too. One or two players had warmed the bench right through the tour — somewhat surprisingly and with some inflexible obstinacy on the part of team management. But overall, the touring party was perhaps the best that India could have fielded. Yet India had lost. Badly.
The captain, Dhoni was blamed for his wrong selections. Dhoni was also blamed for his ultra-defensive field placings. ‘Rift’ remained a recurring refrain. Aging seniors in the team were blamed. Two of these seniors subsequently retired.
The team spoke in many tongues on that disastrous tour of Australia. In one of the one-day games, Dhoni achieved a victory with a few balls to spare and with many hearts in mouths. In the press conference after the game, Gautam Gambhir, who had scored 92 in that game, said that the game ought to have been closed off in the 48th over itself. On another occasion, Dhoni responded to a team selection issue and indicated that some of the seniors were too slow and cost the team 20 runs on the field. Sehwag responded to that statement with surprise.
All was not well with the team. Or so it appeared.
Mohinder Amarnath, the then chairman of selection committee, wanted Dhoni removed as captain. The BCCI President, N. Srinivasan, vetoed that decision. Much band-aid was needed, and applied. Much sand-papering was needed, and performed. Much shoving-under-carpet was required, and accomplished.
India looked to rebuilding a tired, aging and weary team that appeared unready for transition. Just as everything else, we do not plan a transition. It just happens. We are like that only. Some felt that the transition process had already been delayed. Yet, India had the perfect opportunity to rebuild at home over a one year period. And India did that through a mix of worthy retirements and good luck through injuries and bad form. Slowly, but surprisingly effectively, under the watchful eyes of a new selection committee headed by Sandeep Patil, the team transitioned.
Ishant Sharma had sledged David Warner in the Perth Test of the Australia series: “Come to India, we will show you,” he had said. Gautam Gambhir, the then team India opening batsman, issued a similar challenge to the Australians and added that India had to prepare “rank turners” for visiting teams. Gambhir and Ishant Sharma betrayed a defensive mindset. They also provided much fodder for the Indian press corps that visited Australia with the India team. The press was more interested in blood, blame and bludgeoning than they were in understanding what exactly was going on with and within the team.
Gambhir was right in asking for “rank turners” to be prepared. I am not sure why there is much disdain for “dust bowls” and “rank turners”. I haven’t heard too many people say, “Disgraceful pitch. Look at that bounce and lateral movement on day-one itself,” but have heard many a person say “What a disgrace! Turn and bounce on day-one itself?” Spinners are as much a part of cricket as pace bowlers are. The game, particularly in Australia, needs to embrace spin as much as it does, pace. Words like “dust bowl” and “pitch doctoring” have been used as pejoratives for far too long in our game. There is nothing wrong with a turning track.
And so, a few turning tracks were prepared to welcome the Australian team. The visiting Australians did not have the skill or the capabilities to cope with the turning ball. Suddenly, the shoe was on the other foot.
The captain, Clarke, was blamed for his wrong team selections. He was also blamed for his somewhat strange captaincy decisions. ‘Rift’ remained a recurring refrain. Immature juniors in the team were blamed.
The point is that just as India needs to prepare more seaming tracks for the domestic Ranji Trophy competition, Australia has to prepare spinning “dust bowls” for some of their domestic games. Dust is not hard to find. And a bowl ought to be available in Australia. Several of the leading talents in the Australian team were badly exposed after coping very poorly with spin, and this showed in Australia’s poor returns from the series.
When India toured England and Australia, there was a sense that there were a few players who had been left behind who ought to have made the team. There were certainly a few players who warmed the bench during those two tours who, perhaps, ought to have got a game. Injury and fatigue plagued at least one of those tours. The real worry for Australia is that the team that they brought over to India was probably their best team. It is likely, therefore, that the rebuilding process will take just that little bit longer for the Australian team.
This is not to say that India has rebuilt the team completely. No. The work has just begun. And as Sameer Chopra says in his blog article, “I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions about the future of Indian cricket based on one series win, at home, against a team undergoing a transition of its own. South Africa, at home, awaits. But the presence of young batsmen who show a hunger for runs, spinners who show aggression, and most importantly, a winning feeling whose memory will, hopefully, stick around and provide some wind beneath their sails in that land. On its pitches, against names like Steyn, Morkel and Philander, there is sufficient cause to hope that no more inversions of this present score lie around the corner.”
A stern test awaits this Indian team now. However, the 4-0 win over Australia was no ordinary feat. And it was delivered by captain M. S. Dhoni leading from the front in the first Test of the series. In his forceful wake came telling contributions from M. Vijay (16 Tests), Ravichandran Ashwin (16 Tests), Cheteshwar Pujara (13 Tests), Shikar Dhawan (1 Test), Ravindra Jadeja (5 Tests), Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (4 Tests), Virat Kohli (18 Tests) and Pragyan Ojha (22 Tests) and Ishant Sharma (51 Tests). This was a significant series win achieved by the above nine players with a total experience total of 146 Tests between them; one in which a particular player with an experience of 198 Tests hadn’t really contributed much.
Barring the introduction of Ajinkya Rahane, most of India’s selection decisions were good and more importantly, paid off. Will Rahane get the benefit of doubt? Subash Jayaraman thinks he should not. That apart, the right players were picked at the right time. And the right players were dropped at the right time. It would appear that this team now responds to the captain much more than the team which represented the worrying transition between 0-8 and 4-0.
I wish India was heading to South Africa next week; a tour that will separate the men from the boys, wheat from chaff. But we have to endure the IPL and a stunning array of meaningless ODIs before India goes head to head against South Africa. And it will be a while yet before we can say “Come to India, we will show you,” as the next domestic Test series is some time away…
— Mohan (@mohank)