India’s World Cup: Wrong Decisions and an Uncertain Future

My reaction to India’s exit from the World Cup. Written for Desicritics.org, cross posted here.

It has been a tough time for Indian Cricket. The last 24 hours or so have showed that how the mighty fall.

Defeat becomes less bitter when you try everything that you can to avoid it. Things would have been less worse for our team if they would have put up a fight. When Wright and Ganguly took up the ruins of the cricket team they faced an uphill task. There was a need for people who could play good cricket and did not carry the huge bundle of egos and world records with them. Ganguly, in particular, was adamant on backing virtually unknown players, picking them up from the domestic games. No bloated egos and a hunger to do well while giving a fight — these seemed to be the prerequisites for being a part of the team. Wright went on to instill a work ethic that was unheard of in the past. For example, the new coach had to stop the serving of tea and biscuits while the players did the nets. The laid back attitude had to go.

I am afraid, this same laid back attitude has crept back in somehow. There is complacency somewhere, no matter how much the skipper denies it.

We are emotional fans. We go to extremes. Our team, which faces our wrath now while we burn their effigies also enjoys unprecedented fan support anywhere they are. We love our cricketers, we worship them. This, I dare say, is a privilege unavailable to most teams in world cricket. And that is why, we’ll be happy if our team fights it out in the middle. For them, putting up a fight should become obligatory. If everything else fails to inspire them, that is. Those billion people deserve it. If they do that, winning will become sweeter and loosing will be less bitter.

Chappell’s remarks, during the post-match conference, were made out to be inflammatory even when he had said nothing that could be termed offensive/arrogant per-se. The coach was briefing the media minutes after the world cup defeat. At one point, at the edge of getting annoyed, he said, “You are putting words in my mouth”. The media there, I think, was indeed doing so and in a bid to make him say something that would have indeed been inflammatory. That would have given them more masala for the day ahead. They have already dubbed the whole thing as Chappell and Dravid being unapologetic and it’s on air already.

But they did go wrong, the coach-captain duo, didn’t they? Some straight statistics now.

Harbhajan Singh has gone through a transformation. He looks a shadow of what he was in 2001. Figures suggest that when he came on to bowl against Sri Lanka in that critical world cup tie, he was (and still is) one of the most overrated bowlers in world cricket. Since the ICC Champions trophy held in 2004, the bowler has played in 61 matches and has taken 57 wickets — less than 1 wicket per match. And after the captain chose to commit the blunder of overlooking a bowler of the class of Kumble, he went on to overlook Ramesh Powar as well, even though the Mumbai player took 24 wickets at an average of 27.62 in the 18 ODIs he played. Mind you, he always has played as the second spinner. Singh, meanwhile, hasn’t been looking to take wickets. He has been way too defensive. In the game against Sri Lanka, I thought he should have come around the wicket to the left hander while it was evident that his bowling was not bothering the batsman. Instead, he chose to bowl the negative leg stump line. In contrast, while Sehwag was looking good in the crease, Muralitharan took the challenge on by coming around the wicket. Sehwag fell, almost immediately, giving a catch at first slip.

May 2006. The last time India toured West Indies, Kaif was a part of the ODI squad. He was the second highest scorer for India in the series, second only to Sehwag. Kaif scored 205 runs in 5 ODIs at an average of 51.25 while Sehwag went on to score 237 runs at an average of 47.40. In the next 15 matches that Sehwag played before the world cup, the opener scored 225 runs at an average of 15 runs per innings. Kaif stayed home while Dravid’s support to Sehwag was made public.

You don’t need to be an expert in Cricket to understand the significance of the number three batsman in the squad. Unfortunately, this fact was overlooked by Dravid. The team ended up without a regular number three. We had everyone from Dravid, Kaif, Dhoni, Raina and Pathan experiment with that slot. Eventually, when the world cup came, we saw Uthappa and Sehwag playing at the critical position. So much for the experiments. Personally, I think its always ideal to have a test-match mould player come into that position, but that’s just an opinion.

They should stop putting all the blame on the coach. If batsmen having 10000 runs under their belt are not able to carry the weight of their responsibilities, it would be unfair to blame the coach for that. In fact, these guys could actually do without a coach. India’s winning percentage in ODI’s with Chappell as coach has been 51%. India’s winning percentage since 2000: 52%

Where does Indian Cricket go from here? Too early to say. Introspection is required. Not only by the BCCI but an exercise of self-assessment has to be taken up by the senior players. This debacle should create an impact somewhere within those 15 men.

Bold decisions, not knee jerk reactions, from the BCCI are impending. We need decisions that would probably speak louder than our past glories. But keeping in mind the past record of BCCI, its asking for too much. BCCI is not an organization to be proud of, the past few years it has ended up doing less good to Indian Cricket, but that deserves another full length post. Like a friend suggested, I’d prefer to see the Daddys of this Daddy’s army play only test cricket from now on. Let the young men come in. It is hard to replicate the magnitude of change that was brought in by Ganguly and Wright but I’m afraid someone might just have to do that again for India.

Meanwhile, one suggestion. There is plenty of cricket left in this World Cup. Because it is just a game, and because you are such an avid lover of the game, I’d suggest you not to miss it. South Africa and Australia are playing some exciting cricket and whats more, those annoying commercials are almost gone.

May the best team win.

PS: All statistics and records mentioned here, courtesy the incredible cricinfo.com

2 thoughts on “India’s World Cup: Wrong Decisions and an Uncertain Future

  1. 1) We have been resting on past glory. Because of inertia, we haven’t been able to change.

    2) We kept telling over and over again our team has the best lineup of batsmen, when that wasn’t the case, as figures will bear out.

    3) We are too obsessed cricketers and match results rather than cricket and good play. Unpredictablity of result can be understood, but not unpredictability of performance.

    4) Cricketers say they are sincere and committed; but there is absolutely no proof.

    5) Cricketers have let themselves grow larger than the game. The risk is destroying a good sport. We are perilously inching close to this.

    6) An assessment and acceptance of reality is what is to be done immediately. Aren’t we just a middle-level ordinary team, capable of winning a few match when conditions suit us? Cricketers and fans (the crazy ones especially) must ask themselves this question.

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