Kabelled: Re-inventing the Indian Cricket Wheel
I have been watching cricket, since I began understanding stuff beyond As and 1s. I remember India playing Sri-Lanka in the Semi-finals of the 1996 World Cup in India. At that point I really wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the situation; I was actually quite impressed with both the teams scoring beyond 200. For a child that was 9 years old, those were big numbers.
Fast-forward 3 more years, and the World Cup was upon us once again (for some strange reason, it was at a gap of 3 years instead of 4). I remember Saurav scoring his 183 against Sri-Lanka, that heart-break loss against Zimbabwe, Jadeja scoring an exact 100 in a losing effort against the Australians, and beating Pakistan (how can I forget that). I was beginning to like what I see, I wasn’t watching it anymore because it was what my parents watched (yes my mom too, is an cricket enthusiast), I was watching it because I wanted too.
Then came the big shake-down, the South-African tour had just ended, and World Cricket felt the shocks of match-fixing. Revered names like Hansie Cronje, Mohd. Azaharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia, all fell from grace. As unfortunate as that was, this was the event that ushered in what I believe to be the modern era of Cricket as an international sport. The game became more organized, more transparent, more rigid. With the advent of a penetrating media and a global fan-following, cricket while way far behind was entering the brackets of Football and Baseball. While cricket was changing, Indian cricket itself was in turmoil, no-one was above suspicion, no-one could be trusted, no-one could lead such a broken unit, no-one but Sachin Tendulkar. For a young boy, it was the logical thing to do, the golden boy of Indian cricket stepping up and re-building a team that was coming apart at the hinges. But it was not to be; instead this young boy like various others was going to be treated to a resurrection, nay a birth of new team India.
For every sport loving fan there is an athlete who attracts him to it. For me it was always Saurav Ganguly. My teenage years were spent watching India defeat Australia in 2001, beat England in England for the NatWest Trophy in 2003 (perhaps the best ODI I will ever watch), and then reach the final of the 2003 World Cup. I was big enough now, to understand the game, and I made a point to understand everything it had to offer. What I understood is this: under Saurav a young India bloomed. With Saurav came Yuvraj, came Harbhajan, came Zaheer Khan. But more importantly with Saurav came an attitude. Under him the team accomplished historic feats (test wins in England, Australia, and West-Indies). Under him the players found a backer (he is single handedly responsible for Rahul’s comeback into ODI cricket). India faltered sometimes for sure, remember that abhorrent series against the New-Zealand just before the World Cup and the next Australian tour of India, which we lost. But he didn’t take those punches quiet, and always ‘and I mean always’ backed himself and his players. Agreed that the cricket of that era (1999-2009) will be ever remembered for the absolute dominance of the Australians, but ask any Indian fan who has watched cricket long enough and he would more likely term it as the ‘Ganguly Era’. Breaking down that time into mere numbers is not worthy enough for the man, but an author somewhere gives it a valiant tries, check out how India performed under Ganguly, by clicking on the image below.
But times change, and as good as India had become, they were yet to reach their full potential. In spite of the Saurav-Chapell-Rahul fiasco, the team still seemed to be on an upward curve, as we won our first test series in the West Indies since 2006. And then, ICC World Cup 2007 happened. Suddenly the curve hit a ceiling and everything came crashing down. The media, the fans and even the commentators were angry (and rightly so), losing to Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka and exiting in the opening stages of the tournament was very un-becoming of last edition’s runners up. The BCCI reacted in the only way it knew; sacked the coach (good riddance) and elect a new captain, and that captain my friend was not Yuvraj Singh (as many, myself included had imagined) but Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Dhoni took the reins slowly, taking over as only the T-20 captain of the side which was going to participate in the ICC inaugural T-20 World Cup in South Africa, later in the year. There was no coach on that tour, and going in with a side full of new faces such as Joginder Sharma and Yusuf Pathan, in a format which India had rarely played, the expectations within the general public were low. Everyone and their grand-mother expected this to be a humble ground-work, the process of building a team starting from scratch again. We were back to square one, agonizingly re-inventing the wheel.
And then something magical happened. I sat starry-eyed and open mouthed as I saw Yuvraj Singh smack those six sixes off Stuart Broad, Sreesanth celebrating like a rabid hound after dissmissing Hayden in the semifinals against Australia, and finally Sreesanth latching onto that mammoth catch of Misbah in the final against whom else but Pakistan. By chance or design, the pieces had fallen into their places, for that brief night in 2007, for a bunch of college students, the puzzle was complete. The Indians were world champions!!! As we shouted at the top of our lungs, threw chairs and other movable furniture around, and hugged everyone in sight, we celebrated like there was no tomorrow, because let’s face it, as awesome as it was, it was a flash in the pan.
Only it was not. India went to win a rare test series in England, winning an ODI series in Australia, beating them in a best of 3 finals format. There were those regular slip-ups of course, like the poor showing in the next T-20 World Cup and the ICC trophy, but overall India were finally on the top of things. The time from 2007 to 2011 will always be remembered as the ‘Golden time’ of Indian Cricket, unless of course they better it in the coming years. Under Dhoni, India won the ICC T-20 World Championship, became the no.1 ranked team in the ICC test rankings, and the icing on the cake won the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. The last four years had produced alchemy of sorts with Sachin, Saurav, Dravid and Kumble entering their swansongs and Yuvraj, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni entering their own. It was a great time to be an Indian fan, especially for one who had seen his team rise from a broken un-united husk, to become an integrated world power.
Today, as we see an uproar against the current Indian side, the long history lesson that you just went through becomes all the more important. The curve that I was talking about is always a sine wave. After every crest, a trough must come, and so it has arrived for India. England had been in it for ages, New Zealand is there now, West Indies is just now coming out of it, and even Australia feels the drop. I agree that losing two test matches in home conditions is criminal if not blasphemous. I agree not scoring 400 on a 500 pitch twice is crazy if not downright ridiculous, I also agree that letting a team score more than 400 on a square turner is basically suicide. But there is more to all of this than just angry reactions.
The re-build that I thought was going to happen in 2007, should happen today. But it cannot happen in the way people across the country are asking for. You cannot just throw the 11 guys who failed and replace them with another 11. Saurav knew that, so did Clarke, Dhoni and hopefully BCCI know the same. Change is upon us, but instead of forcing it and making it look like a revolution (like what happened in West Indies), we should try to integrate it gracefully, and make it look like a passing of the torch (Steve Waugh retirement Test anyone).
We no longer have Anil Kumble who used to run through number 6-10, we no longer have VVS Laxman, who had a rear guard action of ages, and we no longer have Dravid, the less of which we say the better. What we do have is Sachin, Cheteshwar, Kohli, Ashwin and Zaheer. Zaheer is still one of the best fast bowler around (and I mean at a global level), and he is more than required to blood youngsters like Ishaant and Umesh. Ditto for Sachin, he is the glue that is holding those 6 batsmen together, his innings in Eden Gardens were painful to watch but he showed how to score runs even when you are out of form. These are lessons that Pujara, Gambhir, and Kohli have to learn. Dhoni as a keeper and as test batsman has his own demons, but as a leader, he needs to be given some breathing space, and trusted. There is no, and I cannot stress this enough ‘NO’ proper option to replace him right now. We have the South African tour coming up, and imagine a young team going to South Africa without Sachin and Sehwag. Next up, we have the Autralians visiting us in India, imagine playing them without Dhoni and Zaheer.
The transition is here, no doubt about it. But it has to be smooth. We need a new ODI captain, at least a new T-20 captain for sure, but test reigns has to stay with Dhoni, until the afore-mentioned captain is ready to step in that role (ideally after 1-2 consistent years). Sachin need to be a part of this team at least for the South African tour, even if it means missing out on Raina or Rohit Sharma (which in my personal opinion is not a negative trade-off). I have no idea where our spin department is going, but the quick show promise. Umesh Yadav needs to be groomed, and I hope someone up there writes better scripts for Ishaant, there is also Aaron and Awana in the wings, but having Zaheer there will allow for a smooth take-over especially in South-Africa (where bowlers seem to get carried away). Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina again by my personal opinion need to realize that test cricket is not for them, but also realize that they have an important part to play in the ODI format. Manoj Tiwary, Ajaynka Rahane needs to be used much more and given a long leash (**cough cough** Rohit Sharma**cough cough**). Irfaan is on his way back, and I would like nothing better than to see him fill those all-rounder shoes, Rajendra Jadeja on the other hand needs to prove that he is more than just Captain’s lackey (that domestic three hundred was a good start).
The times change, Bangladesh is beating a full strength West-Indies team, a disheartened New Zealand defeated Sri-Lanka convincingly at home. It’s not as if India are the only one facing issue, what I believe is that we have the resources to handle this crisis. I don’t see the playing XI changing much for Nagpur (apart from Awaana in for Zaheer and Jadeja in for Yuvraj). I maybe wrong, but I would like to believe that I am right, I would like to believe that there is a plan; I would like to believe that while it is time to change, the time to re-invent the wheel still isn’t here.