Indian cricket has contrasting reputations; very good at home but abysmal overseas. Seven away-from-home Test defeats in a row have exposed the brittle character of the team when challenged by quality opposition in exacting conditions. From seam and swing in England to pace and bounce in Australia the Indians have failed miserably to adapt.
A successive whitewash stares at India in Australia. Daggers are out. Critics, including the one-Test wonders in TV studios, are baying for blood. Sack the seniors and bring in the youngsters. “Not overnight, please,” Bishan Singh Bedi pleaded. “It can only be a process, not a knee jerk reaction.” He is right. It can only be a process.
India's preparations, according to Bedi, were “barest minimum” and expectations out of place. “At home, Australia is a very tough competitor. They play very hard and not like we do (in domestic cricket). They take great pride in their baggy green (national cap). Do we?”
“It is not such a bad team,” insisted Kapil Dev. “Why don't we give credit to the Australian team too. If I have to blame, I will blame the seniors. They should have taken the responsibility as they have in the past. They should have worked together to improve India's overseas record. But that doesn't happen when you look for personal performances and milestones. It is for the seniors to take the call.”
Anil Kumble was characteristically mellowed in his response. “The seniors certainly have to look at their future. Would they not like to end their career on a high? I don't think we failed because of them. It was a collective failure. Remember, these seniors have contributed enormously in making winning a habit. They have to bite the bullet yes, before or after Adelaide…leave it to them.”
The seniors, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag, will all take the call when the time comes. No doubt about it. The selectors have those plans in place. In any case, these seniors have hardly been a burden. But England and Australia have hurt their reputations in a big way. “I know they will take a call. But Laxman, Dravid and all took their places by performing well,” said Kumble.
Kumble added, “We need to start looking at ourselves. It had to happen. Don't blame the seniors. They did not bat as well as they are used to, but then which youngster has stepped up and taken the responsibility?” Lack of partnerships from the top have consistently hurt India.
What has hurt most is how a team, with the most experienced batting line-up in the world, could make only two 300 and plus totals in 14 innings! The sequence of totals in the last seven Tests is appalling: 286, 261, 288, 158, 224, 244, 300 and 283 in England; 282, 169, 191, 400, 161 and 171 in Australia.
“Difficult to pinpoint one reason or one aspect,” argued Dilip Vengsarkar. “The failure has been collective. So blame the entire team. India has failed in all the departments of the game.”
And that would include administration too. The decline in the standard of first cricket, and coaching methods at the junior level, has hardly helped. “The grooming process is poor for the juniors who hardly get to even interact with senior cricketers. The scheduling of international matches clashing with domestic season happens only in India,” said Kapil.
Bedi did not support slamming the team. “They have lost, yes, but why do we get carried away by one-day performances. Please accept you are not good. You have to look to improve. I will hold the team management too responsible. The togetherness was missing.”
Sourav Ganguly has been ballistic in his comments on air and acidic in his column. “There is talk about Laxman being dropped for the Adelaide Test. If that's the case, the same rule should be applied to other players as well,” he wrote, without naming the obvious “other players.” Kumble struck a reasonable note. “It hurts because overall, not one person stood up. If batsmen have failed, so have the bowlers. There was none to break the long partnerships.
“Not one bouncer was bowled at (David) Warner at Perth. Where else would you bowl a bouncer? At Kotla?” India needs to improve in all departments. No doubt we have to improve our record overseas but it won't happen overnight. This season the chinks got exposed thoroughly in England and Australia.”
Vengsarkar asserted, “They are all experienced and know it well but no one offered resistance.
“Everyone has some technical problem but then you have to adapt when it matters. Even I thought this was India's best chance to win a series in Australia. To me, this was the weakest bowling that Australians had in many, many years. They were very inexperienced. It has to be the worst phase of Indian cricket in my memory. Seven Test losses in a row with the verdicts being so overwhelming is awful indeed.”
Analysing Dravid's struggle, Vengsarkar felt, “He has had the tendency to play across the line. But look at his awesome record and contribution to Indian cricket. Let us not be harsh on him.”
Bedi also stood by Dravid. “Being bowled is just one more way of getting out. It doesn't mean you are a bad batsman. He was mainly getting out to a good ball. He didn't play a bad shot and in any case every bowler is entitled to a wicket-taking ball.”
There was support for Laxman too. Kumble asked, “Laxman has played 133 Tests but has been asked 100 times when would he retire. Just not fair to a great batsman.” Said Bedi, “Can anyone deny his stupendous contribution to Indian cricket; an absolute giant. Please don't pull the stalwarts down. Many who criticise them are not fit to even tie their shoe laces.
“Why are we not taking the technical committee to task?” The technical committee is in-charge of cricketing matters including pitches, domestic format, etc. Kapil observed, “The Indians are not used to that bounce and pace, and the length too (in Australia). They can't bowl well on those pitches; can't leave the ball. Lot of things they can't do. So, let Dhoni take the responsibility. He is the captain and it was his duty to motivate. He obviously failed.”
India faces another possible nightmare at Adelaide unless the seniors rise to the occasion. It would be their last Test appearance in Australia.
Keywords: India's tour of Australia