India has achieved so very much and the time has come to take the next step, writes Peter Roebuck
Indian cricket lacks intensity. Although it has produced glorious players and retained a vast audience, the cricket community does not embrace greatness so much as tickle its stomach. In the past, sporadic victories have been enough to satisfy the spirit. Every new country, club, school or province relishes its first triumphs. They announce that the newcomer has arrived and means business. Sustained success is not expected from fresh faces owing to a lack of experience and depth. In any case India had weightier matters on its mind.
But times have changed. Excuses of this sort no longer hold water. India has risen and must recognise higher expectations. No longer can the old indulgences be tolerated for that way mediocrity lies. Across the board, India must put its best foot forward. It is the same in the film industry. Recently eminent Indian directors and actors discussed taking local movies to a wider world. They seemed strangely hesitant. Meanwhile, an Indian production of Midsummer Night’s Dream was playing to packed houses in Sydney. The bell has rung.
Happily India is starting to think the big thoughts. Certainly it is starting to assert itself in a wider range of activities. A female tennis player is making her mark. Indian golfers are winning important tournaments. An Indian outfit is taking part in the Grand Prix races. Admittedly hockey is not going so well but perhaps that signifies growing diversity as well as old-fashioned incompetence.
It is all part of becoming a confident nation. Clearly India intends to pull its weight. Already it has achieved so very much and the time has come to take the next step. Accordingly it is no longer appropriate for the cricketers to lose focus after every famous victory. Instead Indian cricket ought to expect to win, celebrate for a couple of days and then get back to work. Sometimes it is easier to handle failure than success, especially in a nation with such a strong streak of fatalism.
Nothing in India’s performances after the triumph in the World Twenty20 or after taking the one-day spoils in Australia suggests that the cricket culture is strong enough to sustain success. On the contrary, India immediately looked flabby. It is not entirely the players’ fault. Locals seem to relish awards. Pictures of people shaking hands are widely featured in the newspapers. It is well intended. No-one wants India to be a boring place full of people talking about property prices. But when joy turns into delirium it becomes corrosive.
No sooner had the team returned from the Twenty20 triumph than they were endlessly feted. The effect of these celebrations upon a bunch of young boys from outstations can be imagined. As a result India looks weaker at home than overseas. It only takes the loss of a little sharpness to make the difference between victory and defeat. Australia promptly exacted its revenge in the ensuing ODI series.
Now it seems that the same mistake has been made following the heady success down under. Ishant Sharma has been pestered into tears. R.P. Singh’s fielding has been lamentable and his bowling has lacked rhythm, confirming that he has been prematurely recalled. Sreesanth has blown hot and cold. And the team’s outcricket has been awful, with the older hands appearing slow. India has been sustained by sturdy showings from motivated players. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Contrastingly the South Africans have looked red hot. They have problems of their own. It is a complicated world. All the more reason to keep a steady head.