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Culture of glamour surrounds the team

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PETER ROEBUCK
PETER ROEBUCK

Nothing will change unless the deeper causes of the decline are confronted

Far from condemning Rahul Dravid and comrades for an admittedly ignominious but also unfortunate exit, the time has come to remember their outstanding contributions. Nothing lasts for forever.

India has been blessed with an exceptional bunch of cricketers who have managed to paper over the cracks in the national game. Sooner or later this team will be seen in its proper context, as a collection of impressive characters who overcame formidable challenges to serve with distinction.

Collective commitment

It is easily forgotten that these players came together in the worst of times. They rescued their country's cricket from the blight of match fixing.

Under both captains, the Bengal Tiger and the warrior from Bangalore, the team won matches on home and foreign soil. No less importantly, they created and abided by a collective commitment.

India can only hope the same is true of their successors. Arguably, the team had the wrong captain and the wrong coach but it is foolish to heap all the blame on those holding high office. Greg Chappell has departed and Dravid will soon follow but nothing will change unless the deeper causes of the decline are confronted.

Nor is it merely a matter of an old side suffering from wear and tear. Certainly the outfit sent to the Caribbean was on its last legs but that was unavoidable because no satisfactory replacements had been found amongst the younger brigade.

Opportunities had been given to various youths but most flattered to deceive. Doubtless, those responsible were keen to sharpen the fielding and running between the wickets. Instead, they were obliged to send an ageing army into battle. Had India somehow staggered into the semifinals, they might have taken the spoils. Instead, they were harassed into early defeat.

Clearly, the inability to find youths talented and mature enough to replace weary elders is holding back Indian cricket. It was not supposed to be like this. After all players are emerging from all corners of the country and from all sort of backgrounds. Hardly any come from the traditional centres.

Accordingly the side was supposed to be tougher, hungrier, more street wise. Instead, the newcomers seem to have been swamped by the prevailing culture, devoured by the hangers on and the temptations so that the force that brought them to attention has been neutered. A "culture" of glamour and grabbing seems to surround the national team, so that it becomes almost indistinguishable from Bollywood. But the film industry is a dream world that belongs in celebrity magazines.

Sport is flesh and blood. Cricket is real. Actual men rise and fall, the end is unknown, the script unwritten. At present, talented cricketers appear from backwaters and flourish for a year before the advertisers and sponsors and backslappers distract them.

Insecurity

Sportsmen are insecure and often immature and like to make hay while the sun shines. Maybe their training suffers by a mere fraction but it is enough to blunt their edge. Nor is it easy to recover squandered ability.

Educated players from established families are less prone to the bright lights but, as past scandals confirm, they are not immune. As far as cricket is concerned, India's passion and new wealth are mixed blessings. Likewise, the commendable spreading of the game presents fresh challenges. India needs to restore its focus on cricket as a worthwhile game, needs to ensure that youngsters are raised to serve and not to seek.

If these principles are re-established then the rest will follow. Otherwise, India will depend for its periodic success upon the equal incompetence of opponents.

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