Easy Test win can be dangerously deceptive

India is winning at home, on tailor-made wickets… If this is the great recovery of Indian cricket that satisfies us, then our standards are petty

Nothing establishes India as a society with a short memory than the response to the cricket team. Two big victories against a weak and confused Australian Test team, and M.S. Dhoni’s men are being hailed and praised as if there were no tomorrow.

Only weeks ago, Dhoni himself was described finished as at least a five-day cricketer. Today he is being praised by Sunil Gavaskar — as much a weathercock as a critic as he was unwavering as a batsman — as the logical captain till 2019. Duncan Fletcher, spectacular failure as the Indian cricket coach, is being rewarded with a possible contract renewal.
There is no doubt that Dhoni’s double century in the first Test was a compelling innings. That aside, Cheteshwar Pujara has offered continued reassurance at number three. Even so, let us not forget that pretty much the same team was thrashed 4-0 in England and Australia in 2011, and lost at home to England only a few months ago. It is now winning at home, on tailor-made wickets, with middling bowling attacks and against very weak opposition. If this is the great recovery of Indian cricket that satisfies us, then our standards are awfully petty.
Once more we are swerving back to the early 1990s, and the smug complacency of the period before the match-fixing scandal broke. In 1993, the Indian team beat England 3-0 in a three-Test series at home, on pitches handmade as it were for Anil Kumble, and with the Vinod Kamblis of the world hitting double centuries. This began an era of designer victories on local grounds, with Mohammed Azharuddin as the over-achiever captain and Ajit Wadekar as the coach. Yet, India did not win abroad. It was consistently beaten and even thrashed overseas, but developed a healthy and fattening appetite for conditions cooked up at home.
It took the shock of the match-fixing swindle and the coming together of Saurav Ganguly and John Wright to change things. The desire to restore the honour of Indian cricket and give its Test team an identity and competitiveness — and a capacity to win consistently against anyone and anywhere — was what made that leadership different. It helped that Dravid and Laxman, Tendulkar and Kumble were part of the mix. They were both talented and hungry for recognition as being members of a respected Test team.
The point here is not to compare one cricketer from this age to his analogue of 10 years ago and assess whether he is better or worse. It is to ask if there is a medium to long-term strategy for the team or there isn’t. Wright and Ganguly and their colleagues had a clear mandate — to win Test series abroad and with regularity. This wasn’t done in a day. It was a gradual and incremental process, and behind it was a plan, as well as the buy-in of at least a section of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the senior core of the team.
History is not quite repeating itself. Rather, there is the danger that the temporary success against Australia will be used to paper over the setbacks of the past two years and once more Indian cricket will find itself in the familiar zone where it is satisfied with paltry benchmarks.
The highlight of the Ganguly-Wright era was the tour of Australia in 2003. It ended in a one-one draw, gave India its first Test victory in Australia in over three decades and almost won it its first series Down Under. That tour didn’t happen just like that. There was effort and work that went into it. Gaps were filled, or sought to be filled. Batsmen had to be battle-ready for what was always going to be a tough tour, physically and mentally — with demands being made by Australian crowds, conditions and gamesmanship. Australia was recognised as the final frontier and given the respect that this recognition merited.
Australia is no more the ultimate test for an Indian cricket team, at least not while Michael Clarke’s XI is just so infirm. In a sense, the balance of power has shifted to South Africa which, along with England, is the best Test team today. South Africa is another country Indians have found difficult to acclimatise to. The pace of its pitches, the hard edge to its sports culture: it has all been a challenge. In November-December 2013, India tours South Africa. Are we even remotely prepared? Two years would have passed since the whitewash in Australia. Two-and-a-half years would have passed since the whitewash in England. Surely this should have been time enough?
It is nobody’s case that Test cricket is the only form of the game worth cherishing or celebrating. Limited-overs cricket — even the Twenty20 version — brings in new followers and calls for skills and athleticism that are not to be discounted. The days when India could play two back-to-back five or six Test series are gone and will never return. However, irrespective of what the equation is between the three formats of cricket, the fact is Test cricket — some quantum of Test cricket — will always be played and will always be considered the supreme examination of a cricketer’s calling. The Indian team cannot run away from that reality. It cannot be the dominant cricket economy but chicken out of striving to be a dominant force in the classical game.
That is what makes the adulation and self-congratulation in the midst of the current Australian series so very disturbing. It is only delaying the obvious. For the South Africa tour, the one new idea being heard is that Virender Sehwag should bat in the middle-order to give it some strength. Since he can’t open and his eyes and reflexes appear to have slowed, let’s put him down the order as a Plan B. Is this a winning strategy? It sounds more like a defensive gambit that has accepted retreat even before the air tickets for Johannesburg have been booked.
It is such evidence that makes it difficult for one to get carried away by the two recent Test victories. This is not to undermine the fine innings and brave bowling that helped achieve them. Nevertheless it needs to be recognised that this is the result of placing the bar very low. In flattering itself, Indian cricket is inevitably only deceiving itself.

Post new comment

<form action="/comment/reply/225753" accept-charset="UTF-8" method="post" id="comment-form"> <div><div class="form-item" id="edit-name-wrapper"> <label for="edit-name">Your name: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="60" name="name" id="edit-name" size="30" value="Reader" class="form-text required" /> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-mail-wrapper"> <label for="edit-mail">E-Mail Address: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="64" name="mail" id="edit-mail" size="30" value="" class="form-text required" /> <div class="description">The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.</div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-comment-wrapper"> <label for="edit-comment">Comment: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <textarea cols="60" rows="15" name="comment" id="edit-comment" class="form-textarea resizable required"></textarea> </div> <fieldset class=" collapsible collapsed"><legend>Input format</legend><div class="form-item" id="edit-format-1-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-1"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-1" name="format" value="1" class="form-radio" /> Filtered HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Allowed HTML tags: &lt;a&gt; &lt;em&gt; &lt;strong&gt; &lt;cite&gt; &lt;code&gt; &lt;ul&gt; &lt;ol&gt; &lt;li&gt; &lt;dl&gt; &lt;dt&gt; &lt;dd&gt;</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-format-2-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-2"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-2" name="format" value="2" checked="checked" class="form-radio" /> Full HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> </fieldset> <input type="hidden" name="form_build_id" id="form-2fbb5c961f6c5dc479dcc095912003c8" value="form-2fbb5c961f6c5dc479dcc095912003c8" /> <input type="hidden" name="form_id" id="edit-comment-form" value="comment_form" /> <fieldset class="captcha"><legend>CAPTCHA</legend><div class="description">This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.</div><input type="hidden" name="captcha_sid" id="edit-captcha-sid" value="81486808" /> <input type="hidden" name="captcha_response" id="edit-captcha-response" value="NLPCaptcha" /> <div class="form-item"> <div id="nlpcaptcha_ajax_api_container"><script type="text/javascript"> var NLPOptions = {key:'c4823cf77a2526b0fba265e2af75c1b5'};</script><script type="text/javascript" src="http://call.nlpcaptcha.in/js/captcha.js" ></script></div> </div> </fieldset> <span class="btn-left"><span class="btn-right"><input type="submit" name="op" id="edit-submit" value="Save" class="form-submit" /></span></span> </div></form>

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.