It’s been a dismal summer to say the least. What was billed as the final frontier for Team India to conquer and rightfully stamp their authority as the best test playing nation in the world, turned out to be a nightmare. Where did the team go wrong? Was the gulf in class so much that we didn’t dominate a single innings? Are the rankings bogus? Good questions to ponder if you are an Indian fan. But more than the questions mentioned above, which look at solving the problems at present, we can probably look at some which, when answered, might show the challenging road that this Indian Cricket team needs to tread.
1. Where is the next Rahul Dravid?
Let’s start with the one silver lining we managed in the entire doom and gloom series. Rahul Dravid. Oh, what a player. Quite simply put, every match could have ended inside 3 days had Dravid not been a part of this Indian team. A mind boggling fact is that he managed to overtake Tendulkar in terms of balls played, having made his debut 7 years later. That speaks something about his mammoth powers of concentration as well as his longevity. He looked equipped to not only face but even negotiate the vicious swing of the English pace battery. More often than not he got out to beauties, which would have snared other batsmen as well. His slip catching let him down a bit though, and it was good to see him throw the ball away in frustration and screaming at himself when he got out. At least it showed that he cared. One wouldn’t be too wrong if he were to place Rahul Dravid on the zenith of India’s greatest Test players. After all, what would India be without the Wall? Very soon we will have to find an answer to this question. And after the standards Dravid has managed, a mediocre one just won’t do.
2. India- Land of the limping dead?
The present Indian team reminded us of those Indian teams in the 90s when we just turned up for a match relying on individual brilliance to pull us through. We were shoddy on the field and our bowling attack looked pedestrian. Virender Sehwag’s shoulder wasn’t bulging out as was reported. Instead the bulge showed a bit lower. RP Singh managed to catch a flight and end up as a replacement for Zaheer, but made a good ad for Miami tourism, given the extra inches he put on in such a shot span during his holiday stint there. Zaheer though made the huge mistake of trying to bowl when he wasn’t fit and cost India dearly. I do not know the system as to who gives the fitness go-ahead, but surely players should themselves know whether they can play or not. Sehwag, Singh and Zaheer are just 3 examples of players who should have never played. We need a rigorous fitness system in place which ensures that players are fit enough to play matches. Quite simply put, we were an embarrassment when we took to the field. I understand that we might never get to where the top fielding sides of the world are, but to demand a decent level of fitness isn’t too much. Clearly, we need a change in this department. If it means getting in more fitness trainers coupled with harsh sanctions on players who don’t follow the regimens, so be it.
3. 20 wickets?
Test cricket is mostly about getting those 20wickets while ODI’s are more about getting more runs on board. That’s just the way cricket is. So, to be the best test nation, one needs to have an attack which can guarantee 20 wickets every other test match. When Praveen Kumar, all of 80mph in his quickest delivery, leads the attack, one has a major reason to worry. Ishant probably managed to cement himself in the team but not because of his good performances. It’s just that the others in Sreesanth, RP Singh, Mishra and Harbhajan were so awful that he looked better. Its all relative isn’t it?
4. The next Anil Kumble?
We all look at the void which the Indian middle order will have in the years to come, with Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar looking set to hang their boots within a year or two, with a major reason for worry. But somewhere, we forget the void that Anil Kumble left behind. And it has been a void we haven’t been able to fill up. When he had runs to defend against, he was a lethal bowler, and more often than not would guarantee us victory. His major asset though was his doggedness, his resilience even when the chips were down. If he were playing in this series, one thing we can be certain of is that he would have bowled economically, even if he weren’t able to take wickets. Harbhajan was woeful and his 400 wickets are more down to his longevity in the game(coupled with the selectors not looking towards Mishra, Ojha etc), rather than brilliance. Of late, Harbhajan Singh has been awful in every form of the game and should be axed. India sorely missed Anil Kumble, the fighter, and one can only hope that the next Anil Kumble is playing somewhere in the country and will soon get the nod from the selectors.
5. What are our priorities?
Let’s face it. Test cricket is no longer the priority for any of the players now. With the massive remuneration packages which come with the skills of bowling 4 good overs or a 20-ball 40, one can see why the interest in Test cricket is on the wane. Players fill up their bank accounts in 2 months of IPL time what even years of Test cricket cannot substitute. Perhaps the BCCI needs to look at the incentives in Test Cricket and ensure that Test cricket doesn’t die. There will always be a good market for Test Cricket, given the sheer fanatical following that cricket has in the country. However, such a market does need a good product offering in the shape of a good Indian team. The major worry is that the talent pool for Test Cricket in India seems to be diminishing, given the fact that we struggle for replacements in the Test side, but are not quite stretched the same way when we look at the T20 or the ODI squads. Clearly the skills required for proving oneself in Test Cricket are different and there must be a proper system in place to ensure Test cricketers are also being produced.
India did not fluke its way to the top spot in Test matches. Nor did we fluke our way to the World Cup. We had a solid bunch of cricketers who performed at their peak for a prolonged period, and helped us achieve such plaudits. This series, although a disaster in itself, gave us a strong reminder that perhaps we have forgotten the basics of what we did so correctly in the entire process of reaching the top. The loss of the top shot could actually be a good thing, if only it ushers in the required changes. Indian cricket is surely not going to experience the free fall of the Windies of the 80s. But to overcome the might of England, South Africa and Australia, the changes in the system need to made quickly. Otherwise we might just say hello to another era of the mediocre Indian cricket we had become so accustomed to in the 90s.