Are Indians worthy World Champions in Cricket?
I am an ardent admirer of cricket and would always want the Indian cricket team to do well and be the best or among the best. But I'd also not hesitate to criticize my national team if as a fan I see some serious problems with the running and performance of the side and attempts being made to brush it aside.
Even though the present Indian cricket team is the current World Champion in one-day cricket and held the number one status in Test cricket till last year, but the series debacles in England and Australia has raised serious questions over the capability of this Indian cricket team in competing against tough opposition in fast-bowler friendly conditions.
This lens intends to probe the reasons for the poor showing of the Indian cricket team lately that needs to be debated and addressed finally, so that Indian cricket gets into good shape in the future and we won't have to see such spineless string of performances once again.
World champions exposed in England and Australia!
The Indian cricket team won the World Cup in 2011 after a gap of 28 years to the raucous celebrations of a billion people. The tournament was held in the sub-continent after a gap of 15 years since 1996 and even the Asian minnow in cricket - Bangladesh - got to host quite a few matches, while Pakistan missed out on hosting matches because of the fear of security threats there. For more than a month the spectators around the world witnessed some riveting battles between the bat and ball and eventually the Indian team went on to beat Sri Lanka in the Final at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on 2nd April 2011.
The Indian cricket team, its captain M.S.Dhoni and the other players stayed on cloud nine for a few months and thought that they have conquered the world now for sure, but the series whitewash in England a few months later and the debacle in Australia at the end of 2011 has exposed the real weakness of this so called world champion team. The dismal results in England and Australia have raised serious questions about the cricketing excellence of quite a few players in the team and the leadership prowess of the captain.
Both the series whitewashes in England and Australia and eight consecutive overseas test losses against quality opposition (4-0 in both the Test Matches series) not only stripped the Number One Test status from the Indian side but also exposed the glaring incompetence and lack of application of the Indian cricketers when competing in fast-bowler friendly conditions. Test matches are no more the foremost priorities of the Cricket Control Board of India so for the time being we can forget about seeing a better show when India counters such fast-bowler friendly conditions once again.
The senior cricketers, many of whom have past their best days and had pulled the reins of the batting strength of the team in the past decade whenever India traveled abroad were woefully short this time round in England and Australia and the youngsters weren't good enough. The captain looked awfully short of ideas in tough situations and the most humiliating losses in Indian Test Cricket history was ensured! The one-dayers had the hangover of the test massacre and the bouncing and seaming ball seemed to have got into the psyche of this Indian team, ensuring the poor show continued.
The present Indian cricket team is a champion team when it comes to sub-continental conditions, where the ball doesn't bounce above knee-height generally, or on flat pitches, but whenever this team has encountered conditions that has seam movement, late swing, lateral bounce and pace, this team has performed poorly at most times. Surely India has fared much better in one-day cricket than Test cricket in general but in England and Australia the team has struggled in the one-dayers also, other than the dismal surrender in Test cricket. But isn't a world champion team supposed to compete hard in all conditions, if not win? So what are the problems with the present Indian cricket team? Let's find out.
What are the problems that ail this team?
The modern one-day cricket scenario is such that only those teams that have some quality all-rounders in their ranks is going to excel; the days of stacking up the team with pure batsman is over. Most of the major teams worldwide have a few fast-bowling and spinning all-rounders to pick and choose as per the requirement of the situation. Sadly in India's case all the all-rounders are spinning all-rounders and therefore in conditions that help fast and swing bowling India have a clear disadvantage to other teams. If they play more fast bowlers that aren't good with the bat then it upsets the balance of the team.
When India won the World Cup last time in 1983 the team was filled with fast-bowling all-rounders that held the team in good stead under seaming English conditions. Since then India have almost given up this good habit of producing more fast-bowling all-rounders and somehow managed with it primarily because of some splendid batting display by their batsman and a few of the bowlers doing a good job over the years. Whenever cricketers of both the disciplines were unable to bear the extra load arising from the lack of quality fast-bowling all-rounders, the team suffered. It's time India looks again at this very much vulnerable area and starts grooming new talents for the future.
It is no secret to anybody that the Indian batsman generally has problems in countering bounce and seam movement. India's batting greats learned to play fast bowling over the years and were ready to fight it out in the toughest of situations, mainly in Test cricket. It required real mental toughness to stand firm despite being hit and bruised and be ready for the next challenge, as well as having the grit and determination to concentrate for hours in seaming conditions. Sadly that toughness of character has gone down with the younger generation of Indian cricketers, particularly with lure of big money in shorter versions like Twenty-overs cricket league. So they don't go through the grind that is required of a cricketer to excel in fast seaming conditions. Hence they get exposed most times when the ball bounces above the waist or moves menacingly in the air or off the pitch. Sadly that is the story with most of the Indian batsman of the younger generation.
In one-day cricket fielding is a hugely important area and most teams work day in and day out to get better in this area. Indians were never famous for their fielding but somehow maintained an average fielding standard. When the numbers of slow-movers increase in a team the level of fielding goes down. This is the case with the present Indian team also where if everybody is included as per the excellence of their respective disciplines then the team looks pedestrian on average days, but if more non-performing youngsters are included, who are better fielders, then it would upset the overall balance of the team. So it is really a tricky situation for the captain. The domestic cricket structure of India needs to put more stress in the area of fielding so that the posterity is able to deal with this problem for once and all.
In ODIs and particularly in Test cricket regular contribution from the top-order is a quintessential requirement for the team to perform well and amass huge scores on the board or chase down big targets. This job has been ably performed over the years by the Indian top-order batsman in the past decade. Now with age and poor reflexes catching up with a few of the cricketers the Indian top-order was unable to give good starts regularly in fast-bowler friendly conditions. They were still quite a handful in the sub-continental conditions and scored big hundreds with regularity, but in seaming and bouncing conditions the middle-order batsman had to bear the brunt of the consistent failures of the top-order batsman. Since most of the youngsters were found wanting as well thus only a few batsman carried the mantle of batting on their back. On those days when they got out early the team was unable to put up a good score on the board or chase reasonably good targets.
Despite repeated failures the captain M.S.Dhoni somehow continues to stick with some non-performing players in the team when some real deserving youngsters warm the benches. It remains to be seen how long the captain intends to carry on with such non-performing players, who fail particularly in seaming and bouncing conditions. The captain who was known for his aggressive moves have now become over-defensive with team changes, field-placings, batting and bowling strategies and decisiveness after consistent failures in England and Australia. It might happen so that he regains his lost confidence after a few series wins in sub-continental conditions and gets back to his attacking style once again, but that would be something we all have to watch out for. He needs to prove his critics wrong who has already written down his epitaph.
Reality check and wake up call!
To be brutally honest no team other than the Australians and the West Indians had been real world champions of one-day cricket and Test cricket in terms of their stature but at least a few of the past champions including India could compete under all sorts of circumstances. The same cannot be said of the present Indian cricket team, particularly after being exposed in England and Australia. To redeem themselves once again the Indian cricket team needs to perform much better, particularly keeping the fact in mind that the 2015 world cup is going to be played in Australia and New Zealand and unless India prepares a team that is capable of performing better in those fast-bowling friendly conditions, retaining the cup once again will be a distant dream!