Ever since India won its maiden cricket world cup in 1983, cricket has been the mode widely viewed sport in most part of the country. Not just viewed, but viewed with passion and played at all levels – from street corners to internationals. There are cricket mad fans who can’t eat or sleep without having a feel of their cricket bats/balls at least once a day. And in this context, the abysmal defeat of the Indian team in England against England marks a new low in the history of the game in the country.
When the MS Dhoni led team beat the Englishmen at Lord’s in the second test of the five-test series, the country had high hopes of a convincing series victory that would heal the wounds of the 2011 test series whitewash in the UK and Australia. No one in their wildest dreams would have thought that the Indian team would sink to a new low at the end of the fifth and final test, incidentally again at London, but at the Oval.
The team went down 3-1 to England from being the leaders at 1-0 after the Lord’s test. Losing 3-1 after taking the lead in itself is not so horribly bad. It is a game and these results are to be expected by every serious fan of the game. It is the manner of the defeats that has brought disappointment to all fans of the game, not just the fans in India. Two back-to-back innings defeat, and five consecutive sub 200 scores are not to be expected from a team that is the current world champions. There was absolutely no fight back, no resistance to the English bowling. Nor were the Indian bowlers helping the cause. It was the third day of a test match in a reasonably large ground and the Indian bowlers gave away 100+ runs in about 11 overs!! That’s unheard of in test matches between two supposedly equally placed countries.
What the Indian team lacked and what went wrong is quite apparent and very well known, both to the players and to the general public – Absolutely no first-class game practice and its side effects – poor technique and stamina. The bosses of Indian cricket at BCCI, eight years ago decided that the best way to “develop” cricketing skills is through a version of the game called Twenty20. And they introduced a “club” version of the game called the Indian Premier League. To the truest fans who were interested in the game of cricket, it was a big let-down – For with the advent of IPL started the (now unstoppable) decline in batting technique. And with IPL, pitches were tailored to be batsmen friendly so that the “crowd” can be entertained, as though the lovers of cricket do not like the fall of a wicket to a beautifully bowled ball. And with batting wickets came the decline in people interested in bowling, because it wasn’t being “respected” in the IPL. And the batsman were bothered more about earning “applause” for “show-y” batting than about classic display of batting mastery. They probably forgot that David Gower(stylish technique) is as much popular as Ian Botham (hard-hitting).
With the Indian cricket hitting a new low, the need of the hour is to chuck IPL out, make the domestic cricket more attractive; make the national cricket team players put in some minimum number of matches in the domestic tournaments to be eligible for subsequent national selection. And, like in the past, let the players participate in the English and Australian domestic tournaments so that they understand the climate, pitches etc. very well. And more importantly, instead of providing tailor-made concrete roads as test pitches for matches in India, we should look at preparing real test quality pitches so that at least we have surfaces on which we can practice and prepare for tours in countries that have true test pitches.
Above all, the cricketers and the administrators should understand that Twenty20 is not where/how one’s cricketing skills are evaluated. To be called the top nation in cricket, the team should perform consistently well in “Test Cricket”, for that is the truest test of one’s cricketing abilities. In the words of Geoff Boycott, the test cricket is a “test of courage and commitment” – Both of which the Indian cricket team lacked in England in this series.
I hope that all parties involved take this defeat seriously and consciously spend a lot of time in identifying ways to improve the test playing abilities of the Indian cricket team.