FALL, RISE, FALL OF INDIAN CRICKET

0

You can’t quite blame the ICC for scheduling this ‘Champions of Champions 2011’ sort of tournament in India. Their timing couldn’t have been better, technically, with the country newly crowned World Champions. Sadly, the Indian Cricket team seems to have played a cruel joke on the Cricket Governing body- duly getting slaughtered in England, almost with a vengeance, for ICC’s repeated rejection of their UDRS objections. And ultimately, once again, in a twisted way- the BCCI is having the last laugh.

The stadiums are more than half-empty. Games that involve local teams like CSK, MI, RCB and KKR aren’t faring any better either. Here is what I hope, rather than gather: The public finally seems to have woken up to the detrimental effect that T20, as a form of cricket, is having on the long-term future of Indian cricket.
To put it mildly, we are in tatters. Couldn’t come at a better time if you’re an optimist, because India has four full years to rebuild, re-develop and reform. The title will still be ours, but we can’t help but think: Was it really worth it?

After winning the World Cup in 1983, the Indian team duly went on to lose a HOME series to an absolutely ruthless and angry Windies side. It may have felt worse, as a purist, but the fans were more than happy to see the biggest underdogs in Sport win that one ‘important’ game in the World Cup. Nothing would change that. Hence, a 4-0 drubbing at home held no importance. It was, after all, what was previously expected. The problem was- The team had over-performed during the World Cup. Things were back to normal, soon after that. World Order was restored. The Windies went on to dominate the 80s, inspite of being involved in a massive upset in the 87 World Cup against Australia.
Australia, when they began dominating in the mid-90s, took a good four years to stamp their mark over World Cup cricket. That didn’t change the fact that they were ‘upset’ by minnows Sri Lanka in 96, and that they were always the best side before and- more importantly- after that tournament. Sri Lanka were trend-setters, fireballs that hit the world stage running for the entire year of 1996, but soon, they faded away into the dimly lit corridor that boasted of countless bash-and-dash former World Champion sides. Merrily enough, as was inevitable, Australia came from behind to win the ‘99 World Cup and began a steamrolling decade of World Domination.
England, clearly the best cricket side in the world over the last TWO years, does not have one decent World Cup performance to their credit in the last decade. Their One-Day team has let them down too often, but there are ominous signs of a brighter ODI future after a young Alastair Cook has begun helming the squad. Their previous ICC tournament performances remain unimpressive- call it withering, choking or plain bad luck- but that does NOT change the fact that they are showing signs of Australian-style domination, looking set for a good four years to rule the stage in atleast 2 out of 3 forms of Cricket. India does not stand a chance to back up their recent World Cup win with the required reputation to boot. Australia are getting back to half of their previous powers, but will require a good amount of time to challenge England in Test match cricket.

Quite simply put, the question is: Would you rather be the Windies of the 80s- without a single official title to back them up OR would you be the Sri Lankan team of ’96 or the Indian teams of ’83 and 2011.

As a sub-continental cricket fan, the answer could be quite straightforward: who is World Champion? Sure, it sounds good enough. At the back of our minds, though- as is evident from recent T20 turnouts across the globe- is always the question, time and again with every Indian defeat: Are we really sure we want this? Are we proud of our team, no matter what?
Or are the English fans happier and smug with their current unprecedented stature in the fluctuating fortunes of cricket… much like Indian loyalists were when the team climbed to the top test ranking in the world without a major ICC tournament win to show for?

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain that could do no wrong till just four months ago, is the current face of turmoil in Indian cricket. His career over the last few years is the perfect representation of the careful rise and minor dips that have plagued Team India. It is harsh to be severe on him after a nightmarish three months, but one can’t say we didn’t see it coming.
Simple facts: Mahendra Singh Dhoni helmed the Indian cricket team’s rise from the Ashes in 2007 to the inaugural T20 World Cup win in South Africa. Soon after, he masterminded India’s decedent rise in ODI cricket after winning a series in Australia. When he took over as Test Captain, he completed India’s rise to number One in the rankings after smashing a meaningless century against a clueless Sri Lankan side in Mumbai. He was unbeaten as captain in every Test Series (7) until we came to England. He led India to their first World Cup win in 23 years in May 2011, and topped it off with a rise to number 2 in ODI rankings. Such was his international rise to fame- meteoric, intense, unprecedented, quick…but not painless.

Because in between these worldly heady achievements, almost as a footnote, here is what Dhoni- captain of Team India- HAD to do:
Three IPL finals in four years, with TWO back-to-back titles for CSK. A Champion’s league title in 2010- capping off his perfect record or, as we would call it- the Grand Slam as a Captain of a cricket team. Was there anything else left to achieve after the IPL win in 2011? How could anybody possibly possess show enough mental, physical and emotional endurance to win the world’s largest T20 competition just a month after winning the World’s biggest ICC competition?
Intense, meteoric and quick…but very, very painful. Something had to give. His form was brimming with overkill too- averaging a mere 25 in ODIs and 37 in Tests this year. But that never mattered, did it?
After excusing himself from the ODI series in the West Indies, he came back to achieve a 0-1 Test Series Win. Not something entirely unexpected against a Gayle-less Windies team.
But, it was during the third and final test match in Dominica, was where Dhoni seemed to have let his guard down- as captain, player and human being. Enough was enough. World Champions India were left to chase down a minor score of 180 at around 4 an over on a ‘relatively difficult’ pitch. We didn’t go for it. Dhoni, it seems, was happy with the series in the bag….
Little did he know that, as Indian captain, that would have been the last time he was EVER in a position to win an international match this year. The ‘momentum’ carried on through the England tour, and Dhoni, the captain who could do no wrong- he forgot how to win.

If you want a clear picture of where Indian cricket stands right now, switch on your television and watch the ongoing Champion’s League T20 competition. Dhoni, once again the face that guides an army, had no idea what to do when Malinga went great guns on them in their first game.
Dhoni, the face that betrayed the pressure of an entire generation, looked like a prodding and suffering England-tour-Raina, begging to be put out of his misery against a competitive T&T side. 7 from 23 balls, and Dhoni gave his wicket away, along with the game and Chennai from the competition.

When he walked back- other than the dark circles, multiplying grey hair and a weary look, Dhoni did something that no TV viewer may have ever witnessed: He shrugged. Smirked. And sighed.

Not good times, these.

We need a hero. Not on the field, but maybe off it- someone with a record of ruthlessness and lack of diplomacy, just to set things straight in this payroll-infested, soft-tummied, favour-giving world in India’s cricketing Governing body…who could it be?