Ravindra Jadeja, Parwinder Awana and Piyush Chawla have replaced Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh for the Nagpur Test against England, 2-1 down in the series.
It is interesting to note that while the ex-players, experts and journalists dissect the sorry performance of this Indian team over the last year, none of them have dared to use the term ‘World Champions’ yet. How many times have foreign journalists used the headline, ‘England upset World Champions in their own backyard’ or ‘Australia annihilates world champs’? If the term has been used, it has been used in a sarcastic, mocking tone in order to underline the fact that big bully BCCI can’t buy consistency, for all their power and glorious moments over the last 5 years.
To be fair, India did everything right from 2007 to 2011. So much so, that it was always going to be downhill after that. We braced for the inevitable shakeup- the trough following the crest- but this has quickly turned into a full-blown earthquake of seismic proportions. It is unfair to state that all the hard work of the last decade has been undone by the worst 18 months in its history while saying that statistics often tell the whole story- but in India’s case, statistics seldom lie. Otherwise, Sachin Tendulkar wouldn’t still be walking out to bat after every subsequent failure. It is after Team India became ‘World Champions’, that they’ve not only fallen apart but decided to lay their spent legs up to relax on the couch for the rest of their playing years.
The last team to be affected by this non-labeling was Sri Lanka, because they deteriorated sharply as a side after winning the ’96 World Cup. Their ’96 performance looked like a flash in the pan, until Sangakkara and Jayawardene rescued them from falling back into minnow mode. India’s 2011 World Cup win certainly wasn’t a one-hit wonder, because it was 4 hard grueling years in the making. It had the makings of a rags-to-riches story and reached an almighty crescendo at the Wankhede in Mumbai in April. That reality had to shake the system up from a long period of denial 20 months later at the Wankhede again, is the game of cricket coming a full circle for a team exhausted from expectation. Nobody loses the ability to play cricket overnight, as this team has painstakingly demonstrated over the last year, but one could sense the sharp fall in intensity and joy the moment they were piled off onto the plane to the West Indies minutes after experiencing the greatest moment of their lives. The hangover has lasted for almost 2 years now, and there is nowhere to run or hide, with the IPL and other meaningless bilateral series exposing the players to the world 24-7 through the off-season too.
The 8-0 overseas record that Team India has piled up over the last 18 months has a lot to do with their own fans not being able to utter the term with pride anymore. Out of shame with a sheepish grin, mostly, one remembers that for all their flaws and shortcomings, this team is actually a World Cup Winning side. Just like Australia was, thrice in a row.
What does that say about the standard in World Cup cricket nowadays? Nothing, really, because this team showed greater grit than the rest over that month-long period in home conditions. One can’t read too much into the standards over that month either, because the emotions and melancholy of the moments render most technical aspects meaningless by the end of the tournament. Only in men’s tennis- an individual sport- does the quality of a much-hyped final live upto great expectations. Women’s tennis still has a long way to go, with most finals putting beginners to shame.
The best in cricket, at that very moment, may have won in 2011- but they have not been great ambassadors for the game of cricket by making a mockery of this tag thereafter. When India arrived in England, they were World Champions. Even after losing 0-4, the World Champions were in transition. After losing 0-4 in Australia, they were World Champions in a parallel universe. And now, 1-2 down at Home, the term is a cruel joke on the minds of millions of success-starved Indian fans- where they have been blended into a time machine and transported back to the darkest days of the 90s.