It was eagerly expected to be a prolonged Indian summer in England, the season having unfurled as brightly as it could have at home with the World Cup triumph.
For a young India that had exploded in raptures, pouring into the streets in every city and town, car horns blaring a la a European or Latin American soccer victory in April, the Test series against England was meant to be the ultimate statement of how infallible their favourite cricket team was.
Two months down the line, everything that could go wrong has gone horribly wrong. Defeat in sport will have to be taken on the chin but the manner in which India has been brushed aside has shocked not just the millions of passionate Indian cricket fans but all those who believe sport in India will make one fashion statement after another.
The 0-3 humiliation has already snatched the No. 1 Test tag and left a team of towering players look like a ragtag outfit; the tremors are being felt across the cricketing world. Geoff Boycott has predicted dire times for the game itself; the former England skipper is concerned that India’s defeats can shake the foundations of Test cricket.
“India’s financial might is the biggest thing cricket has going for it, from a business point of view, and everyone will suffer if their spectators become disillusioned,” he wrote.
Even as the world is worried about the state of the team, the one body that should have been shaken out of its stupor, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has been indifferent. Supremely confident that its financial clout in the game, and the global influence it thus commands, the board has not even officially responded yet.
The fundamental problems are there for all to see. India’s packed schedule aimed at maximising profits has often left their players running on reserve. The cash cow that the Indian Premier League (IPL) is has not allowed them any break to recharge themselves and the BCCI has not really bothered to monitor the damage it is causing to their often half-fit players.
“There was no plan in place for an important series like this. The players should have taken a few days off from the IPL, and gone to the West Indies to be ready for England,” says former chief selector Kiran More. The former Test wicketkeeper adds: “When we won the series in England in 1986, there were enough practice games for us to get acclimatised. The selectors too need to cop the blame. They should have suggested a plan to the board.”
India’s woeful planning unravelled in England. Important players, like Sachin Tendulkar, had skipped the Caribbean tour and then had to make do with a single three-day warm-up game before squaring up against a focused, confident and supremely talented England.
The Indian team have never looked this drained, looking clearly out of depth in bowling once Zaheer limped off, and in batting, where the absence of Virender Sehwag at the top left the side struggling.
It has not made for a pretty sight. Says former spinner Maninder Singh: “I will blame it entirely on the BCCI. After playing the World Cup and the IPL, they went to the West Indies and from there straight to England. Where was preparation, and time to prepare?”
The selection committee chief,
K Srikkanth, rejected the argument that the players are fatigued but refused to accept any blame, or suggest a way forward. It has been left to expert observers to take up that task.
Wasim Akram squarely blamed the overdose of cricket and expressed concern whether there is enough talent in the reserves. “Wealth should not blind wisdom,” he told the BCCI, advising in his column that it should be honest with its analysis of the debacle.
India were a proud No. 1 when they landed in England but were simply not ready for the force with which England swept them aside. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s fallen heroes will be delighted if they somehow salvage a draw in the final Test in Oval that concludes on Monday.
The Captain Cool, who held aloft the World Cup not so long ago, has come under huge pressure. Has he lost the Midas touch is the big question now. There is no doubt the Indian cricket establishment faces a massive task to restore confidence, and more importantly fitness, in the team. The scars from the hammering will surely linger when they visit stronger nations, starting with Australia at the end of the year. Australia are themselves regrouping after the end of their golden era but have taken strong steps.
India cut a sorry figure over the Zaheer injury saga. A fit Zaheer is as important to the team as Tendulkar, and his poor fitness going into the series and the subsequent mismanagement only distracted the team. Barring Rahul Dravid, it has been hard to tell who is out of form and who has simply not been good enough.
But there has been one huge difference from the past poor performances when the players alone had to cope with the brickbats. This time, everyone recognises that the board is equally responsible.
The IPL offers millions of dollars the players can’t refuse, but being a home product, none of the big players are allowed any break. In fact, it was a blessing in disguise for England that their main players, who did not commit for the entire season because of national duty, remained unsold in the auction in January. Former Australia skipper Ian Chappell warns that things will go from bad to worse while India find a way to replace their ageing greats.
The youngsters have not promised much yet. Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli have not shone in the opportunities they have got in Tests while a talent like Rohit Sharma is still waiting in the wings.
That concern has only accentuated with the exit of Gary Kirsten after guiding the team to the World Cup. The South African did a great job to motivate a team who were in crisis after the first round Cup exit in 2007.
But Kirsten, while taking charge in 2008, had announced that his task included drawing up the roadmap for transition; he managed the old guard with rare managerial skill, but the change of guard did not happen.
With successor Duncan Fletcher already under pressure three months into his job, can he ring in the changes?
The BCCI perhaps is looking to buy some time, hoping that there would be some turnaround in the one-day series that will make its task of post mortem easier. But it is business as usual for now. It has already invited bids for the Internet and mobile rights for matches in its control from 2011-2014!