The ugly exhibition of a hop, skip and dance act of Indian batsmen in the two one-dayers played in South Africa is not the main focus of this column. Even in the best of times the Indians have struggled to come to terms with the pacy wickets outside home, the only exception being when the Golden Four, now retired, were in their prime.
Disappointing as the batting of those who scored at will on docile, benign wickets at home has been so far, let us not pass hasty judgments and write their obituaries before the two-Test series unfolds. Yet there is this gnawing feeling that the script of this series was written even before the matches began. Many would say, all we need to do is fill in the blanks and watch the "future Tendulkars and Dravids" get exposed in conditions they are not used to.
Pause for a moment, rewind a bit, and you would find that before the Indian Team in the early 2000 embarked on a mission to improve its performance abroad, they too were lambs for the slaughter in similar conditions. The difference between then and now is that Sourav Ganguly and his men vowed to correct things and forced the Indian Board to take certain steps that would help the team in their endeavor. The Ganguly-Wright combine, in conjunction with the senior pros of the team made the Indian Board take certain decisions which in the long run helped India become a force to reckon with.
Unlike then, today an Indian team goes to South Africa and within a couple of days of landing there, plays the one-day series, with no time for acclimatization to adapt to the conditions. The reason is obvious: So power and money-drunk is the Indian Board that they curtail such an important series, play a mediocre West Indies at home, milk Sachin Tendulkar's retirement and then send its inexperienced team to the gallows.
Like then, when the India captain had the ears of Board president Jagmohan Dalmiya and made full use of it for the benefit of the team, Dhoni too needs to show that visionary quality. He too is perceived to be close to N Srinivasan, being the captain of his IPL Indian Cements team, and can leverage that position for the betterment of the Indian team.
The problem today is that the calendar is so crammed with the entry of T-20 format and IPL, that it is almost impossible to schedule a series that could give enough time to the players to acclimatize. It is for the Board to realize that earning money and running a sports board like a corporate entity to the detriment of the interests of the team, is betraying the faith of fans and players. This Indian team is packed with batsmen with enormous potential and even now it would be premature to write them off. All that is needed is a proper environment and a vision that would lead to better performance away from home.