In just under six months from now, February 2011, we’ll be celebrating the start of the World Cup here at home. Our carnival of cricket is going to be a time of high tension, of flaring passions and seesawing emotions.
For the men who finally make up the 15 who will bear India’s hopes, it will also be a time of unending, nerve-wracking pressure.
What will make a difference to them, and, by extension, to all of us who watch and hope and pray for them from the outside, will be how these players, young and not so young, cope with pressure. This and the consistency that coping well brings, will depend on how prepared they are, physically and mentally, to handle whatever comes their way —on and off the field.
On current evidence however, there’s some way to go before some of the younger ones get their act right, especially in the consistency department. Frankly, they need to step up.
For instance, take Suresh Raina. He’s been fantastic in the Lanka Tests but not quite the same in the ODIs, where the conditions have changed quite dramatically.
I think in his case, the crux of the problem was in his approach to the ODIs soon after playing the Test series.
We shouldn’t forget here that Raina, despite playing 100 ODIs in a relatively short time span, hadn’t played a Test before this.
While successfully handling both formats back to back will probably come with experience, he’ll have to learn to take a Test mindset into the ODIs, at least during the initial minutes in the middle.
He’ll have to take his time, settle in first and then play his shots.
Again, it’s time for all the other youngsters with considerable international exposure, the Karthiks and Kohlis, the Rohit Sharmas, to get themselves in gear mentally.
Apart from Gautam Gambhir, no one’s really been consistent from amongst the newer crop. As a result, there’s been an over-dependence on the senior lot — even in Lanka, the game we won was because of Sehwag.
From about six to eight months ahead of the 2003 World Cup — and I’m taking that example because we did well in 2003, unlike in 2007 — was a kind of coming of age for the youngsters we had then.
People like Zaheer, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Sehwag and Kaif all stepped up. Most of them became the foundation of a team that went from strength to strength on the field and in their minds, individually and as a unit.
For the next 15 games or so, that is what the core of India’s tomorrow will have to do. They have to get to know their own games. This doesn’t mean get to know how to play in a Test, ODI or T20 format, but how to prepare mentally, to know ‘this is what I need to do to be at my best’. That is something they need to understand quickly.
As for today’s game, well, whenever India are in a must-win situation, they’ve always regrouped and come back strongly. They need to remember that this situation is nothing new. They can cope.