The Indian cricket team stares at the exit door, now that it has lost its second group game, this time against a fiercely competitive Sri Lankan side. In my earlier article, I had said that this was the arena in which the senior pros of the team like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, not to mention Harbhajan Singh, should have shepherded their side into the next round. Unfortunately none of these players were up to the challenge on Friday, and now India, like their neighbours, will be on the flight home a lot sooner than they expected.
Once again, there was a crucial all or nothing game and once again Sachin Tendulkar was found wanting. Four years ago, to the day, he fell short in the final at Wanderers. On Friday, he failed once again when it was important for him to succeed. The greatness of Vivian Richards was that the greater the stage the greater was his performance. When Sachin looks back at his career, he will know that given his exceptional talent, he did not win enough games for his team. Friday, he once again missed a chance to live up his reputation, and it was the same with Sourav Ganguly. Dravid tried manfully, but soon ran out of partners, and after the 25th over, there was only one result likely. The only disagreement I have with Dravid was his reluctance to play five bowlers. Anil Kumble should have played on Friday. That would have limited the target to 220.
India now await the final game in their group, between Bangladesh and Bermuda. It’s unlikely that the latter will force a win given that they are playing against a Test side, albeit the junior most one. Where do the Indian team go from here? Chances are that there will be calls for the removal of Dravid and Chappell from the post of captain and coach, respectively. While I supported Inzamam-ul-Huq’s move to quit, because he clearly was getting on in years and was also not enjoying leading the side, I would not support a similar decision from Dravid. He has ability, enjoys leading the side and can contribute to Indian cricket. Crucially, there is no immediate readymade successor, and change for the sake of it would be disastrous.
Coach Chappell should continue as well, because his job to ingrain some professionalism and aggression in the side remains an unfinished project. He was a champion player, led one of the greatest sides in Test cricket and belongs to the Australian system, which is the best system to build and create champions. I am not a great believer in coaches, but if you have to have one, you can’t get a man with better credentials than Greg.
There will also be angry calls for the retirement of Sachin and maybe even Sourav, who did not look his normal fluid self in any of the three games. Here again, I would advise a sensible approach rather than a knee-jerk reaction. Sachin remains a vital cog in the team, and perhaps fans and media could help him by not portraying him as a superman. He is a great player, but to expect him to do larger than life things, and to compare him to the incomparable Vivian Richards is harming him more than helping him. Passions must be running high in India, but that is to be expected. Indian cricketers are omnipresent in advertisements, television and the print media. They are given a demigod status and revered right through the country. But they are neither as godlike as they seem when they win nor as inept as they are made out to be when they lose. A more realistic approach to their successes and failures would be ideal.
However dark and gloomy the mood in the Indian camp must be, their performance is not as bad as Pakistan’s. Pakistan lost to weekend cricketers, while India was upset by a Test team, and the difference is important. For Pakistan, it has been a nightmare without end, and they must be eager to come away from Jamaica and the tragic confusion surrounding Bob Woolmer’s death. Inzamam’s men have clearly scraped the bottom and must find their way up from here. This is an ideal opportunity to rebuild the team and put a constitution in place for the board. A crisis can be used as an opportunity to improve, and that is what the Indians and Pakistanis should try to achieve in the months to come.