When Virender Sehwag, India’s stand-in skipper, leads an under-fire team out against South Africa at the St George’s Park here on Wednesday, more than one player will have one added worry to contend with — that of what happens at home if they mess up yet again. And with poor form chasing them, and an obvious lack of answers to their problems, this will not help.
Sehwag said as much on match eve, saying that when unsavoury incidents take place at home, it did prey on the players’ minds when they walked out to the middle. “It’s really hard when these things happen and the players naturally get very upset. But then again, as professionals, we have to get over it and deal with it.”
This added pressure on the team is because of the overreaction that is taking place in India. Politicians are getting into something that is, frankly, none of their business and this, along with some shrill shows on the electronic media, has encouraged lumpen elements to blacken the doors of sportsmen. What seems to have been forgotten is that cricket is just a sport.
It is a sport that, like Bollywood, takes a vast number of Indians out of their often depressing existence and makes them dream and imagine and hope, but it is still a sport. And while, obviously, criticism is expected and doled out for under-par performances, a line must be drawn somewhere.
Yes, Greg Chappell hasn’t done what he was expected to do, especially after the high of those record chases of nearly a year ago. Yes, he has a lot to answer for because the mood of the team seems to be on a hopeless downswing and their plummeting fortunes on the field are probably a reflection of that.
Yes, Rahul Dravid is looking at his wits’ end about what to do next and yes, some of the youngsters who promised so much have not delivered. But it still is a sport.
And while there has to be accountability, after everyone in question has been given enough rope, there are people who are supposed to do the accounting. Make the decisions, axe them or back them, find the solutions.
Whether or not every Indian on the street has an opinion on the cricket team and whatever the politicians feel, there is no excuse for this extreme jingoistic reaction to loss in sport. There wasn’t any nearly four years ago when India had a bad start to their World Cup campaign and Dravid and Kaif’s houses were blackened, and there isn’t now, when that same Allahabad crowd has darkened Kaif’s home again.
On Monday, players were discussing this news and one remarked, “What will happen next? Will my family be abducted if I do not score in the next game? No one wants to fail, but sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t.”
The players will have to put these negative thoughts behind them when they play a game that they will have to win to stay alive in the series, not to speak of ending the furore at home. While the loss of Dravid to injury is massive, like Sehwag said, it will give the youngsters an opportunity to stand up and be counted.
“We may have to play without Dravid or Tendulkar many times in future and this is where the youngsters can prove themselves,” said Sehwag, adding that winning and losing were part of the game and the trick was to “stay positive and believe in yourself.”
Again, like at the Newlands, the wicket here is better from India’s point of view. It is traditionally lower and slower than other tracks and tends to encourage spin. However, locals say the character of the wicket has changed over the last one year and the ball tends to move much more than it used to, and batting under lights will be tough.
Interestingly, while Sehwag said India almost certainly will play two spinners, Smith said he didn’t think there would be too much turn and he would probably go with his usual pace-heavy attack. But whatever attack the Proteas go in with, the onus would be on the Indian batsmen to not cave in to pressure, bat through 50 overs and just tackle it.
Sehwag mentioned that pressure was a relative term — if you felt it, only then do you experience it, and that you had to get out there and play how you knew best. That is exactly what his opposite number said when asked about coping with the pressure of expectations.
Smith, while acknowledging that the Indian public is fanatical, added that the South African public is as demanding and “wanted results as badly as the Indian public.” And that they have to cope, too.
“We’re probably under a similar amount of pressure to perform, and if we were going through a bad run, we’d be under just as much pressure as they are,” the South African captain said.
“But this is international sport, you’ve got to be able to deal with that and put it aside when you get onto the field and concentrate on what’s important. There are perks that come with the job and there are tough things like any