This team has logged the same results for the last one-and-half years as the 1983 team did after winning the World Cup. This happens. When you win something as big as the World Cup, it becomes easy to lose focus and priorities get mixed up.
Yet, this fall from grace is surprising. With so much professionalism, a bevy of support staff to keep things on track, and the Board backing them to the hilt, this team could have handled it better.
Somehow, I feel the players have become very big over the years, and it seems, from outside, that the Board has become slightly relaxed towards them. Today, the players can do whatever they feel like, and can get away with it. In our time, it wasn't possible, no matter how big a player was.
In the past, the Board and selectors were strong vis-à-vis the players. We had lost just one series, to the West Indies, after winning the World Cup in 1983, and I was sacked as captain. That was necessarily not the right thing to do because chopping and changing at the first sight of trouble isn't the right way to go about it. But at least the selectors then could take a decision.
Money is good for the game, players
As a former player, it feels great to see players becoming powerful and earning good money. More money should bring in more dedication, commitment and discipline, not arrogance. Some players have seen and got too much a little too early, and that has sent discipline flying out of the window - from their lives as well as from their game. They just need to look at Rahul Dravid to understand what they could achieve with discipline.
That's not much of a problem in individual sports, but it's extremely bad for team sport. A couple of players with wrong attitude and bad discipline issues could affect the entire team in an adverse manner.
I am not comparing this team to that of 1983 but I must tell them something. When we came into the team, there was a trend of social drinking after the day's play. From the squad of 15, 8-10 would have a drink in the evening. Pretty soon, after we came in, we changed the trend; eight-10 of us would now look for butter milk or something else instead of drinks after the day's play. We made it a sort of rule and worked relentlessly towards achieving better fitness and becoming better players, even though we didn't have enough facilities. This team, too, needs to set some goals and put in the hard yards to achieve them.
Let's not lose sight of IPL's positives
It's alright to criticise the IPL for its negatives, but we must not lose sight of the positives it has brought to the game and players. If you throw a glance at Test matches in the last five years, you will find so many have thrown up results. Tests had never been as exciting in the past and this has a lot to do with the result-oriented approach of the players. And we can attribute this approach to ODIs, T20 and IPL. Besides, the IPL made cricket the source of livelihood to so many players. In our times, only five-seven players were recognised, but so many players get recognition and money thanks to the IPL. We must appreciate this aspect.
As for players using the IPL as an easy way to fame and money and losing motivation to put in the hard work to represent the country, I would say the Board can work out a committee of some wise people who could advice them on this aspect.
It could also advice the Board on whether any player needs to miss the IPL so that he could stay fresh and injury free for national duties. For this to happen, the Board will need to keep aside personal interests and give priority to national interest. The Board will also do well to be more open and transparent on its policies and plans for cricket.
Indian better suited for coaching team
The term 'coach' is a misnomer in cricket. The coaches we have are actually managers. Their job is make the players work hard, find out who's fit and who's not and work on their attitude and approach. I don't know if Duncan Fletcher has that sort of role and powers in this team. In that light, I would say the he is not responsible for the results.
To my mind, an Indian is better suited for the job of manager-coach than any foreigner, if paid well. Especially, the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, as they are sharp and more in touch with the game. Even someone like Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri would do a good job if given the responsibility.
Spare no effort to get India back on top
We don't need to do something just because someone else has tried it. It might have worked there, but it may not work here because we have a different way of thinking and working. Nonetheless, a committee of some wise people could sit down and brainstorm over why our cricket is going down.
There's no dearth of money, so no effort that could help us become the top cricketing nation should be spared. It is paramount to understand that in the end the interests of Indian cricket and the team is more important than any other interest.
If the scheduling of the IPL is in conflict with the interests of some key players, who need to stay fresh for international commitments, then a way needs to be found that national interest does not suffer. For that to happen, the Board needs to get the right people to give them inputs to how best to handle this situation.
Mind is still willing, but the body is not
He's larger than life, the best ever to me. I have travelled the world and seen and known several sporting legends like Boris Becker, Nadia Comaneci, Edwin Moses et al, but Sachin is a notch higher than everyone else. Why we feel this way about him is something only South Americans can understand; they also worship their sportspersons as we do.
The person I shared a room with when he was just 15 has grown into a legend. But sometimes when you become too big, you may forget to take the right decision. He and the people around him perhaps don't understand that life on the other side of the fence would be equally beautiful for him. Maybe, he's not getting the right advice; maybe it suits the others that he continues to play. I can say this because I have been there. Even I wasn't getting the right advice when I was going through the last phase of my career, although the financial stakes in my case weren't even close to his. It was as difficult for me to leave as it is for him. I had great passion for the game and it was extremely difficult to give up the love of my life. But then, as I found out, there's an equally beautiful life awaiting him after he bids adieu to cricket.
At his stage the problem is, as this Punjabi proverb beautifully sums up: dil kehanda hai haan, par latan kehendi hai na (the heart says yes, but the legs say no). He should realise it won't make any difference what he does in, say, his next five innings. Not to me, at least. Whether he scores five hundreds or five zeroes, it doesn't change a thing, he stays the legend he is. His struggle is doing nothing but causing a lot of agony to millions of his followers. They are wondering what has happened to their hero. It's really painful for them to see him their god reducing himself to this despairing state.
In my opinion he should have retired after the World Cup. That was, we were told, his most cherished dream, and there was nothing more left for him to achieve.
The selectors' reluctance to come clear on him doesn't make any sense. One selection committee member says he would decide himself, and the other says we have had a chat with him. The selectors are bigger than players; it is their responsibility to pick the best possible team for the country. If they can't do it, they are not doing their job.
Assert more, you're the boss
Ours is not a culture where everyone can take responsibility and have the decision-making skills. Hence, not everyone knows what his responsibilities are. That's one area where the India captain needs to work on - he needs to tick off those who he feels are not committed to their job. He's the captain and needs to assert himself, send a strong message to those not pulling their weight. Instead of being Captain Cool, I want to see him as Captain Hot.
I see a lot of similarities between Dhoni and my stint as skipper. I, like him, had many senior players in the side, who were powerful and big achievers. But when you are the skipper, everyone else is under you and it's your call that's final. Yes, you have to give respect to the senior cricketers, you have to look after them, but you are the boss on the field. It's something I feel Sourav Ganguly did really well. Despite all the criticism, I appreciate Dhoni for his recent statements:
(1) The easiest thing for me would be to quit captaincy, but I will not do that…that would be selfish. (2) You will see a change in me.
Now, that shows he's someone who is not shying away from taking the blame and is ready to lead from the front. You have the captain speaking there.
As for removing him from the helm of affairs, it's not the right time. I don't think anyone else is ready to handle the responsibility. If you want to give the job to someone else, he should be ready to handle it for at least four to five years. And then, Dhoni shouldn't ever be considered again for captaincy. The frequent chopping and changing of captains does no good to either the individual, or the team.
The writer is a World Cup winning captain