It was May of 2010, and for the first time since taking over, coach Gary Kirsten had lost his cool. India had lost all their Super Eight matches and crashed out of the World T20 in the Caribbean.
None of the seniors were part of the side, though Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were very much in prime form. Kirsten couldn’t fathom the fact that yet, the so-called young T20 team, was short of fitness level. There were no excuses and the former South Africa batsman minced no words in his team talk. He told the group: “I am ashamed that there are 6-7 players present in the room, who are overweight.”
Lack of fitness
More than anything it was the lack of motivation that upset Kirsten. At the heart of all great accomplishments is a burning desire to succeed and the coach couldn’t find it in his players. “I had no trainer in my entire career, I was my own trainer. Why can’t you guys work on the fitness on your own unless a trainer drags you out?” fumed Kirsten, one of the fittest guys during his playing days.
This is the story behind India’s lacklustre showing at WT20 post-IPL. The 2010 edition was played immediately after the IPL. After nearly two months of non-stop cricket, there can be fatigue issues with the players nursing sore limbs and mental staleness. Being overweight only highlighted the poor attitude of Dhoni’s team towards the event. There was no surprise over the lack of results.
Off the field
That their mind was not fully in the job was also highlighted that they got repeatedly distracted by controversies. Amid talk of disharmony in England (2009), skipper Dhoni walked into a media conference with the team in tow.
In St Lucia (2010), players got involved in an incident at a hotel with fans. Some of the players were issued showcause notices by the BCCI over the controversy.
A deep hunger for success was the key behind the team’s stunning show in the inaugural event in 2007. It sparked the T20 revolution. Since then, their appetite satiated by the IPL, they have arrived at the World T20 as listless warriors, content to go through the motions. The extra edge is lacking. The adulation received in the glamour league at home seems to have extinguished the fire. In the minds of the players, World T20, seems to have been relegated to just another tournament.
Not on their toes
While the nucleus of the side has been the same for all the next four editions, surprisingly, they have not been the same force again. Their forays at the 2009, 2010, 2012 events have all been lacklustre, failing to advance beyond the Super Eight in all three. For the inconsistent unit, poor batting and low fitness levels have resulted in failed campaigns.
Most opponents have successfully targeted the batsmen with the short stuff and there have been some odd captaincy moves by MS Dhoni, which misfired.
“Having the right players for the right format is key. In T20 young players are important, it’s a format you have to be on your toes all the time. The team needs to show an aggressive body language. Good fielding means 20 runs more to the total. The first T20 batch was an outstanding fielding unit,” says Rajput, who was manager-coach in 2007.
Historically, India teams have done well when they have played to prove a point, individually as well as a team. A recent example was the 2013 Champions Trophy, where they had a fixing cloud hanging over the IPL. India played like men possessed to dominate everyone in conditions where they were expected to struggle.
The players were equally charged in the inaugural event. Everyone was pumped up to prove a point, says Rajput. The seniors were out of favour in the longer version of the game and were desperate for a comeback, the juniors were determined to stake their claims.
“Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan were all looking to prove a point and were very hungry. The fresh faces like Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan and Joginder Sharma were keen to make an impact to get noticed. It’s about the right combination and playing fearless cricket,” said Rajput.
It is the desire which Fletcher, yet untouched and blinded by the IPL glitz, has to stoke. If he can, then the team can shine through at the event for conditions in Bangladesh will be to their liking.
(With inputs from Sai Mohapatra)