News by Blesson Gregory 11/12/05
The appointment of a new coach, the sacking of the captain following a squabble with the coach under the glare of media spotlights and an unprecedented series win – the past few months have been eventful to say the least, in Indian cricket.
The sullied fumes of the Ganguly-Chappell showdown which threatened to engulf Indian cricket has been blown away by the revitalising breeze of the resounding 6-1 victory against Sri Lanka and the hard-fought 2-2 draw against the Proteas. A new wave of elation and sanguinity has swept across cricket fans in India who were not long ago, smarting from the lackluster performances of their team.
But is the victory over Sri Lanka, in the light of the draw against the Africans, the watershed heralding India’s elevation to a consistently winning side? Has India turned a corner? It might be true that a victory of this magnitude can hardly be found in the annals of Indian cricket, and that the last victory in a bilateral series is a memory that has faded into oblivion. But it would be premature to think that India has unraveled the answers to all those probing problems which have been pegging back its ODI form for the last couple of seasons.
Chappell and his support staff – men like Ian Frazer – have introduced an amount of professionalism in the side. It was apparent in the commitment on the field and the discipline in batting and bowling. Team India has moved from a captain-centred framework during the Ganguly-Wright reign to a coach-centred one under Dravid and Chappell. It should only help the team’s cause because with Chappell clearly in charge and calling all the shots, the pressure would be off Dravid. But the flexibility that Chappell aims to achieve through experimentation – or strategy in his own words – might misfire at times and it is important not to turn a blind eye to the present demands in a quest for future excellence.
The most heartening aspect of these matches has been the stupendous performance of the youngsters in the crucible of international cricket – be it Raina at Pune, RP Singh at Rajkot or Pathan and Dhoni throughout the matches. Dhoni might have captured the imagination of the nation, but the arduous encounters ahead of him with more intimidating bowlers will test both his technique and temperament. His technique might be relatively uncertain but his temperament is extremely sound, which should also enable him to avoid being ensnared by stardom.
The Supersub, a new feature of one day cricket has been India’s greatest ally, as the balance that was lost when Dravid removed his wicket-keeping gloves has returned. The fifth bowler – part-timers like Sehwag and Yuvraj – were inaffective in Sri Lanka a few months back, but were replaced by the Supersub in the recent matches, and is the principal reason for the reversal of fortunes. The Supersub has masked the absence of an all-rounder – the vital cog of every ODI team.
But there are areas of concern for India. Sehwag’s ODI form has been erratic and Tendulkar’s much hyped return has petered out and lost steam. His attitude though, has been refreshing – more so in the first few games of the Sri Lankan series – as he is inclined to break free from the shackles of his defensive mindset that has curtailed his flight in the recent past.
The Indians slaughtered the Sri Lankans who were perhaps ‘softened’ by their series against West Indies and Bangladesh and a loss in the practice game, but found the going a lot tougher against a battle-hardened South Africa, fresh from a thumping win over New Zealand and on a 19 match unbeaten streak. The top order displayed its vulnerability against some hostile and accurate pace bowling by the South Africans under helpful conditions.
The camaraderie and solidarity of a team is often wrecked by the tumultuous wind of demoralizing losses. The unrest in the team in Zimbabwe and Harbhajan’s accusation of ‘fear and insecurity’ being spread by the coach have been overlooked in the aftermath of convincing victories. The healthy competition that Chappell aims to create in the team might escalate into this ‘fear and insecurity’ or worse selfish performances, if the team starts losing. The true appraisal of the Chappell-Dravid team would be the way in which they inspire the team to return to their winning ways if – and when – their performances plummet.
The Indians have certainly taken a few significant steps towards redemption. But the challenges are many and the path to greatness is as protracted as it is intricate. The matches against Sri Lanka might indeed have been a precursor of things to come but Indian cricket fans would do well to not read too much into it. In truth, the Indians are not even in sight of that elusive corner, let alone turning it.