Senior statesmen need to close ranks, at once

India unrecognisable as the force that swept the world in April

The structure of India’s one-day team has largely remained unchanged since they won the triangular series Down Under four Australian summers ago.

Duncan Fletcher

The central figures still are Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.
But is it the same team? That might sound a strange question, but the chain of events of the last fortnight would convince one that only the personnel has not changed. The character of the outfit has transformed quite dramatically.

Four years ago, they stood by each other zealously in the face of a massive crisis following the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal during the Sydney Test, and they translated that feeling of injustice meted out to them into wonderful performances on the field to grab the tri-series, a first in Indian cricket history.

Now, the crisis has come from within, and they are finding it tough to tackle, and more disturbingly, finding it even tougher to admit that there’s a predicament.

During their last visit to Australia, they had a master motivator and strong leader in Anil Kumble, who combined the skills of a diplomat and military general to glue the team together. All other aforementioned names are capable of filling that role, but now they seem to be travelling on their own path.

The very men who had been expected to lift India’s spirits after a disastrous Test series are now struggling to inspire themselves and the rest of the team, marooned in their own little personal islands. 

The younger names in the side have nobody to fall back upon and draw inspiration from. The reported rift or communication breakdown between the senior members might be the after-effect of continuous pounding at the hands of England and Australia, as defeat is the most effective catalyst of frustration that in turn can fan already existing ego clashes.

The easiest way to wriggle out of this impasse is to start winning matches consistently, as it can heal even the deepest personal issues. It’s not that cracks didn’t exist during the Gary Kirsten era that will go down as the most successful period in Indian cricket history. There was a unity parade in Nottingham in 2009 during the T20 World Cup after a section of the media wrote about a nasty showdown in the dressing room between Dhoni and Sehwag.

It might have been an extravagant show of emotion, but the episode also conveyed a strong message to their fans that all is well with the Indian team. A clutch of brilliant results across the formats that included a 50-over World Cup triumph in 2011 also masked the fissures.  

Now, that happy night at the Wankhede stadium is not even spoken about, and the change has happened, so astonishingly, in only 10 months. 

India need to find a way to win consistently from hereon, and there should be a concerted effort from the players and the coaching staff. There’s no point denying that lack of communication within the ranks has been so visible during the last two weeks or so, and the parties concerned need to view things from a larger perspective to take India out of this rut.

Here, the role of coach Duncan Fletcher is massively significant. Fletcher is a respected voice in the dressing room across generations, and apparently the Board of Control for Cricket in India has vested in him powers to defuse the situation.

Fletcher, who had showed remarkable man-management skills during his stint with England, should persuade the big names to set their egos aside and start working again as a unit. 

Such a step needs to be taken urgently for each second wasted will only further clot the atmosphere.

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