BCCI in the dock as Test defeats become the norm

Madhu Jawali, Aug 23, 2014, DHNS:

BCCI in the dock as Test defeats become the norm

Sometimes numbers hide more than they reveal. But the numbers during India’s abject surrender to England in the five-match Test series told the complete tale, revealing their inadequacies when it comes to the longer format.

178, 152, 161, 148 and 94 – if any batsman had come up with these scores, it would have been described as a Bradmanesque effort. Unfortunately, they were the team totals that India mustered in the last five innings that culminated in a 3-1 series drubbing.

The Oval Test saw India plummet to their 13th defeat on the road in the last 17 Tests since July 2011. A legacy built over a decade, from early to late 2000s, has also been completely forsaken in the last three years or so. Labelled for long as ‘tigers at home and lambs away’ for their struggles outside the sub-continent, India slowly had shed that tag during an era when some of the finest set of cricketers came together.

If the batting department had stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag, the bowling had the likes of Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan among others.

Test wins at Port of Spain (2002), Headingley (2002), Adelaide (2003), Johannesburg (2006), Perth (2008) and series victories in West Indies (2006) and England (2007) had earned admiration from rivals for Indians as competitive travellers. That image, however, has taken a severe beating now. And rather than treating the cause, the BCCI has tried to merely cure the symptom by ringing in some cosmetic changes to the team set-up.

Skipper M S Dhoni’s merry band may do well in the five-match ODI series – which will follow the Test series -  and a favourable result here will partially lift the ignominy they are facing and when they return home, West Indies will arrive here as lambs to be slaughtered. India will surely roll over the Caribbeans in the familiar environs and everything with the Indian cricket will look hunky dory again. And that’s a real tragedy.

One can question why wins at home aren’t given due credit. And they need to be, just like Australians, Englishmen and South Africans do. But to earn respect, you need to win in tougher alien conditions. That’s what a bunch of mighty proud men through the 2000s tried to achieve and succeeded to a great extent. Does the current generation have the will and desire to take forward that carefully built legacy? Does the ebb and flow of Test cricket appeal to it? Are they content with the riches that the Indian Premier League brings to them or do they want to be revered like the Tendulkars, the Dravids and the Kumbles?

From their outings in South Africa and New Zealand, though India lost both series, the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan had given an impression that the future of Indian cricket was in safe hands. But the result in England, which pushed them to fifth place in ICC Test rankings, has sowed doubts in many minds. 

Test-primary format

“Test cricket is hard work,” said former Australian captain Greg Chappell to Deccan Herald in a recent interview. “When you are not playing well, when you are not winning and you are getting beaten regularly, it’s hard to be motivated to doing that (hard work).

In a 50-over or a 20-over game, if you are not playing well, it’s over quickly. But five days is a long time and there is nowhere to hide in Test cricket. That’s why I am such a firm believer that Test cricket should be the primary format of the game. Because it’s the real test, it’s a test of your whole spirit.

Not just your talent but the ability to persist, to be resilient, to come back against the odds… That is more prevalent in Test cricket than it can ever be in the shorter versions of the game. You can cover up some deficiencies in 50 or 20-over cricket but you can’t do that in Test cricket,” he remarked. 
 
In England, it appeared that the young Indian crop, with a few exceptions, wasn’t prepared for the grind over a period of five Tests. Getting consistently dismissed for 100-odd or less and barely lasting 30 overs in Tests is simply unacceptable. And it only provides fodder for the critics to pin the blame on the IPL.
Has the ultra-abridged version eroded their technique? Has it affected their temperament to play a long innings? And remember, these players were going to England right after the IPL without having played in a three-day or a four-day match for an extended period.  
      
While at some level one can understand their struggles against the swinging and seaming ball, their travails against a part-time spinner, Moeen Ali, were unfathomable.

Whatever happened to the best players of spin? It was a far cry from the scenes when the likes of Laxmans, Dravids, Tendulkars and Sehwags made a mockery of the best of them during their prime.
“They didn’t know how to play him (Ali),” pointed out batting legend G R Viswanath. Playing positively doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hit a boundary off every ball, it’s just having a clear mind and confident approach,” he analysed.

Is that muddled thinking caused by the fact that most of our batsmen these days rarely turn up for domestic first-class games to iron out the glitches in their technique? And to be fair to them, how can they if the international schedule is as cramped as a general compartment in an Indian train? The Board of Control for Cricket in India doles out series to many cash-strapped cricket boards to retain its hold over the ICC, and as a result, players often suffer burnout which is reflected in performances like these.

Right from administration to pure cricketing aspects, there are many issues that need a holistic approach for the good health of the game and not some knee-jerk reaction with short-term goals.

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