SO, WHEN’S THE NEXT IPL?

Driven by insatiable greed, BCCI and Indian cricket deserve every humiliating drubbing they got in England
Sandeep Kumar Delhi 

Tim Bresnan’s third ball of his tenth over in the last innings of the third Test kicked from the length and hit the shoulder of Sreesanth’s bat and flew towards gully where Pietersen cupped it with utmost ease. The entire Edgbaston stadium erupted in celebration and English players hugged one another in their new found glory. They deserved to win the number one Test team spot and all the accolades that were showered. As much as India deserved the drubbing, they lost not only the series but also the No 1 Test rank. 

In one of their most humiliating performances in a Test series in recent past, the Indian team lacked training, confidence, motivation, discipline, body language, and that hungry edge that wins matches. Many of them were stunningly unfit, injured, outside the ‘zone’. It took just 20 months and 21 Tests for the Indian cricket team to shrink with the burden of beingnumero uno. The dream that turned into reality on December 6, 2009 against Sri Lanka was meekly surrendered after a string of humiliating performances with the bat and ball. 

The hyperbole was that it is a clash of the Titans. But with the English team, given its unbeaten streak in their last eight series, including the Ashes, this tour turned out to be a one-dimensional, one-sided affair. English bowlers ripped through the Indian batting line-up, and their batsmen hammered the badgered, mediocre Indian bowlers for most days, match after match. Did India really deserve the number one spot? Was it possible to sustain this hype without the influence of the powerful and unaccountable cash-rich Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI)? 

Introduced in 2003, the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) renewed ranking system helped India clinch the top spot, but the dominance factor associated with the slot eluded them. In order to retain the position for a longer period, BCCI, with its financial clout, reportedly arm-twisted its way and accommodated additional Test matches in their upcoming tours, especially with the minnows. A quick review of the 21 Tests played by the Indian team in the short span of one-and-a-half-year reveals that the team never authenticated its supremacy. Only nine Tests were won, including one each against West Indies and New Zealand, and two against Bangladesh — the number eighth, ninth and tenth teams, respectively. 

When faced with stiff opposition from stronger teams likeSouth AfricaandSri Lanka, India managed to draw the series on all three occasions. It started with the home series against South Africa and away series in Sri Lanka. Every time, India came from behind to level the series, helped it retain the glorified top slot. The only series played with great vigour was the home series against Australia where the Indian team won both the Tests. The one wicket victory in Mohali had shades of a top team, but one cannot justify the hype by one or two hard fought matches alone, that too in friendly conditions at home. It takes consistency in all kinds of conditions for a long period to prove one’s mettle. 

England, despite being ranked third, won 19 of their last 30 Tests and lost only four. They won nine games by an innings, four by eight wickets or more, and the rest by an average of 227 runs. Therefore, the India-England series was considered as a mouthwatering contest this year. 

When India lost the first Test at Lords by 196 runs, the panic didn’t set in as it is known to be a slow starter which bounces back in the later part of the series. In the second Test at Trent Bridge, the visitors lost by a shameful margin of 319 runs. At Edgebaston, it was sheer humiliation as the hosts thrashed them by an innings and 242 runs, and also handed
Dhoni his first series loss in 30 Tests as skipper. 

There are far too many reasons why England won and India rubbed its nose in English conditions. While English batsmen displayed character, commitment and class, the demotivated, stupefied Indians committed silly mistakes that defied logic. English batsmen ensured to see off the new ball, while Indians kept poking outside the off stump every time an English pacer moved the cherry. Hapless bowlers never stuck to a line and were wayward and listless. 

To expect a team to win every time they get out in the middle, is asking for too much. But to expect a team to fight in daunting conditions is the right of every cricket enthusiast. On the contrary, the lazy Indian team gave a defeatist, demoralised, dumbed-down impression. Experts blame team selection, fitness, fatigue, injuries and abject lack of commitment, and neither the players nor the board can deny these accusations. 

So why did the world’s most formidable batting line-up fall like a deck of cards, including younger ones like a perpetually injured Gautam Gambhir, the highest paid (injured?) player in the last IPL (Rs 11 crore). “You can’t blame the conditions as most players have been on an England tour. The batsmen just kept committing the same mistakes, so how can you blame the pitches or conditions? If you play with such lack of finesse and so foolishly in testing conditions, you are bound to get out and that is what happened,” says a former BCCI official. Except Suresh Raina, Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma, every member of the squad has had a tour of England. 

Statistically, this formidable batting line-up repeatedly failed to bat 100 overs in the first three Tests. In six innings, there was only one century stand between the top order batsmen at all positions. The over-hyped battling line-up failed to cross the 300-run mark in any of their eight innings. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2011