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. 

The class, temperament and skills the team boasted of were missing. Rahul Dravid alone had put a price on his wicket, while the rest just came and went, except for shades of brilliance shown by Sachin and VVS Laxman. Praveen Kumar, a one-day specialist, suddenly became the only fast bowling hope in Tests. 

Sachin Tendulkar skipped the West Indies tour to spend time with his family, while playing through the IPL. VVS, famous for his classy match saving performances (including in the West Indies), fell to the English plan that had every other batsman fumbling. The plan was to push Indian batsmen with short pitched deliveries, and that worked beautifully to England’s advantage. Indian batsmen kept ballooning balls in the air whenever short stuff was directed at them. Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh played baffling shots. “As international players, you should know your weaknesses and if you still don’t work out your demons, you are bound to fail,” says a former cricketer. 

Clearly, the multimillion IPL hangover of millionaire cricketers, pushed by the cash-obsessed BCCI, had taken its toll. Earlier, senior players had skipped the Caribbean series citing injuries. After the humiliating drubbing, the debate on fitness and fatigue gained momentum. The BCCI needs to answer the fatigue quotient controversy. For injuries, fake or real or concealed, players are the best judges. Serious fatigue reflected on Indian players; it was starkly transparent. Is too much ‘commercialised’ cricket to be blamed for the loss, including mindless 20-20 games driven by the money adrenalin? 

This series wasn’t premeditated overnight. ICC decides tours in advance, and all the boards and teams are kept in the loop. Incidentally, anyone can read about future tours on the ICC website. This discredits the entire argument that players and boards are not aware of the schedule. World Cup 2011 was an ICC event, and almost all teams were given a fair amount of rest period as there were no immediate tours or games immediately after the World Cup. Except that India cricket is driven by other things. 

This time gap could have been utilised for recovery, rehabilitation, rest, family affairs and mental peace. On the contrary, Indian players were being auctioned for ridiculous amounts of money for IPL. Joys of the World Cup glory were quickly dumped; there was no time for memories, to cherish the victory, to resurrect the great moments of specific games and classy performances, to analyse and build new formations. Nowhere in the world, or in the history of sport, has one seen a major international event (World Cup football or Olympics) being so immediately followed up by a crass commerce-driven enterprise. 

Many Indian cricketers were so psychologically and physically drained by the World Cup that they were reportedly puking, tired, almost depressed. The tiresome IPL schedule included 51 days of back-to-back matches, constant travel, practice sessions, and the infamous night parties. These took its toll on the players but the damage had already been done. 

During or post IPL, Gambhir, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer, all picked up injuries, but it was again shrugged under the carpet because of the obscene kind of money involved in IPL. “We have a business deal with these players and, just like any other business proposition, we don’t want to incur losses. So franchisees are bound to put pressure on players as a lot of money is at stake,” says a senior officer of the one of the franchisees. 

According to BCCI, players are free to opt out of tours if they are exhausted. It is not obligatory to play each series, and key players have repeatedly done this in the past, especially when playing weaker teams. But, predictably, not a single top Indian player opted out of IPL to cherish the World Cup glory, spend time with the family, or give his body the much needed rest. Sachin played the IPL, only to skip theWest Indiestour, so did an unwell Yuvraj, an injured Sehwag, and others. 

Besides, 20-20 is not even remotely touched by the classical, patient and rigorous nuances of Test cricket. As a cricketer said, “In IPL we are supposed to hit every ball. In Tests we should learn to leave the away delivery, or to block or outsmart the opponent’s mind games.” Even bowlers like Ishant Sharma, making gigantic amounts for bowling just about four overs in IPL (earlier Rs 1 lakh for one ball), just could not go on for longer stints in Tests. They neither had the training or skills, nor the will or stamina. 

This series exposed chinks in Dhoni’s lucky armour. Captain Cool is no longer so cool. Dhoni’s glove work was patchy and his swashbuckling battling style ephemeral, his Test batting record has been abysmal and his captaincy skills below par; he seemed absentminded, almost always running out of original ideas in crunch situations. He allowed the team to drift, including his tired and mediocre bowlers. Dhoni’s leadership skills were put to question. “Why did he take RP Singh instead of Munaf Patel, who was picked in the first 16 and had seen the English conditions? Why RP, who hasn’t played a Test in last three years?” questioned a former BCCI official. 

Usain Bolt, the three-time World and Olympic gold medalist, didn’t come for Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010, because his main focus is on London Olympics 2012. Bolt didn’t skip CWG for any private, money-making event, or for any ad agency. Similarly, Stephanie Rice, women’s world record holder in swimming, didn’t turn up at CWG because she wanted to preserve her body for bigger events. Football greats don’t rush off to make quick money after the greatest football event in the world where they go full blast. 

It’s a question of priorities, of not mindlessly chasing a big cash ticket even when the body and mind says no. “The truth is, super-rich Indian cricketers have shown that they have no character,” said a sociologist. “They have talent, but no ethical essence. Look at how they endorse every new builder near Delhi for money. Their greed is endless.” 

So, when’s the next IPL?


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