India in Australia 2011-12 January 29, 2012

Time for India to shed denial

After their skills were found wanting and their mental fortitude questioned, India can't afford to wallow in home comforts

Four years ago, during an ugly series between these two teams in this country, Anil Kumble, India's captain, evoked Bill Woodfull circa Bodyline, saying only one of the teams was playing cricket. The same could just as easily be said of this series. In their own cocoon of denial, living in the past, out-batted, out-bowled, out-fielded, out-captained both on and off the field, out-coached, out-jibed by the hosts, India didn't really turn up.

The batsmen kept failing but kept getting picked and kept batting in the same positions on the top of that. The bowlers lacked the control; Ishant Sharma carried his flaws and misfortune, which might or might not be inter-related, despite a strong and specialised coaching staff; the old men without the runs didn't write off the debts they incurred in the field; the openers were found out, but everybody kept talking of a time in the past when they used to win.

They used to win no doubt but never as comprehensively as they have lost over their last two series. It was a team skating on thin ice, albeit skating exceptionally well until earlier this year, but the ice has given away now. The rescue squad is of the view it will prepare better ice at home.

To find out where it all went wrong on this tour it is important to go back to where it all started. Melbourne was the kind of Test India used to win over the last four years or so. They just did. Somehow. They used to have the mental strength. That is the reason the fans began to trust this side. That is the reason why they are angry now. They haven't seen that desperation here.

They can't pinpoint a time when the desperation, the mongrel, left this team. Was it when the seniors passed a certain age - and can cricketers age all of a sudden? Was it when surgeries were postponed so that IPL could be played and Tests missed? Was it when the previous 4-0 whitewash was not even part of the board's recap of the last year at its awards function? Did the World Cup win exhaust them and sate them at the same time? This is all conjecture, and possibly unfair, but the fans are asking themselves these questions.

The good Indian team used to win the big moments - it didn't happen over a long period but it was the same personnel consistently making second-innings comebacks and or chasing high-ish totals in the fourth innings. Not now. Melbourne was a bit like Trent Bridge when they let the batsmen off the hook twice. India's bowling plans were outdated, as if the captain and the coaches hadn't seen Australia play since they last played India. They tried to bounce Ricky Ponting out when clearly he had been falling lbw over the last few months, thus playing him back into form. The good Indian teams' tailenders added runs, here Zaheer Khan refused to stay in front of the stumps. A lot of the blame has to be laid at the door of a team of defensive captain and defensive coach, but the mongrel wasn't there either.

It all can't be put down to the absence of that intangible quality either. The skills were found out. Perhaps it might have to do with age and slowing down of the instinct, but Virender Sehwag against the seaming and bouncing ball wasn't a good sight. Gautam Gambhir spent half the series fighting the poke only for the bouncer at his throat to consume him for the other half.

VVS Laxman remained strangely passive at the crease, and only in Adelaide - a Test he shouldn't have played in the first place - did he move his guard to middle stump to counter the fifth-stump line. Rahul Dravid knew his back foot was not moving across, and he tried his darnedest in the nets to overcome it, but could not manage it. Sachin Tendulkar began the summer gloriously, and still looked the best equipped technically, but that is where it stopped.

Melbourne was the kind of Test India used to win over the last four years or so. They just did. Somehow. They used to have the mental strength. That is the reason the fans began to trust this side. That is the reason why they are angry now

The question marks against the seniors are valid and well documented, and it is time to drop those who will not be a part of the side at the start of the overseas tours in late 2013. There is no disrespect to their previous contributions in dropping them. However, it is disrespectful to plant stories in the media, as has been happening, to try to put covert pressure so they are forced to retire. Retirement should not even be a question here; that is the players' decision, and it is understandable for players to want to keep playing. What are the selectors and team management doing?

Good Indian teams bounced back from first defeats, now "bouncebackability" is a word used to mock them. With this team you badly hoped, for the sake of a contest, that they didn't lose the first match. In the lead-up to Sydney, no one other than the Indian team spoke of their ability to come back after their first defeat. From the time they were bowled out for 191 on that first day in Sydney, it was clear it would be nothing short of a miracle to avoid a whitewash.

Perth and Adelaide were natural progression. Mentally they were gone. They were in such bad state they couldn't even ignore criticism in the papers: R Ashwin called the media a deterrent and Sehwag asked them to support the side like cheerleaders.

MS Dhoni's captaincy may be open to whatever criticism but his leadership style of letting everyone be so they did their job best had worked until this debacle began. Good leaders, however, change their ways with time. There seems nobody in this team capable of lighting a fire under a few backsides, or of making on-the-spot decisions that match the desperation of the situation.

If Dhoni's erstwhile strength might have become his weakness, we don't even know what Duncan Fletcher's role is, except that no player wants to blame him. He was a control freak when with England, but has no powers here. He loved DRS, but can't say that in his new employment. He is supposed to be good with youngsters, but doesn't seem to be pushing for them here. He used substitutes to rile opposition captains, but is part of a team that calls back technically run-out batsmen. Is he a square peg in a round hole?

It is believed it is good to hit the rock bottom once in a while so that the only way is up. The problem is, the team and the board react in a manner that suggests they don't believe they have reached there yet. They still boast of home wins. They are complaining of grass on pitches that have actually been pretty fair, and ignoring completely that most of their recent wins away from the subcontinent have come in more-than-friendly bowling conditions. Hopefully they don't actually feel that way, and it is just a "brave face", although it isn't very clever.

Hopefully, at the next year's awards function, the BCCI will acknowledge that apart from hosting IPL and Champions League and putting together a side that won home Tests - the last one is no guarantee - India also lost badly in Australia. Accepting flaws is the first step towards correcting them.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on January 31, 2012, 8:30 GMT

    Maybe in India you retire when your batting average is lower than your age. I think therefore they all have a couple of years left in them.

    Maybe Sharma and Ohja were taken along do they could witness the death of an era of Indian cricket, so they could help it to rise again.

    A message to the Indian team management...aim for mediocrity, you don't have to improve as much as you do to achieve excellence. Once you have mastered mediocrity (in a couple of years time maybe), then aim a little higher.

  • Dummy4 on January 31, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    Great Article...BCCI should organize dinner and give them shawl and sreephal and retire them respectfully....

    Best is to drop these old players ( sehwag,vvs,dravid, gambhir) and pick a young team which will take Indian cricket to next level.....

  • Sharky on January 31, 2012, 7:12 GMT

    Gary Kirsten created positive mental minds. Then India have won a World Cup and have become a little bit Big-Headed. Now the Auzzies has deflated those Big-Heads and Duncan Fletcher has to do all Gary Kirstens work all over again.

  • Sharky on January 31, 2012, 6:55 GMT

    A lot of cricketers in the past will tell you that one of the toughest mental challenges will be playing Australia in Australia. And if you give the Auzzies a sniff of your mental weakness like for instance being the only country in the world that can not understand DRS, you're in for a whitewash. Some Indian bowlers in the past have been accused of over-appealing for wickets. Sometimes appealing too much because they are so excited that they believe everything close should be out. And with the DRS it showed. When India use DRS, they use it quickly up because they are too eager for wickets. Ravi Shastri could also not understand why in tennis and cricket you only have 2 reviews. Why can't you review everything always, because some bowlers, who believes everything is out, will waste your time. And if you wasted the umpires time on 2 mistakes, then it is fair that you shouldn't ask for DRS anymore.

  • Dummy4 on January 31, 2012, 3:39 GMT

    Quite an obituary! I can't stop watching our following cricket, but I was really upset when Ashwin came to press conferences to say the team was only disappointed and not embarrassed! What more do u need to cause embarrassment?

  • Jigs on January 31, 2012, 3:00 GMT

    It's high time we make pitches like Australia,new Zealand,England at venues in India ,whenever we plan these overseas trip,we must keep 2 months camp over these venues so we can get custom to it,no need to play wt international teams at these venues but definitely we need lot of practices before going to big overseas trip,also we need bowlers who can bowl 145 plus as India doesn't have that pace @ our batsman cannot play the pace,how r they going to face pace @ swing together........we are not going to overseas for couple of years & all these will be soon forgotten as ipl & all series in India will start @ mostly we will win.........

  • Garfield on January 31, 2012, 2:10 GMT

    where it all went wrong? it all went wrong when India's star players avoid coming to the west indies tour before the England tour because maybe they thought they were too big or didnt need to waste time playing a struggling team like the WI. instead they were prob relaxing with their feet up cause they were No. 1

  • Al on January 31, 2012, 1:50 GMT

    @soumyas. It's funny that you are still supporting Dravid. He must be from your state and/or caste. Therein lies the whole problem with Indian cricket team. There should be no quota system. Perform or perish - that should be the only criteria. Dravid was a great batsman in his peak. Nobody can deny that. But now he is 39+. His batting and catching will only get worse with time. There are other promising batsmen from Kranataka - Uthappa and Manish Pandey come to my mind. Did it ever occur to you that by not retiring Dravid might be blocking the way for your fellow Kannadiga batsmen like Uthappa and Pandey? Same thing goes for Tendulkar - by delaying his long overdue retirement, he is blocking the way for fellow Mumbai batsmen like Rohit and Rahane.

  • Deepak on January 31, 2012, 1:46 GMT

    Great article! It is frank and to the point. Great teams and players admit if something is wrong. If you are truly a good cricketer then you should at least be able to compete (not saying win) in all conditions. I am disturbed by the denial though not surprised. Does anyone remember the great Indian spin quartet? Now does anyone remember how their careers came to end? I remember the tour when Pakistan visited India and completely embarrassed the old lot. This is just history repeating itself with new actors, new roles and new venue. Just like most Indian movies the ending is the same.

  • Harry on January 31, 2012, 0:54 GMT

    This should be addressed to your board, Sidharth. They are the ones who are brushing this under the rug with the "wait till they come over here" comment. It would appear most true fans know there is an issue, something your board either can't or don't want to grasp. @jinkab. Perth was the only green pitch. Did you see Adelaide? Or Sydney? Hobart & Brisbane are as well. I do agree that your board needs to do something about pitches, they can & have produced fast bouncy pitches for tests e.g. Nagpur 2004. So why not have some pitches to use for both batsmen & bowlers to play on?

  • No featured comments at the moment.