March 26, 2007

Chasing a dream... for 24 years

ESPNcricinfo staff
“Cool first, write afterwards

“Cool first, write afterwards. Morality is hot but art is icy,” Henry James had once said. A pieces like this isn’t quite art and the response to India being walloped by Sri Lanka has little to do with morality but I know what the master meant when he said that. Put another way, he meant take your time, and do not yield to the temptation of the knee-jerk reaction.

Which is what I have been doing over the weekend. Taking my time and keeping both my knees tightly strapped lest they react.

But there is no running away from the question: How exactly did India manage to come undone? How did a side that former cricketer Vic Marks (among others) was tipping as one of the favourites of the tournament manage to so comprehensively mess things up, ending their campaign before the stage when one had supposed it would begin in earnest?

Various theories are floating around, not all of them to do with the quality of cricket the side played. In Monday’s edition of the Hindustan Times, Rahul Bhattacharya (an old cricinfo hand) writes about the “lack of chemistry” in this team. Things like chemistry are intangible, they are hard to communicate unless you have seen the team but one knows when it’s there – just as much as one knows when it’s not. (I remember watching the Indians play volleyball before the start of play every morning during the terrific tour of Australia in 2003-04 and remember thinking, “These guys have something special between them.” And they did. It showed in the results.)

“There was no open rebellion,” Bhattacharya writes, “but the insecurity had seeped in too deep. The only hope for it galvanizing lay in the bonding that comes from special triumphs. It was not to be.”

As much as 1966 is for English football fans, for followers of Indian cricket 1983 has acquired a status of mythic proportions, and its mythology grows and grows as every Indian World Cup team since that one tries to match that triumph and falls short.

How was that victory achieved? I have wondered about this so many times over the past 24 years. And why has it never happened again? India was certainly not the most talented side in the 1983 tournament. (We’ve had several better teams since.) No one picked it as a dark horse. It did not have a decent track record. It had had far less practice in one-day cricket than teams like, say, England or Australia.

So how did they do it?

We had great players like Kapil and brave, committed ones like Amarnath. They were lucky. They were plucky. (Remember, India beat the defending world champions not once, but twice in the tournament.) But more than anything else, everything came together for India that summer in a way that things sometimes do in team sport: when all the units in a side weld together, when one player inspires the others, when the cliché of one for all and all for one becomes a demonstrable reality and the whole of the team become greater than a sum of its parts.

You need that for success in sport. And in the West Indies at this World Cup, that was found sadly wanting.

Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of two volumes of cricketing memoirs - You Must Like Cricket? and All That You Can't Leave Behind - and a novel, If I Could Tell You