A frustrating marriage of talent and under-performance
The match-referee episode seemed to have haunted the third 'Test' as well. Mike Denness appears to have really stirred up a beehive without anticipating the repercussions. In my opinion, the best way the situation could have been handled would have been to call in Sachin Tendulkar, Indian team manager Dr MK Bhargava and coach John Wright to view the incriminating video footage and canvass their opinions about punishments if any were required.
Maybe the simple reason is that Indians are one-shot players who, on their day, look like world beaters. If that is the case, the media and public should stop going overboard with joy for their once-in-a-way triumphs. That may drive the lesson home that consistency, more than flashes of glitz, is what is really required.
That, however, is as far as the Denness controversy is concerned. Enough and more has been said about it, with the third match fading more or less into the background. Whether the game was an official Test or not, the fact remains that this Indian side cannot measure up to the South African team. The side is more an agglomeration of gifted players, and unless they play as a team and are held accountable for their failures, it will be extremely difficult to win an overseas tour.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) must now seriously ponder the fact that concentrated effort is required to create a reliable and talented second string of cricketers. That, in my view, should have top priority right now over every other concern.
If one were to critically assess the present Indian outfit, it is very clear that it is able to put up neither consistent batting performances on foreign pitches nor sharp and devastating bowling spells. Our fielding is not even effective at the most basic level, let alone in comparison with the spectacular South Africans.
The overall physical fitness of many members of the team is still debatable, and attention needs to be paid to this aspect in particular before matters slip completely out of control. In spite of providing the latest in training methods, they lack lasting power, and one can see that, by the end of the day, they appear lethargic and absolutely wornout.
Maybe the simple reason is that Indians are one-shot players who, on their day, look like world beaters. If that is the case, the media and public should stop going overboard with joy for their once-in-a-way triumphs. That may drive the lesson home that consistency, more than flashes of glitz, is what is really required. The third 'Test' is a case in point; right from Day One, it was clear that, unless the rain played spoilsport, India would lose the match.
During the course of the tour, the Indian batsmen failed to learn to leave the ball bowled outside off-stump in the zone popularly termed the "corridor of uncertainty." The major culprits were VVS Laxman and Shiv Sunder Das who, although possessing talent in bushels, could not translate it into solid scores and big stands. In fact, there was a glaring lack of partnership-based planning and absolutely no signs of key players putting up their hand and taking responsibility for the team's performance.
Without Tendulkar, the Indian batting seems to lack the character and spine to last any five-day game. Rahul Dravid seems to possess the temperament, but he lacks the ability to dominate the bowling and buckles when one expects him to stay at the crease for a significant tenure.
The South African tour has thus only served to expose the limitations of the Indian cricket team. The batsmen are not mentally up to the mark to face fast bowling, neither do they exhibit that all-important quality of running singles and rotating the strike. Whether it is the first innings or the second, it always seems as if India is playing to save the match, and the body language of team members suggests that playing at the Test level itself is the end of the road.
With such an attitude and lack of confidence, any bowling attack will steam in with its tail up. That is exactly what happened on this tour, with South Africa looked confident throughout the series. I can only hope that, against the English side, the Indians will do better. With Javagal Srinath not fully fit, the Indian selectors must make some bold moves to induct young fast bowlers and persist with them. Ajay Ratra and Sarandeep Singh, by virtue of some fine domestic performances, should also find room in the squad.
Finally, although vice-captains are usually not appointed for home series, it may be a good idea if it is made clear to Tendulkar that he should bear the vice-captain's share of responsibility. While this frees Dravid of the additional burden, it may also spur Tendulkar to fire on all cylinders. And that, as we all know, is always a good way to ensure an Indian victory.