April 2, 2007

Indian cricket needs a revolution

India's World Cup debacle has thrown up many pressing questions but don't expect too many honest answers



The blame game has begun. Greg Chappell has called for a comprehensive review of the team's performance but already many fingers are pointing at him © Getty Images

As is the norm with botched-up jobs, India have returned from the West Indies with a bagful of questions. No two ways about it, the World Cup was an embarrassment for India. Not only did they lose to Bangladesh, who have since struggled to put the ball past the square, they never looked like winning against them. Say whatever you will about the format, India didn't look in shape, either mentally or physically, to go any further.

However, as is often the norm with Indian cricket, don't expect too many honest answers. India might get a new coach, perhaps even a new captain, a couple of players will be dropped and the team will travel to Bangladesh to redeem their honour. Trust some TV channel or newspaper to sell the series as the Revenge of the Blue Billion. It's quite likely that Indian cricket will learn nothing.

Failure is a perennial orphan. Don't expect a rush to own up responsibility. Of course many stories will emerge, but most of them will a point a finger at someone else. Greg Chappell has called for a comprehensive review of the team's performance but already many fingers are pointing at him.

Under normal circumstances, a cricket coach would bear only marginal responsibility for a team's failure. But Chappell has been no ordinary coach. He mounted an extraordinarily high-profile campaign to drag Indian cricket forward and his Mission 2007 became a significant signpost for Indian cricket. The blame for the mission's failure cannot be laid at his door alone but he will find himself facing some tough questions.

Questions are already filtering out to the media. Was he too authoritarian? Did he lack the human touch so vital for man-management? Did he have his finger on the pulse of players? Did he get obsessed with his ways and failed to explore any other way? Did he plant the seeds of unrest and mistrust within the team by his frequent slagging off of the players to the media? Did he create a sense of insecurity among a section of players that ultimately led them to play for their place in the side rather than for the team? And finally, did the team achieve the best it could have under him?

What of Rahul Dravid? Did he allow himself to be hijacked by Chappell? Did he lack authority and fire? Did he fail to inspire his teammates and forge a team that would fight together?

And the seniors? Were they aloof and self-absorbed? Were they so focused on protecting their own turf that they ended up stifling the junior players? Did some of them openly promote groupism and try to undermine Dravid? Did Dravid ever receive the kind of support he gave unflinchingly to captains who went before him?

These are all important questions that need to be asked when the review committee of the BCCI meets on April 6. But there are far more important, and deeper, issues without addressing which Indian cricket cannot move forward, and any progress the team makes can only be temporary.

Nothing about Indian domestic cricket could have equipped Sunil Gavaskar to withstand the most hostile pace bowling ever seen in cricket, or Sachin Tendulkar to score hundreds in Australia as a 18-year-old, or Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble to be so damn tough mentally. They were exceptional as cricketers and men
The biggest question is why, despite the passion, the base and now the wealth, can't India produce a truly world-class team? Why do most Indian batsmen, despite the big averages, come unstuck on pitches that bounce and seam - and now even on those which spin? Why is the bench-strength so thin that they were forced to recall Sourav Ganguly? Why isn't there a single batsman in sight who can challenge for a place in the Indian middle order? And, shockingly, who after Anil Kumble?

Money can buy another coach. Players will line up to become the next captain. But Indian cricket will go nowhere as long as the system continues throwing up soft cricketers. India has produced great players, but that's been despite the system. Nothing about Indian domestic cricket could have equipped Sunil Gavaskar to withstand the most hostile pace bowling ever seen in cricket, or Sachin Tendulkar to score hundreds in Australia as a 18-year-old, or Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble to be so damn tough mentally. They were exceptional as cricketers and men. Freaks, if you please. A country of one billion people who call cricket a religion shouldn't have to rely on freaks.

For about a couple of years India enjoyed an exceptional run when the batting stars converged as a happy coincidence. Virender Sehwag burst on to the scene and it was too early for bowlers to devise a plan for him, VVS Laxman peaked, Dravid became great, and Tendulkar crafted some big hundreds. And, with runs to back him, Kumble became the bowler that he rarely had the opportunity to be outside India. He tossed the ball up, varied his pace, and added to his repertoire.

But age has caught up with Tendulkar, Laxman's luminance has dulled, Sehwag finds himself batting the demons in the mind and his technical shortcomings, and India have nowhere to go. Call it cyclical but the truth is that India lacks a structure that produces players ready for the international challenge. The pitches are awful, competition scant, team selection is mired in politics and administrators are more focused on self-preservation than development. It would be a miracle if the cricketers who emerged from this structure remained untouched by it.

When the wise men sit around the table in few days time, they must go beyond the surface. Change for the sake of change will not only be superficial but also counter productive.

Process has become a much abused word in light of India's recent travails and it is amusing to hear former cricketers evoke Indian cricket culture to knock foreign coaches. What culture? Revelling in individual glory? Being losers away from home? Being soft and unfit? Skills and artistry can take you only so far in modern sport, which is unforgiving of any weakness, either mental or physical. India have to become contemporary to be competitive and they have to realise that the transformation will not come overnight.



The board has to objectively review if Chappell and Dravid went about rebuilding the team the right way. If they didn't, another way must be found. But it must point forward © AFP

Progress was made under John Wright and Sourav Ganguly. But Chappell and Dravid came at a time when there was need to rebuild. Chappell's methods might not have been palatable to many, and that must be a factor while taking a decision on renewing his contract, but decision makers must guard against mixing up the issues with the personality.

Indian cricket needs a renewal. It needs to embrace new ideas, it needs fresh energy and fresh legs. It will not be without pain. It will require foresight, courage and the maturity to absorb losses in the short run for long-term gains. Indian cricket cannot be rebuilt with the objective of meeting marketing targets. If excellence is achieved all else will follow.

The wise men must examine objectively if Chappell and Dravid went about achieving this objective the right way. If they didn't, then another way must be found. But it must point forward. Returning to the old ways is not an option. Indian cricket needs a revolution. And it has to start at the bottom. And as for accountability, can we start at the very top please?

Do you think the board will come up with long-term solutions to Indian cricket's problems? What, in your opinion, is the solution? Tell us here

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine

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