May 14, 2010

Three reasons why India failed

Their new-ball bowling lacked spark, the fielding was shoddy, and they were clueless against bounce

So India go out again, having delivered a box-office dud. It will lead to much breast-beating and ranting, a demonstration or two will begin somewhere, and doubtless, television cameras will be there. But beyond providing an outlet for our frustration, allowing for catharsis, all that will achieve little. Those who call for the heads of our cricketers are among those who bow deferentially at the first opportunity. Currently we are armed with hindsight, that greatest of all selectors. It bestows on us great wisdom and sagacity but delivers no results.

I'm afraid India weren't good enough. Sometimes that is difficult to accept, but that is indeed the truth. A different batsman might have been picked, another spinner might have made his way here, but there was no Bradman or Sobers left behind. Yes, there was a Tendulkar but that chapter is already part of history. It could be argued that those picked were men of great skill, but that is an ally that only fights a quarter of a war at best. Beyond that, attitude is the weapon to possess, and whether or not that weapon was rusty is a question that must be asked and answered dispassionately.

So why were India not good enough? Among many reasons three stand out.

The new ball, in the hands of India's bowlers, made no statement. It wasn't the first serve, as it should have been. It was merely a formality that had to be achieved for a game to start, just a pawn that was pushed forward with little intent. The new ball on flat pitches and on grounds with short boundaries is like a toy for a pampered child to toss around, but here it had fangs. India's openers were shown them, the opposition weren't. It is a serious issue. New-ball bowlers have to be cultivated and nurtured so that they grow into handsome trees; they cannot, at the first sight of a storm, wither away.

India's fielding stood out. Like a radio might, or like my old phone does. It was like a retro movie. When it comes to fielding or athleticism, India make an occasional concession to modernity, flirt with the latest and slip back towards the old and the comfortable. When Australia took the field, I thought more than once that their hockey players had arrived. They were smooth, they glided around and made what might otherwise have been a three a two. Great catches arrived with the frequency of a politician's quotes. It was beautiful to watch but I do not think our young cricketers are watching. They demand the latest sometimes but they do not demonstrate it.

India's fielding stood out. Like a radio might, or like my old phone does. When it comes to fielding or athleticism, India make an occasional concession to modernity, flirt with the latest and slip back towards the old and the comfortable

Once India's finest, Yuvraj stood at mid-on, the abode of the tired fast bowler and the slow-moving spinner. At long-on and fine leg, the limbs had to be cranked to start. It was painful because of what should have been. He is a cricketer who is richly blessed, and a period of humble introspection might just be the right prescription. The turn he took a kilometre ago was the wrong one.

And India could not play the rising ball. Few enjoy it but everyone has to live with it. The modern game led some people towards thinking that they could ignore it, but here in the West Indies, as last year in England, has come the realisation that even in Twenty20 cricket you can be found out. Even very accomplished cricketers like Gautam Gambhir looked out of sorts. He looked tired as the ball came at him with ferocity. And Suresh Raina, the brightest of India's young cricketers, has to come up with a solution.

Not one of these three shortcomings was unknown, and it would be easy to blame the system and the coaches for it. Teachers don't write exams, students do, and eventually they must figure it out themselves, and so we must return to attitude. There is no point blaming the pitches and the bowlers in domestic cricket for the inability to play short-pitched bowling. Gavaskar emerged from the same school, as did Tendulkar, Dravid and even Laxman. Abhinav Bindra and Saina Nehwal are products of such a system. Azharuddin emerged as one of the world's finest fielders. Greatness lies in rising beyond the system. It isn't the system, therefore, but work ethic that lies at the heart of success. I'm not saying India's cricketers don't possess it, it's just that they don't display it often enough.

From here on, India's young cricketers need to ask themselves whether they want to be rich also-rans or want a place in history. It is a choice they must make. Currently they are not good enough, but pelting abuse, and the odd stone, at them will not solve the issue, only point fingers at ourselves.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

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