January 17, 2012

India must keep the hurt alive

All too conveniently, humiliations overseas are allowed to fade. The BCCI needs to make sure that doesn't happen this time

So N Srinivasan has denied he boasted about India's ODI series win at home being some sort of revenge for the Test whitewash in England. Which is good to hear. It might, after all, be a sign that the reaction this time might not be similar to that after India's last whitewash, in England. At the BCCI awards function late last year, when some of the senior players were in Australia to prepare for the tour, the debacle in England wasn't even mentioned. The general refrain was: "We won the World Cup, we beat West Indies at home, what a great year." It was like the series in England had never happened.

India must not move on from Australia so easily. The BCCI must not move on so easily. It should not be as simple as this: former players criticise, editors write editorials, an effigy or three is burnt, the IPL comes along, a home series is won, and everything is forgotten.

The BCCI needs to look into why India lost so badly. Were they old, tired, unmotivated, not good enough? Or has the team become soft with the rise of new opportunities outside Test cricket? The board needs to look at the coach's role, and the captain's.

India got their No. 1 ranking because they didn't forget defeats away from home in the '90s. Those rankled for months. India earned respect in the Test world because they started winning away from home. It took a decade's hard work from Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, and other players who played smaller walk-on parts.

They did well precisely because they didn't go about telling other players - like Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma are known to have done - that they will see about averages when they are playing at home. And they did do well - let's not write that off, as has been the temptation after these two poor series in England and Australia. At one point during their reign as No. 1, India had won their last series in England, New Zealand and the West Indies, and drawn their last ones in South Africa and Sri Lanka. The No. 1 ranking was definitely deserved - if not in the way dominating teams do, in a fighting, better-than-the-rest-at-the-time way. It was a lifetime's work, accumulated painstakingly and against the odds.

Now that those players will be gone soon - and most of them have disappointed in their last two series (themselves more than anybody else) - their good work is going to be eroded. The biggest worry, however, for Indian cricket is to make sure these away defeats matter enough to the new India.

They obviously hurt, but how much and for how long? To deduce that lack of interest is the general attitude would be to read too much into a quick retort to a sledge, but if you add to it the BCCI's blasé ways last year, it becomes a disturbing trend. When India were losing in Sydney, the BCCI was busy sending out the schedule for the IPL.

Back in the day, when you lost overseas, you spent months hurting, waiting for your next chance. Today an away defeat seamlessly merges into a home series, which seamlessly merges into the IPL. It is possible for these defeats, then, to not matter that much. This is not to claim they don't - the new generation should be innocent until proven guilty - but in theory does it seem really important for a young India cricketer now to win Tests abroad? The board, the leaders of the game, has to make sure it is.

Home Test wins are not to be scoffed at. Playing spin and reverse swing ought to be as big a test of a batsman's skills as playing pace, bounce, normal swing and seam. Australia, though, didn't win in India by thinking they would see how well India did in Australia. South Africa don't do well in India by thinking they will prepare green tracks for when India visit.

India haven't lost a home series since Australia conquered the "final frontier" in 2004-05. Since April 2005 only South Africa have been able to beat them in Tests at home. It is a proud record, but it doesn't make up for the last seven defeats away. For two years now, India won't be able to make up for it either. They play at home until December 2013. The leadership of the team has to make sure they are hurting from these defeats by the time they start that journey.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo