December 13, 2012

Defeat could be good for India

It will force the players and those in charge of them to introspect on what has gone wrong and what needs to be done now

While none of us likes to lose, and we often try as hard as we can to delay or overcome defeat, there are times when it is not always the worst occurrence. Just as pain is a body's way of attracting attention to something wrong, and we ignore it at our own peril, so too can defeat be an alarm going off somewhere. It is how we react to defeat that tells us how serious we are about learning from it.

England admitted that defeat against Pakistan in the UAE opened their eyes to how much further they needed to go, and said it contributed in no small part to their success here in India. During the first IPL when the Rajasthan Royals had just had a winning streak broken, Shane Warne suggested such a kick up the backside was needed to get the team focused on winning again. That is why I think defeat in this series may not be the worst thing to happen to Indian cricket. It will force introspection that, for whatever reason, might otherwise have been overlooked.

Teams rarely introspect when they are winning; there is camaraderie, celebration, and no one is really keen to see why the team won. Sometimes defeat can be met with denial, a refusal to accept that there is a problem, or the feeling that the tide will turn when circumstances change. I suspect India allowed themselves to go through that phase in 2011-12. There was the world No. 1 tag and a World Cup glittering in the office and on bio-datas, so any suggestion of a weakness, like not crushing West Indies 2-0 in June 2011, was cast aside. No one wanted to hear about it, probably.

When India lost in England and won 2-0 at home against West Indies (it is not always remembered there was a win between the two 0-4 results), it reinforced that India were champions at home (even though there was a scare in Mumbai). That is what probably led to the feeling, even after Australia, that all India needed to do was play at home and happy times would be here again. The one-sided series against New Zealand confirmed that, and with England due in November - let's be honest, everyone thought they would be run over - an analysis was postponed again, if indeed it was contemplated.

Now that India have been driven to the brink, there is no choice but to realise that the weaknesses displayed in England and Australia were indicative of deeper fissures, that the illness had spread to home conditions. If India had won a one-sided series on rank turners, it would have covered up fundamental weaknesses for a little longer, and with 14-15 away Tests approaching, India could have been further exposed.

Is domestic cricket producing the players India needs? Why have India been out-spun on their pitches by, of all people, English spinners?

And so there must be a review of every aspect of Indian cricket; a review that asks uncomfortable questions, because otherwise it will be like solving only the problems you know how to solve rather than tackling the ones you don't in preparation for a mathematics exam. The questions you ask determine the answers you get, and any review must consist of people who will ask uncomfortable questions.

Is domestic cricket producing the players India needs? Or is there a problem with domestic cricket? Is the IPL influencing the way youngsters are playing domestic cricket? Why are there no spinners anywhere on the horizon? Why have India been out-spun on their pitches by, of all people, English spinners? What have they done right? Does India have the right coaches at grassroot level? Are the right people running the academies? There will be many more such questions; these took a minute to generate.

Some of the answers to these questions are staring us in the face. The Ranji Trophy has been poor for a long time. It is the highest form of India's domestic game and playing it must be an accomplishment. If players on the ground are saying that fast bowlers are being influenced by the IPL to think in terms of only four overs, that is an issue to be addressed immediately.

I would, in fact, advocate a public review, a communication to the fans, who are responsible for the power of Indian cricket, for dissent and acceptance of dissent are signs of mature organisations.

A review must also go beyond structures and into addressing player issues. Currently the stance is that a player is free to opt out of a series if he is tired or jaded. That option must be taken away and given to someone who has responsibility for the team. It seems to be working with England, and while systems cannot always be duplicated, it is worth analysing why something is working. England, Australia and South Africa all seem to think that having the same captain in three formats can be draining, so there must be some truth in it. And yet having different captains playing under each other in different formats is doomed to fail. Leadership cannot be worn and discarded like clothes. A solution must be found - maybe the captain gives up playing a format.

None of us, much as we would like to claim otherwise, have all the answers. But answers are what Indian cricket needs very quickly, because, irrespective of what happens in Nagpur, the time for major decision-making is here. A lot of good can come out of this series if we are willing to listen to what it is telling us about Indian cricket.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2012, 21:53 GMT

    Where are those Indian pundits who were predicting India winning 4-0. In India cricket is a business,not a sport.People come to see individuals not the team.I believe all the stars in this side have enough of stardom,money etc.. They are no longer hungry to work hard.

  • Bimal on December 17, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    I think only a radical overhaul that enables competition between management teams (including coaches, selectors, support staff) will help ensure talent is found and polished. India has the talent and population but is stuck in 1st gear because of a bcci monopoly. Allow anyone, who meets certain financial and good governance criteria to promote a team. If that team wins an internal competition then it is the Indian team for the next year or two. Different sporting philosophies can be tried. I bet in a few years you would have 4 or 5 top class Indian teams vying for that spot - each with its own SRT etc. The bcci can participate but not be guaranteed to win. Its up to the sports ministry to step up.

  • Michael Ponnudurai on December 17, 2012, 11:35 GMT

    After the first Test win, there were calls for pitches with more turn, perhaps assuming India can finish matches in 3 days instead of 4 or 5 days. After the Mumbai Terst loss the call for doctored pitches gradually fizzled out and by the time Kolkata Test was lost, the call for doctored pitches completely died out. Instead, to perhaps reduce the prospects of 1-3 loss, and keep the series loss score line as 1-2, the nagpur pitch was made out to be low bounce and slow pitch with limited or no turn most times, so that England seamers and spinners are blunted, and match drawn to limit the score line to 1-2 loss. India seems to have lost faith in the team's abilities

  • Michael Ponnudurai on December 17, 2012, 11:20 GMT

    Harsha, so, would you like India to keep losing the forth coming sereis as well? :)

  • Ashok on December 16, 2012, 18:58 GMT

    @YorkshirePudding: I agree with you if a team works on its weaknesses, as England did. But the Cricket Culture in India has gone South! Even after 2 successive 4-0 series whitewashes in England & Australia, the BCCI President is on record as saying that these defeats do not mean anything! When the Selectors' choices have been over ruled by him, there is no chance for Mr. Fletcher to get his choices.The strange part is if a Spinner is being groomed by being in the squad for 4 or 5 series in a row, albeit on bench, the new Selectors wipe him off totally - e.g., Rahul Sharma replaced by Chawla for Nagpur Test! The same happened to several batsmen & bowlers. The squad is never selected on Form, Fitness & performance. The basis for selection is unknown.This clearly suggests that a shakedown from Top to Bottom is essential.Lessons from defeat are only learnt where Cricket culture exists & governs.We need Cricket literate guys leading BCCI who are dedicated to building a best available Team!

  • Jason on December 16, 2012, 17:05 GMT

    Every one learns by making mistakes and teams learn by losing, often you learn a lot more by losing in cricket especially at home than you do winnings, just as england found out in the summer and in the UAE, do you think that had they won in the UAE they would have been in this position in India, it showed their weakness, and they worked on it.

    Fletcher will have been waiting for this so that he can put his plans into place, I hope the BCCI dont remove him, as he needs the same control over the team he had in England, that means he gets players he asks for not the ones hes given, he gets a captain that sees his vision of the way forward and works with him like Nass did.

  • Nabeel on December 16, 2012, 13:20 GMT

    no disrespect to anyone, but I think some of the Indian players got cocky after defeating West Indies and New Zealand and thought they will do exactly the same with England, what happened to them in Australia and England. There was a lot of talk and "mouthing off" before the series about beating England 0-4 and a payback and India could have very well done so if they had prepared a little better! their strength has been their downfall in this series. none of the batsmen (apart from this test) scored or batted like they are playing at home. there was no authority and were simply clueless against English spinners. surely it must have been other way around. I really do think India got a little too cocky and concentrated on sledging and media tantrums than working on their game in the nets!

  • Jay on December 16, 2012, 1:23 GMT

    @jimroberts: Are you a sooth sayer ? How can you even be so sure that nothing will be done ? First of all, some English and Aussie fans here need to understand that the Indian culture is DIFFERENT to theirs. That also applies to the way sports is handled in India. Indians as a people have the habit of a 'laid back' and 'lazy' way of doing things. Being proactive is something that doesn't come naturally to many Indians. They are a people of hindsight. You have to understand that at times instead of being overly critical. The same applies to most of the sub-continental nations. Asians are slow to react and the introspection usually arrives much latter than other countries. Even after this defeat, there WILL be changes but not at the scope of the Argus report or the ECB review following the 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia in 2006. But there will be changes. As Indian fans, we only want a speedy make over.

  • Murray on December 15, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    Being beaten is sometimes even better than winning. To think after a match, we did everything well and they did it better is actually uplifting.

    To lose knowing we were lousy is never uplifting !

  • Ashok on December 15, 2012, 19:50 GMT

    Harsha, As a follow up to my earlier input where I said that the change must start at the top, I like to add that during the past 5 years, very little has been done to curb the growing dictatorial attitude from the top. Right now there is no visionary who has an established "Succession" planning of the Cricketer.E.G., When guys like Dravid, Ganguly & Laxman retired there should have been a succession plan in place - who is being groomed to take their spots - assuming around 37 as retirement age. The same applies to Captains- need 3 different captains for each format. India has enough talented players to be format dedicated. Similarly, there should be more India A Tours abroad + India U-19 + India U-16, each with a visionary plan. I read Cricinfo comments regularly & think that some Fans have more constructive ideas than BCCI - who have None!.So I beg to differ when you say "None of us, --have all answers". Fans have most answers but their comment go into thin air & deaf ears!

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