January 7, 2013

Criticise their skills, not their commitment

There's plenty to fault in India's performances in the last 18 months, but the players' lack of intent isn't to blame

What's the worst thing a cricketer could go through? Loss of form, fear of failure in front of thousands of fans, media crucifixion following that failure, and the eventual death knell in the form of axeing by the selectors?

All this can be extremely unsettling and distressing, yet there's something that hurts a thousand times more. At least till you get used to it. There's no parallel to waking up on the morning of a match with the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that no matter what you or your team does on the field, you'll end up on the losing side. You practise as hard as you can, chalk out plans, change the playing combinations, even stick to your superstitions, but all of it proves futile at the end of the day's play.

While the loss of personal form hurts a great deal, you know you can regain it like you have in the past. But the loss of collective form in a team makes you feel as helpless as a kitten up a tree.

In the summer of 2000 I played a season of club cricket in Holland as an overseas professional. When I first met the players, they were bubbling with excitement, positive energy and the desire to do well, and during pre-season training, we were very optimistic of a good performance. The season started with a couple of defeats but they didn't deter us from our goal of topping the league.

We then lost a few more games but didn't lose hope. We told ourselves that the harder we worked, the luckier we'd get. Instead of practising once a week, as customary, we practiced three times. We were leaving no stone unturned.

A few weeks passed and we still hadn't won a game. For me, though, right from the start, the runs were coming easily, and initially the losses didn't matter much. I consoled myself saying that there was only so much a single player could do to influence the outcome of a match.

But a few matches later, still without a win, the runs that had earlier given me pleasure and satisfaction stopped mattering. We played different opponents, on different grounds and in different formats, but the results didn't change.

By then the only thing that consumed us during the week was the impending loss on the weekend. We didn't talk about it. We thought if we didn't talk about it, it wouldn't happen.

There's a breaking point for every team and once that is breached, the dressing room starts to disintegrate, because frequent losses bring out everyone's frustrations in a most unsavoury manner. The first few losses make you look inwards, because you want to improve individually and collectively, but if the trend continues beyond the tipping point, you start pointing fingers at others - your peers, the conditions, the coach, the media and so on.

Another problem with being part of a perpetually underperforming team is that even the players who are in some reasonable form start losing it, because the team's defeatist mindset seeps into individuals.

At the end of that torturous summer, we couldn't wait to part ways. And mind you, this was in league cricket in Holland, where there was no fan outcry and media trial following our losses.

I can't help but feel for the current set of Indian cricketers, who have been on an arduous journey for the last 18 months. Different opponents in different conditions have comprehensively beaten them. Even their supposedly impregnable bastion at home is no longer safe, as England and Pakistan have shown.

Since the careers of many players are hanging by a thin thread, it's only reasonable to believe that they have been trying their best to redeem themselves. Every cricketer knows that the only thing that can save his place during bad days is his and the team's good showing, so the intention to fight and salvage the situation can't be doubted. Every wrong move of theirs is scrutinised by a billion people, which doesn't allow complacency to creep in, or at least doesn't allow it to grow.

Nobody drops a catch, bowls a bad ball for lack of intent. Yet these things happen and the guilty pay the price. It's important for fans and critics to understand that if somebody fails to deal with the swing or spin, or can't get opponents out, it isn't because of lack of commitment but because of lack of skills or loss of form.

A batsman doesn't nick a ball to the wicketkeeper on purpose; a bowler doesn't bowl a full toss because he's earning millions in the IPL. That, in my view, is an unfair allegation, unless there is substantial evidence to back such claims. In fact, for most of us, the IPL dollars are the last thing to cross our minds while playing a shot or bowling a ball. We are in cricket not because it's our profession but because it's our passion.

I'm not justifying India's prolonged underperformance. I'm just saying that lack of commitment is hardly the problem - if at all it is a problem - that needs addressing. The poor performances could be due to an erosion of skills from playing too much T20 cricket, or down to bad decisions by selectors and on the field, or lack of proper preparation. But it certainly can't be that the money in the IPL prompts an indifference to other formats.

No cricketer worth his salt minds objective criticism of his abilities, but to question his integrity and commitment is hitting below the belt.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ray on January 10, 2013, 17:27 GMT

    Don't agree with Mr. Chopra at all....

    1)Basically - ever since the 1.5+ years back WC win, the Indian team has NOT been committed - instead enjoying their upgraded fame and further upgraded fortunes.....the result has been a bit lessening in commitment. *At the world level in anything - this lessening is the difference between being amongst the top and being with the tier 2 teams - which is where India is now

    2)On a separate point - WHY isn't the media/others NOT saying critical against the coach - ever since we changed our coach after the WC, the results have been NOT tier 1 but tier 2

  • Ramesh on January 9, 2013, 18:31 GMT

    One of the most important reason for the hapless state on Indian Cricket is IPL. Not the money or fame or media popularity it brings but a more mundane simple reason - fatigue. Too much cricket and fact that India does not follow "horses for courses" means that almost the entire team plays all the formats and ridiculously large number of them leading to injuries, lack of committment and passion. Look at the list of bowlers injured to get a hint. India has not played a full strength team for a whole tournament in a long time now. It is always someone is injured or out of form. Though there are a noteable number of promising new players in the bench, the majority of the team is old - sehwag, gambhir, MSD, Zaheer. The whole mess the boards bring in are a totally different aspect. It is time we groom a bunch of cricketers for specific formats like australia or england(at least trying to do). Keep the players fresh, motivated and hungry. Indian board will however, keep up their bad work :(

  • Leslie on January 9, 2013, 4:08 GMT

    The one day team looks good and with the return of Sreesanth and Umesh,it will become the team for the future - good job,Sandeep and co. Below is the recent performance of some players in domestic: Parthiv: 51,162,80,56,61,12,55,65,111,92,22,31,101,47 AM Nayar: 35,4,107,0,64,62,73*,51,26*,69*,11,28,62*,72*, 122 plus 22 wickets Murali Vijay: 22,39,13,7,32,15,0,17,3,13,42,24,24,76 Karthik: 74,0*,154,29,35,75,49,23,0,8,17,187 Why were M Vijay(3 fifties 2 hundreds) and Karthik (2 fifties, 2 hundreds) brought into test team. This means first class is not the criteria used by wise men for Test cricket. Why is Parthiv (7 fifties, 3 hundreds) not brought as a batsman like DeVilliers under Boucher and though Dhoni is not performing in tests,let them keep him if they want. And Rahane? Let more money be pumped into first class too so much so that players are lured to play and let them be rewarded for performance after new bouncer rule. Looks like Nayar also needs a notice, what you think

  • Andrew on January 9, 2013, 1:37 GMT

    @thegoodgame on (January 07 2013, 09:41 AM GMT) - Oz will play England to the end of days in Test cricket, so it won't become extinct. How well it survives depends on the BCCI & the bean counters!

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2013, 23:51 GMT

    Some players continued playing IPL in spite of injuries. Some player skipped WI tour. Some fast bowlers can't do fielding. Where is the commitment to improve the fielding? These failures are consequences of winning the world cup, taking things for granted. I did not say these... Some former player said this. And I agree with him.

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2013, 19:26 GMT

    Nice article - once you wear the Indian cap I don't think there will be lack of commitment or lack of focus from the players. Sachin, after 23 yrs of international cricket is playing Ranji matches to get back into form shows the character & commitment to achieve success at the top level

    Noting succeed like success. No matter how much hard work you put in - if it fails to deliver results, every effort becomes nil. Success is sweet and failure is bitter, players in India or world wide have to swallow this bitter pill. Moreover, we respect the Indian players efforts and stand by them in the moment of crisis.Cricket players have given joy & made the country proud. We marvel their efforts and hard work. On optimistic note - we will make a come back. Pura hai vishvas...

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2013, 18:01 GMT

    Commitment???? What about the Indias lack of commitment to fielding and fitness. How maby catches have dropped? How many singles have gone for two's? Absolute rubbish Chopra.

  • Guna Ranjan on January 8, 2013, 16:15 GMT

    Agreed! They are still a passionate bunch of players who love to play cricket, and its not just for money! Else they wouldn't be in the sports profession! But isn't "lack of proper preparation" an indicator of "lack of commitment"? How do you explain the Indians skipping optional practice sessions, in spite of an embarrassing losing streak, while the opposing players working hard with even stronger determination, in spite of winning & breaking new records?! Look at England or Pakistan! Of all people, shouldn't the latter deserve a break & afford to relax? Ok, comparisons aren't healthy, and probably this is too much scrutiny, but there seems to be a general lack of accountability on part of the Indian players?! In their defense tho, I think too much cricket is leading to this attitude. BCCI runs a business trying to squeeze a series out of every available window, taking the players for granted! Compensating in money isn't right, but their physical workloads have to be respected too!!

  • NIKHIL on January 8, 2013, 14:34 GMT

    When a player plays for the country there is no doubt that he is fully committed but the problem comes during the IPL season.for example a player if injured before the IPL tournament,he will prefer to conceal that injury and play rather than rest and take the tournament off because he does not want to let go of the money resulting in aggravation of his injury and then he will miss the subsequent tournaments in national colours.WE have seen many instances in the past.Check out my views and what I have written on Indian cricket at http://nikhiljohry.blogspot.in/