Zimbabwe triangular series 2010 June 6, 2010

Apathy in Africa

A lack of hunger, an unbalanced team, and some basic on-field errors have marked a lacklustre Indian campaign

To rip apart this Indian team will be to take away credit from Zimbabwe, who played better cricket to comprehensively beat India twice. To blame slow and low pitches will be to hide behind fiction: flowing batting from Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza suggested anything but slow and low tracks. To be stunned at the result will be to - like the BCCI - disrespect international cricket.

Zimbabwe have been gradually improving for the last year or so. Mammoth scores from Charles Coventry and Masakadza against fellow minnows reminded the world Zimbabwe existed. Their army of spinners was the next big development, a suit they could always fall back upon; a constant every side needs. And it's a varied unit: Ray Price, with his experience and aggression, is almost like a Glenn McGrath who bowls slow left-armers; Greg Lamb has a Graeme Swann-like ability to bowl offbreaks at high speed; and Prosper Usteya and Graeme Cremer (offie and leggie) have never not deserved their places either.

The biggest development, though, is the hunger to do well on the world stage again. A longing to get back to the glory days when Zimbabwe at the bottom meant there were no minnows in world cricket. At every remotely major event, they try their best to put up a show, to remind the world that Zimbabwe are trying to come back. They stretched West Indies to the brink, they beat Australia and Pakistan in the World Twenty20 warm-ups, and were clearly a better side than the one India sent for the tri-series.

Yet why India should not feel the hunger and the desperation to do well in international cricket is not quite explicable. For all its inherent flaws, the IPL did bring out the best commitment and basic awareness from the same cricketers who represented India in Zimbabwe.

Here, though, M Vijay caught a nap before he slid his bat back in, against Zimbabwe. In the first league game against Sri Lanka, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma had added 143 for the third wicket when they gestured towards the dressing room that they wanted to take the Powerplay. They were not allowed to. It was crucial because India needed 53 runs in 14 overs then; had they got those runs in four overs, they would have secured a bonus point. It is likely they would have struggled to score 53 runs in four overs, but India only showed that either they didn't know of the bonus point or that they were not interested in it.

Consequently they were under pressure to win huge in what was already a must-win game. And during that must-win game, Kohli and Yusuf Pathan, and Kohli and Rohit later, failed to cross when holing out in the deep.

The fielding, throughout, wasn't befitting a side whose average age is less than 24. The captain forgot to inform the umpires that he had taken a Powerplay. The general lack of interest and lethargy was a complete contrast to the overflowing emotions - the visible glee at winning one of many league matches, the inconsolable despair at losing another - during the IPL.

It is time Indian cricketers, especially the ones who had no contribution in taking India to No. 1 in Tests, took a long, hard look at their priorities. It is difficult to not let the hype of the IPL get to you. Not least because the tournament is way more popular among the Indian public than this tri-series, or Tests, or even the World Twenty20. It brings the players unprecedented money and fame: several of this squad are IPL superstars already, with hardly any international credentials to speak of. Yet there should be no excuse for not giving your best when playing international cricket.

Before he can be written off, Umesh Yadav deserves to bowl with Zaheer Khan standing at mid-off and guiding him. Pragyan Ojha deserves to be Harbhajan Singh's understudy for a decent amount of time

And if this was their best, there is cause for worry regarding India's bench strength. The bench strength, though, cannot be judged thus, with an unbalanced, third-grade side. Unless the selectors are waiting to bring in all new players when all the incumbents retire in one go. Thankfully this selection committee will be gone before any of the first-choice players retire.

Before he can be written off, Umesh Yadav deserves to bowl with Zaheer Khan standing at mid-off and guiding him. Pragyan Ojha deserves to be Harbhajan Singh's understudy for a decent amount of time, something he has been denied by the selectors' fetish for the game of musical chairs.

Rotation, somebody should tell this selection committee, doesn't work like this. There were nine first-choice players missing for the series. It was as if the selectors stumbled upon the concept one fine day and rested everybody. Why this should happen during a series that is being telecast by the Zee Group (of ICL fame) is a question that provokes unease. Usually only Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni - sure of their places - opt for rest, and everybody else is sent for every insignificant ODI series. There is no public communication from the board or the selectors if any of these nine players requested rest. That considered, this sudden generosity from a board that is known to flog the hell out of its players doesn't quite add up. It also raises doubts over whether the selection committee is an autonomous unit, as other committees in the world are.

Still, having made allowances for youth and inexperience, this side was poorly selected. How can a squad of 15 have just four specialist batsmen? So, while playing both Dinesh Karthik and Naman Ojha is an obvious luxury, the team was forced to play both Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan in all the matches. Whether even one of them is a cricketer of international pedigree is open to debate. How this set of bowlers was picked over Munaf Patel and Sreesanth is anybody's guess.

This was a tournament nobody seemed interested in: from the board (still sorting out the money issues of the IPL) to selectors to players to fans. On Monday, the squad for the Asia Cup will be announced. Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and Dhoni will come back, and like with Zimbabwe and their army of spinners, India will once again find a constant every side needs. And the BCCI will go back to reading Lalit Modi's reply to one of their many show-cause notices.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sreyesh on June 9, 2010, 19:12 GMT

    Mr. Monga, Kudos to you sir. I ma just happy somebody had the balls to do what you did. BCCI sent a weaker than India A team to the tournament because ZEE secured the rights to telecast it in India. BCCI is still busy dealing with IPL. The so called "IPL FINDS" were not at all excited for representing India compared to their excitement for IPL. I think India under 19 team is way stronger than the team sent. Heck, I think the Indian Women team would have done better (not to take away anything from either Zim or SL or Indian Women team). I know this is not the first choice Indian team, but I dare say this is a preview of the future of the #1 team in the test cricket world. Hope you guys liked the teaser!!!

  • Vasanth on June 8, 2010, 16:40 GMT

    You guys have all got it wrong, India (read BCCI) has a commitment to bring back ZIM back to international cricket, and the best way to do it was to sent a bunch of young stars from the IPL (India's new selection pool) who must have been too dazed to know that they were representing INDIA, the selection committe has become a joke !! Maybe because Mr. Srikanth spends a lot of time in Chennai he seems to have a soft corner for players from the South or from Chennai Super Kings...at least he has proved that even with the IPL we do not have any bench strength .... even for World Cup 2011....

  • P Subramani on June 8, 2010, 10:50 GMT

    The team batting second turned out the winner even in the last match when Zimbabwe thrashed Sr Lanka who had just 2 days earlier beaten India convincingly. It was noticeablw all tournament that conditions changed quite drastically for the sides batting second as against what they were for those batting first. The toss was really the winner. Raina was very unlucky with the coin.The bowling of our team was bad till Ashwin came along. He is one who will go far. It would have been optimistic to have expected us to have won because, Zimbabwe like always have been very good when the team-selection is not affected for political reasons and more so at home. In the past they have had the Houghtons and the Flowers, the Olongas and the Streaks. Only thing is that they played when the other teams were very much stronger. I see a bright future for them now and wish them well. India had some gains like Sharma' more judicious shot selection and Ashwin with lesser hype but more substance.

  • Arjun on June 8, 2010, 9:52 GMT

    @Sysplex - I agree wholeheartedly that Virat is the successor. But i think you got it backwards. Kohli is the guy who is still establishing himself as a consistent batsman. (For heavens sake - he has played only some 20 odd ODIs) Raina's has been around enough (almost 100 ODIs) to have gone past that stage, and he has achieved a fair bit with the bat. As for the ppl who say it was a "win the toss and win the match kind of tournament", Dilshan scored 80 off 65 in the last match - batting first. In fact one of the matches we won the toss and LOST! So all of this points to lack of application by the batsmen and good bowling by the opposition.

  • Dummy4 on June 7, 2010, 15:34 GMT

    I won't blame the Indian side at all. This was a win the toss and win the match kind of tournament. The Indian team was always at the receiving end when it came to winning tosses. :P There is nothing to be blamed about their batting side but the bowling seemed to lack fire power.

  • Arul on June 7, 2010, 15:06 GMT

    Youngster nowadays wants to become like Sachin or Dravid to get fame and money (and other benifits which follows). Not to play cricket like them. One thing they forgot is these players got fame by playing exceptional cricket. Cricketers in India have no passion like Sachin/Dravid or no hungry like Aussies. IPL will never let the people to learn this. Once these biggies retires from cricket, thats the end of test cricket from india.

  • Girish on June 7, 2010, 14:44 GMT

    I really support the new Indian team. If you look the way matches have been ended. Its all one sided & team batting second has won all the matches. So i would say, we cant make any decision from it.

  • Shivakumar on June 7, 2010, 13:13 GMT

    There was nothing wrong in sending this squad; The selectors did not expect them to win the trophy, it is a good idea to see what bench we have. Not long ago we had a chairman of selectors by the name "Dilip Vengsarkar" who was flogged in public when he made a statement "We do not have a bench Strength". Well, today we know he was right!!! The only thing that no one expected is just lack of application by the young wards. The only thing I would have done differently is that; have folks like MSD, Gauti, Veeru, Zack, Nera as part of the support staff which traveled to Zimbabwe so that they could be guided well... No one expected them to lose so bad; but again looking at today's game against, Toss does play a crucial part...

  • Prashant on June 7, 2010, 12:43 GMT

    This is fairly common in American sports, where athletes eventually stop caring about international sport. Soccer seems to have struck a good balance, where the World Cup is the ultimate prize. International cricket (including the world t20) has a lot of empty grounds with anemic atmospheres though which is probably de-motivating to our pampered rock stars.It also doesn't help that we can't play on fast bouncy pitches or slow n low ones.

  • Dummy4 on June 7, 2010, 12:11 GMT

    Shame it stings to be an Indian cricket fan these days lol!! Surely if you are selected to play for your country, you play no matter what the composition of the teeam? Let's not make excuses here. Zim are hungry for success and it's showing in the way they play. I also think an injection of aggressiveness in changing the captaincy to Chigumbura has done a world of good. There's a long way to go but this is as a bright a start as any and long may it continue. Who knows test cricket maybe just around the corner!

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