Apathy in Africa
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.
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