Hi there Virat,
You're no doubt very pleased, and rightly so, about the result from the South Africa series. On Thursday, though, in an interview to the BCCI's website, you sounded rather annoyed about "our own people" who you believed went looking for "weakness and areas of criticism" rather than talking enough about the good cricket played by your team. You remarked that there had been a "pattern over the years in India" of criticising players unnecessarily.
No doubt, all the talk about the pitches for the series brought this on. It could have led to a feeling among your team that they had not been given due credit for what was achieved. They could have believed there was unnecessary sniping and more than necessary attention paid to the wickets rather than to the overall cricket. The press-conference questions focused on the pitch; your team's answers were counter-questions: How come there was no moaning about the pitch when matches finished in three days elsewhere? Why didn't the Indian team get as much "support" from their media as other teams did?
It's like those exam questions ending with a single instruction: discuss.
You may neither wish to do so nor have the time. The series has ended and, it seems, so has the Indian team's cricket for 2015. So I thought I'd write to you instead, as a member of the mainstream cricket media. Regular, everyday journos who watch matches, ask questions at press conferences and go away to write their stuff. Far removed from television experts or former players. Not that I'm formally writing on behalf of my tribe, only as one of them.
"The media are a bit like cockroaches - often easy to stamp on and crush, but rather difficult to annihilate as a species"
Firstly, let's get the basic stuff out of the way. The team being built under your captaincy has a fizzy mix of spunk, ambition and promise. Putting bowlers front and centre is hugely radical in Indian cricket. We've heard far too many Indian captains moan about their bowlers' deficiencies; so your comment about how "a bowler is as good as his captain thinks he is" was a big shout-out for the guys who privately say they are considered the "labour class" in Indian cricket. As captain, you've grown in the job, and on tour in Sri Lanka you conducted yourself with great dignity in defeat and mature composure in victory.
Yet these words are not a show of support. They are statements and observations, with caveats and conditions. If things begin to change or shift, in terms of focus, trends, results, conduct, in whatever direction, we will observe it, record it and write about it. That's what we are supposed to do as journalists. Unconditional support is not meant to be our stock in trade - you will get that in heaps from your millions and millions of fans. What you call support by the media for the other teams is what we call being one-eyed, and we must try our best to avoid it. Like you, we seek consistency too - in being balanced, offering perspective and asking questions. Ideally, the right ones; if necessary, difficult, uncomfortable ones. It's where the pitch stuff comes from. We can't help it, it's a habit. We're not cheerleaders.
The victory over South Africa that gave you the greatest satisfaction is the one we enjoyed the most too. Kotla required your team to show off their entire range of skills, and they did - displaying a collective desire and drive to win the last Test they would be playing for six months. That was symbolised by Ravindra Jadeja telling you that he was ready to bowl from start of play on the final day all the way to 4:30pm if he had to. That's a kick-ass, fist-pump kind of story about the sort of kick-ass, fist-pump team you want to lead. We love it.
It's most unlike what we saw happen after India lost eight overseas Tests in 2011 and early 2012, when a countrywide rash broke out in favour of template wickets to fashion template Test victories under the desire to "maximise home advantage".
While home advantage is a legitimate goal, ask older India players if their home advantage in the first decade of the 21st century resembled what was sought post-2011. The way I see it, in your upcoming 18-month stretch at home, the presence of one or two under-watered crumblers every series will actually be disrespectful to the abilities of your own batsmen and bowlers. The best home-advantage wicket lies somewhere between what we call a paata (a flat, dead batting wicket) and an akhara, (a scrabbled mud pit where the ball offers the most uneven variety of turn and bounce from the same spot), and you have every kind of player needed to succeed on it.
There was another off-key note in that interview: "Someone who hasn't played for the country has no right to comment on an international cricketer anyway. I don't think that has any kind of logic. You cannot sit there and say how you would have done something differently when you have not been in that situation yourself and don't have the mindset of a cricketer."
Does that mean only doctors must be allowed to talk about hospitals? Or career politicians about the actions of others of their tribe? Or military men about war? Medicine, politics and war require objective, external, neutral comment or examination because they are significant issues affecting the average person. Does that mean cricket, outside the charmed circle of international cricketers, is really not important to anyone else and so doesn't need independent assessment? Definitely not. Of course, no one on the outside knows what goes on in an international cricketer's mind when he is in the middle, and all kind of wrong conclusions can be reached. But to say "no right" to comment has no reason.
Every India captain must find his own coping mechanism with the job's daily dramas: issuing credential certificates to critics is really a waste of your time. Last year Alastair Cook was offended by Shane Warne's remarks about his captaincy. From one international cricketer to another, note. There's no end to being offended. Ask Sourav Ganguly how he copped it from all corners - former cricketer, current cricketer, opponent, team-mate, chaiwallah - with disdainful detachment. Team director Ravi Shastri, in fact, handled a derisive chorus in his last years as a player pretty well too.
"No one on the outside knows what goes on in a cricketer's mind when he is in the middle, and all kind of wrong conclusions can be reached. But to say such people have no right to comment does not stand to reason"
Maybe you could deal with episodes like this by considering them the nuisance tax Indian cricketers must pay on their fabulous salaries, because in our cricket, shit happens. A lot of it. Win or lose.
Okay, Bishan Bedi comparing you to Douglas Jardine, was a bit OTT, but that's the way Bedi has always been. On his first tour as India coach, to New Zealand, when India lost the first Test in Christchurch, Bedi was reported to have said he wanted to throw his team into the Pacific. He has since clarified that what he said actually said was that if anyone in the team wanted to commit suicide by jumping into the sea, he would not stop them.
Way worse has happened to Indian teams than the tumult around the Freedom Trophy. Do you remember a TV show called Match ke Mujrim (Criminals of the Match), which tried to find a scapegoat for each game India played? There was a time when TV commentators would go at the team with both barrels. When India won a home series in the 1990s, a leading sports magazine had the team on the cover with a snarky headline: "Local heroes". This is the nature of the beast, this is what it will be: cantankerous, grumpy, demanding.
Give us a performance for the ages, though, and we can put up a fireworks display in words that you will never forget. Kotla was terrific, congratulations on 3-0, but the Freedom Trophy wasn't one for the ages.
Now, while I'm not expecting you to agree with any of this, the fact is we're not going anywhere. We're a bit like cockroaches - often easy to stamp on and crush, but rather difficult to annihilate as a species.
Happy holidays, captain and see you next year.