Anand Vasu is a former associate editor at Cricinfo
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Coming into this debate I feel a bit like Yuvraj Singh did a few years back. It was great to be part of it, and to contribute, but perhaps I was a few places too far down the order, for Dileep Premachandran and Prem Panicker have already put the team well on the way to the target, leaving me with little to do. I think it has been quite comprehensively established that there is no decline to speak of in Tests, while in ODIs India have gone from being a team that went into the fifth match of a bilateral series 2-2 with such regularity that it was a joke, to one that presses so hard on the pedal that series are being decided at the earliest possible juncture.
There has been a quantum shift in what we want to do, and the "we" in that sentence is worth looking at. While all the stakeholders that are involved in Indian cricket broadly want one thing – success for the team in all forms of the game, it might be useful to see how the immediate, short-term, and long-term goals of these parties are set.
Firstly there's the team management, consisting of primarily the captain and coach, but also including the selectors and that rare BCCI official interested in the cricket the national team plays. The team management have embarked on a program that will develop a squad of players that can pitch up, play purposeful cricket, within the roles they are assigned, and give the team the best possible chance of succeeding.
This sounds like a lot of theory, something Greg Chappell might say at a press conference. But if you actually bothered to look at how this team is going about its work day by day, you will know this is true. In times gone by there was a group of eight or nine players who were pretty much certainties to play. Of this group there was an unhealthy dependence on a couple of batsmen and a couple of bowlers to do the bulk of the matchwinning. Sure everyone else would contribute, they were international cricketers after all, but the onus of taking the initiative, or wresting it back, or making something happen was on a few tried and tested performers.
That's fine as long as things are going well. Hell, when you're winning, everything is ok – except for members of that permanently disgruntled lot who want to know why X is not in the team or why Z is getting so many chances even when you're winning series 4-0. When things are not going well, however, the pressure on the individuals expected to deliver increases to levels that are difficult to understand when you have never played sport at a high level or spoken to people who have and do.
People think, stunningly wrongly, that Sehwag is not feeling the heat now. "Ah Viru, he doesn't think about all that, he just turns up and whacks the ball." Sit down with him, have a chai, then you'll know. He is doing all he can to score runs, working with arguably the best batting coach in the world, in a team that is succeeding and backing him up, and yet things just aren't working out. For you and I, if things aren't working out at work, we at least have the option of quitting, and plying our wares elsewhere. It's as though Sehwag can walk away from this and begin batting for Bangladesh tomorrow. Really, there's nowhere for him to go, and every day people ask the same questions about when he is going to make a big one, how he will turn things around … they're well meaning, but it's pointless for Sehwag to try and explain it.
Fortunately, since this team management, while doing its best about Sehwag, is thinking more about the team's success than anything else, the results have not been hit. This is because more people are doing more things, much better than they did in the past, simply because it is being asked, no, demanded, of them, not by an overbearing schoolmaster of a coach, but by the environment they're in. Star former cricketers write columns about how Irfan Pathan is struggling under the load of batting. If they spoke to Irfan they'd know better. Dhoni batting up and down the order is another source for great concern. That, to some people, implies a lack of stability. Whose stability? One batsman's fixed position in the order or the team's? Ask any cricketer and he will tell you nothing offers more stability than winning.
While we're on the subject of asking cricketers things, one of the few things they all agree on (barring the odd Shahid Afridi) is that Test cricket is the real thing, while ODIs are something that have to be played. Of course, we don't believe them. They're only interested in making money as is the cash-obsessed BCCI. Why then does someone like Sachin Tendulkar, who, I might presume has a bit in the bank for a rainy day, choose to postpone a shoulder surgery so he can play Tests against Pakistan and take off the moment the ODIs come around? Because players are obsessed with ODIs and don't care about the Tests? I don't think so.
The way we respond to the Indian team, its individuals, its successes and failures, is as much a reflection of ourselves as it is of the team. If at any stage you link your own self-worth with the performance of the team – and enough fans do that and feel worse when India loses or a player is dropped – then you don't stand a chance of being happy, for that's the point of sport in the first place – you can never say what is about to happen. When we see failure, we look for people to blame, for conspiracy theories, something to lash out at. And in success we look to pick holes, because throwing pebbles at heroes is a national pastime. What's more, it's much easier, and more fun for some, to rant rather than sit down and try and get to the truth, to look at the things people do and the reasons behind them. That's hard. As a public we have grown more demanding, more obsessed with instant success, more impatient, and when the team doesn't deliver, we can't take it. After all, we're the paying public.
But it's not merely about paying. It's one thing to pay the fees at a college you're enrolled in, another to learn anything. You might still walk away with a degree at the end of your term if you work the system well. But real learning, now that is something no-one else can do for you. There are people in the Indian team that have internalised this, and are reaping huge rewards. It won't be such a bad idea for some of us to do the same.