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After Champions Trophy debacle, World Cup worries loom large over Team India

November 28, 2019

first_imgSINKING FEELING: Sachin TendulkarEven before his team munched on India, Australian coach John Buchanan sounded an alert. From what he could see of their body language in recent games, the laconic Buchanan said, India lacked a bit of spark, a bit of verve, a bit of “oomph”.Somehow supplying the men,SINKING FEELING: Sachin TendulkarEven before his team munched on India, Australian coach John Buchanan sounded an alert. From what he could see of their body language in recent games, the laconic Buchanan said, India lacked a bit of spark, a bit of verve, a bit of “oomph”.Somehow supplying the men in blue with inflammable objects, disco music and item numbers didn’t seem helpful. Specially for a team collectively going down in flames, whose attachment to iPods has caused a red mist to descend on its management.India was expected to show off its new clothes as one of the fastest improving teams in world cricket in the Champions Trophy. Familiar conditions were expected to scrape off early season rust, the roar of home fans to drown out recollections of bitter ODI defeats in the Caribbean.But no matter how many ‘positives’ the spin doctors wring out of it, India’s failure to make the Champions Trophy semi-final is deflating. Defeat to Australia was the punch that sent them to the floor; but losing six of their last eight games to the West Indies were unmistakable signs that the wobbles are upon us.Indian batsmen performanceClick here to EnlargeAfter an exhilarating last season, India has won only four of its last 15 ODIs and two from eight this season. “It is a setback, if you can call it…” captain Rahul Dravid tailed off. Better call it like it is. The Champions Trophy was the best possible benchmark for the growth of his team.In utopia, by now Irfan Pathan’s swing would have its sting back, his pinch-hitting giving the batting acceleration at No. 3, spinners would have been loathe to bowl to India’s new cool middle order finisher, Virender Sehwag, form would have stayed faithful to Dravid and Yuvraj Singh and the faith invested in Suresh Raina would have been repaid in runs.advertisementThese best-laid plans are now unravelled, or going by some of the decisions taken by the Indians, unhinged. The captain admitted, “Now we must review where we’re at and take the steps to turn things around.” The difference between the cerebral and mental has been reduced to the margin between a win and a loss.Four months away from the World Cup, it is probably time to go shopping for specifics, across all departments of Indian cricket:A SHOCK ABSORBER FOR THE CAPTAINRahul DravidTo put it at its simplest, Rahul needs a Rahul. To his predecessor Sourav Ganguly, Dravid was the perfect vicecaptain. A sounding board, a counsel, a voice of reason and, when things got hairy as they often did, a frontman sent to handle a snapping, sniping media.In an environment of prickly egos, Dravid was often on diplomatic duty, counselling younger players or soothing the bruised pride of the older players. Along with Anil Kumble, he was the de facto negotiator for the team when dealing with the Board on players contracts or commercial issues.Today, as one tough day is succeeded by a long evening of disappointment, Dravid remains the lone, forlorn face for the team. His deputy Sehwag is under siege due to his wavering ODI batting and its fallout: pressure from the selectors and the management.There is a move to examine whether he serves his role as vice-captain well enough or if India has jumped the gun on his being a natural leader. Tendulkar and Kumble’s recent absences have meant that Dravid will feel the lack of other authority figures and mentors for younger players.The captain could also do with a long-distance view of his team. Like an unreliable pipe, it has begun to leak and rumble. Player and selector are often heard in uncanny parallel echo. The single most commonly-articulated criticism of the two at the top is not (as widely believed) that the captain allows himself to be dominated by the coach, but a lack of even-handedness. Said one selector, “Certain rules and standards seem to apply only to certain people while others seem exempt.”THERAPY SESSIONS FOR THE BATSMENDespite the presence of high-pedigree batsmen in and around them in the dressing room, the Indian batting’s run of form over the last six months probably means that couch should win over coach right now.A crash course in auto-hypnosis for Sehwag could possibly convince him that his blue uniform is actually white and all he needs to do in an ODI is to bat until the game breaks for a meal. For the rest, a round robin approach is perhaps best: regular chanting of the phrase “I will take singles”, meditation for Tendulkar to tap into his inner Zen And for Dravid, a few days out with his local chapter of the Laughter Club.advertisementIndia’s batting form is like returns on investment: there is no such thing as too much. Buchanan says what made the Indians competitive against the Aussies was always their reliability with the bat. “That certainty that there are big runs allows the rest of the guys to relax-the bowlers don’t have to try to do something every ball, the field is not tense…”Dravid remembered “people stood up…if we can go back to doing that a lot of questions will answer themselves.” The key that will set in motion the chain reaction of batsmen ‘standing up’ in succession is today jammed in the lock.Dravid’s batting ‘unit’ is a diffused entity, not a fortress. Individual worries override the idea of the collective. After a recent series, one batsman grumbled about not getting as much attention to his problems as a close rival did. Another is so unsure of where he stands that whenever he is called over for a word with Dravid or Chappell, he thinks he is going to be dropped.GEOMETRY BOXES FOR THE BOWLERSPatel and SinghTo sort out lines and lengths, width and angles and to take a close look at what a working compass really looks like. India’s motley crew of young quick bowlers cannot hide behind the fig leaves of inexperience because the Champions Trophy has been full of raw bowlers who have made their mark- like Australia’s Mitchell Johnson or the West Indies’ underrated Ian Bradshaw.Whatever collective planning is being formulated is undone by a sibling rivalry amongst the young quicks that is far from healthy. The low level sniping that accompanies it is a product of the revolving door selections in recent months in which the price of defeat is paid most consistently by young fast bowlers, not underperforming batters. Maybe the geometry box could do with some quick-bonding super glue as well.A MIRROR FOR THE COACHCoach Greg ChappellGreg Chappell was given the job of team coach and security of tenure with it. It was an assignment connected but still dissimilar to the many other roles played by the 58-year-old: cricket legend, batting guru, radical thinker.After a year with India, the coach could use a mirror for a bout of introspection. He may not be able to bat for the batsmen or bowl for the bowlers, but Chappell could put a few questions to himself about where he and his team stand. As coach, is the team he works with united and stable? Are the players under his charge relaxed and confident?Does he take the pressure off Dravid when it comes to the messy dynamics of man management and the daily stress test of the media? Does he have the humility to admit his Way might not be The Best Way or the Only Way? Is sending out messages about players via the press the smartest way to set an agenda for the team? Has he won their trust and loyalty? Are they winning? The mirror’s job is easy.advertisementNo. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.SCALES OF JUSTICE FOR SELECTORSIn a startling interview given to a cricket magazine recently, outgoing national selector V.B. Chandrasekhar said, “I would not find fault with people for saying that this (the previous) selection committee was being run by the team management.”The arrival of Dilip Vengsarkar at the helm of the selection committee has immediately signalled a change in that equation. Vengsarkar is said to have been vocal and forthright in his first meeting. It was marked by the return of Zaheer Khan and the surprising selection of Wasim Jaffer as ODI opener on the tour to South Africa.Dilip VengsarkarVengsarkar’s first meeting was perhaps more a setting of boundaries than an upsetting of the applecart. One selector admitted, “I don’t know how many changes can be made from now to the the World Cup.”The high turnover of players over the past year has not led to decisions about the suitability of even a few players for top-bracket cricket. It has only led to conclusions about those considered unsuitable.Dravid and Chappell may loathe going back to the old, but what Vengsarkar needs to be able to do is steer his committee into judgements on form and skill delivery rather than differences of personality.Just like players and captains are tested under pressure, so are selectors. The best ones respond by thinking clearly, objectively and independently.DUCT TAPE FOR THE BCCI(An entire roll only for Lalit Modi) To tape up mouths so that there is no more irrelevant talking. We don’t want to hear about the money. We don’t want to hear about court cases. We don’t want to hear about the endorsement deals.We don’t want to hear about ICC’s neo-colonialism. We don’t want to hear about TV rights. We want to know what they are going to do about Vengsarkar’s worrying assertion that there is no talent pool to speak of. We want to know about what is happening with the Rs 25 crore subsidy given to every state unit to develop infrastructure.We want to know why the cricket improvement committee set up by the new regime last year was disbanded without a single meeting.If India are to effect a turnaround, they will need qualities that brought Dravid’s men early success: attention to the team’s all-round health and the flexibility to admit and address their errors.last_img

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