This India team don't feel at home even at home
Sunday 09 December 2012
When a team fold without a fight, there is a tendency to criticise the batsmen rather than give the bowlers their due. India lacked heart, and that must have been galling for the 30,000-strong crowd at the Eden Gardens; but a last-wicket stand – characterised as the triumph of hope over probability – kept them entertained.
You can either blame Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar for misjudging the ball that turned and the one that didn't, respectively, from Graeme Swann, or marvel at a bowler who can force mistakes from batsmen who have grown up playing spin bowling. Or maybe they haven't played enough. The superstars neglect the domestic game thanks to the scheduling.
After dismissing England, India had to see out a significant portion of nearly six sessions. One thought they had the batting to either win or lose a Test, but not to save it. Now it appears only one of those choices is real.
Back to the drawing board then, as India struggle with the transition. The attitude that away defeats do not matter, only home wins count, was juvenile to begin with, but even that fig leaf is being pulled away. If it is true that the Eden Gardens curator is set to be sacked because the president of the cricket board is unhappy, it means India will continue to deflect blame and find scapegoats outside the team and officialdom.
From a larger perspective, it is important for India to support Test cricket so the format thrives, or at least survives. Defeats will diminish interest, which might suit the IPL-saturated folks who make the decisions but will harm the sport. This is not to suggest that other teams ought to occasionally let India win a Test to keep the interest alive. But if India don't get the mix right – either in the natural course of events or because of steadily shrinking concern among the officials, corporates and fans – then it would be highly irresponsible.
Part of the problem is India's refusal to acknowledge that there is a problem. Defeats are airily dismissed, and the push for excellence is reduced to a gentle nudge.
At least since Sourav Ganguly retired in 2008, the fact that his contemporaries Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman would soon follow ought to have dawned on the selectors. Yet there was neither exit strategy nor smooth replacement. India are paying for that short-sightedness now.
There is some merit in allowing Tendulkar to choose his time and place, but he has to make up his mind now. In recent times, the spectators have been giving him a standing ovation twice, sometimes within minutes of each other. The first time in anticipation, and the second in disappointment.
A banner, as India kept slipping, said in effect, "Dhoni, we will stand by you". But it wasn't held up by an Indian selector or board official.
Mahendra Dhoni's record in the series hasn't been spectacular. His wicketkeeping has been inconsistent, although he took his 200th Test catch yesterday. His scores have been 5, 29, 6, 52 and 10.
Cricket teams tend to be moulded in the captain's image. Think Alastair Cook and England, Michael Clarke and Australia, Graeme Smith and South Africa. Dhoni and India – both are struggling. It is time for him to go as captain, time for the coach, Duncan Fletcher, and his merry band of mutual back-scratchers to be called to account, and for India to invest in the future.
Bring in youngsters who do not carry the baggage of recent defeats. Transition is never easy, but it is made more difficult by the refusal to accept reality. And the reality is that this Indian team don't feel at home even at home.
Suresh Menon is editor of Wisden India Almanack
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