Watching Sachin Tendulkar triumph in adverse circumstances and listening to brand new commentators like Rahul Dravid and Shane Warne wax eloquent about the maestro gave one the goose bumps. It’s incredible that someone could stay so incredibly focused and battle odds – on and off the field – in the manner Sachin Tendulkar has done, when so many legendary names that followed him years later have moved on to do other things in life than subject themselves to the merciless grind of international cricket.
His innings of 76 in the first innings of the ongoing Kolkata Test was truly master class – a champion who refuses to stay on the canvas after being hit – below the belt, if one can add, by alleged cricket ‘fans’.
The television commentary has been enriched by the ability of Dravid and Warne to narrate little-known anecdotes of their playing days with Tendulkar – which viewers otherwise would not have had the opportunity to know. Their cerebral analysis helps viewers appreciate the nuances of the game a lot more scientifically, be it James Anderson’s variations in an over where he got Virat Kohli out, the comparative visual analysis between Monty Panesar and Pragyan Ojha’s respective actions and why the English left-arm spinner got more out of the pitch than the Indian, or how it took Tendulkar four to five balls to judge Anderson’s reverse swing before he settled down. All this made television commentary both enriching and enlightening. Broadcasters are constantly working on fresh ideas to bring value to the table in a highly competitive environment.
The cake is sumptuous from the outside, but all dry and tasteless from the inside. That is how the Indian cricket fan must be feeling today. They expected their heroes to deliver in the comfort zone of their own backyard, only to be let down – big time.
Sport is a mind game, especially at the highest level. And it seems the Englishmen have got into the mind of the Indian cricketers when it comes to the much-debated wickets. They have demonstrated in the two-and-half Tests played thus far in the ongoing series. Modern sport requires lot of strategy and planning. There is so much data available that if you convert it into the right information then team moves into the game with a huge advantage. In modern Formula 1 racing, races are won in pit-stop strategies and not on fast driving and overtaking. Cricket is not far behind, if their planning of the Englishmen ahead of the tour is any indication. They arrived in India two weeks before the start of the tour to acclimatise to the conditions. Prior to that, they were in the UAE to get used to conditions similar to India. The result: they have won more sessions than India in this series so far. Not bad for a team that was labelled as vulnerable against spin!
Unlike England, the Indian bowlers have lost the ability to bowl good balls at a consistent rate. The Indian attack lacks variety. The bowling lacks in depth as well and the captain has very limited options. And the below-par fitness levels of the Indians means their bowlers are unable to bowl the last ball of their spell half as good as their first ball. Test cricket is all about bowling good balls/dot balls, ball after ball after ball, over after over after over. Poor fitness also leads to lapses in concentration. Yuvraj Singh’s dismissal in the Kolkata Test is a classic example.
Gautam Gambhir’s dismissal in the Ahmedabad Test was a classic case of bowlers forcing the batsman to take risks. It takes only one ball to get the batsman out. On the other hand if there are ample opportunities for getting loose deliveries, batsmen don’t have to take risks. That’s an important difference between the batsmen of the two sides. It’s however a commentary on the high quality English bowling in sharp contrast to the Indian attack. This is what has happened in the Mumbai and Kolkata Tests. One loose ball per over is good enough to release the pressure on the batting side. The Englishmen knew this well and waited for the inevitable bad ball every over. The dot balls in our batting vis-a-vis the English batting in this series would speak a lot for the qualitative difference in the two attacks. If we go on to lose the Kolkata Test, there will be pressure on selectors to make bowling changes. But where are the replacements? Do we have quality bench strength?
Batting is supposed to be India’s strength. But does that still hold good? The Indian batting today lacks consistency, fighting spirit and presents a very lackadaisical approach. It’s okay to get run out because of a wrong call; that happens. But what was Virender Sehwag’s effort good enough to save his wicket? Replays showed his body came before his bat. So much for valuing his wicket! And what was Gambhir doing ambling for his runs and looking at the fielder than his partner? The Indians could be faulted on flouting cricketing basics. Then there is Yuvraj Singh, whose dismissal proved yet again that he is a waste of insane talent.
If Indian cricket has to rise, the team’s players have to be hungry for success. Until then the Indian fan would do well to bring down the level of expectations from this Indian team. If not, disappointment is inevitable.
(Rajesh K Shah, an entrepreneur and a passionate marathoner, hails from a distinguished family of musicians; he is the son of Kalyanji of Kalyanji-Anandji fame. Cricket has been his abiding other passion since childhood)