By H Natarajan
If the India-England series was a boxing match, it would have long been over. The record book would have put the result as – RSC (Referee Stopped Contest). Unfortunately, there is no such provision in cricket and England will continue to flog a dead horse.
The series has hurt the vast multitude of cricket fans. My angst is not over the team’s loss of the Tests, the series or even the No 1 ranking. I can understand loss of form as something that every player in every sport endures. But what I have been unable to digest is that this monumental disaster has lot to do with the gutless, spineless and shameless surrender. It was painfully evident that the humiliation didn’t hurt many of the players. It didn’t require a body language expert to deduce that.
There was neither passion nor pride – personal or national. You would expect a team representing the country to show the kind of commitment that is expected to defend National honour. And this was a team that was wearing the No 1 tag.
Michael Holding, a forthright and respected media personality, hit the nail on the head when he opined: “I think they are just waiting to lose the Test match. The team is disinterested…it just appears as if Test cricket is something that they have to do and not something they concentrate on. And if that is the case, something has to be done to be remedied… Test cricket has to be the ultimate.”
That was a scathing observation even as the team reduced themselves to a laughing stock because of their attitude.
And talking of attitude, the normally guarded Sunil Gavaskar launched a sensational broadside when he thundered: “They (the Indian cricketers) are just going through the motions. They try for the first half hour or one hour with the ball, and if nothing happens they just seem to give up. There are one or two in this game (3rd Test) who have given the impression that they don’t care and that they are above everything else. There are one or two whose attitude is very, very disappointing. It’s as if they feel Indian cricket owes them something, now that they have won the World Cup. If this attitude persists, they should be told, ‘Excuse me, thank you very much. You have done your bit for Indian cricket, but that’s it. It’s about time some hard steps were taken. Somebody should speak tough words in the dressing room. This (kind of attitude) becomes infectious. One or two guys look disinterested and the rest of the guys look at that and their morale also goes down. This team needs energy. Energy is lacking.”
At 21,147 feet high & minus 53 degree C, the Siachen Glacier is the most difficult battlefield in the world. But have you ever heard anybody from the Indian Army complaining of overwork, fatigue or giving excuses to avoid work? The armymen have no choice in choosing their assignments; cricketers do. Yet some of them have been pathetic in defending their lack of professionalism by blaming it on everything except where they should - themselves. Cricketers representing India are among the wealthiest. No issues about that. But shouldn’t they be giving their 100% while playing for the honour of the nation?
India lost the first Test by 196 runs, the 2nd Test by 319 runs and the 3rd by an innings and 242 runs. In none of the six innings so far in the series has the team been able to last 100 overs; in fact, in the last three innings, the side has been bowled out for 47.4 overs, 62.2 overs and 55.3 overs. And India’s defeat in the third Test at Edgbaston was the third biggest in India’s 79-years old Test history.
Tim Bresnan did not hide his anger behind a diplomatic coat of polish when he lambasted the Indian team: "It would help if India's fielders didn't have their hands in their pockets. It's not that cold. They need to look interested (in play) and show some desire. If you don't want to be here, go home," he said.
Go home! Never heard a player from the rival side saying something as strong as this and that too bang in the middle of the series! But Bresnan was candid, even as media reports said how the Indian side has become a laughing stock.
The defeatist attitude of the team is unacceptable. That mindset is very obvious. Duncan Fletcher should get Team India to see the “death crawl” clip from the film “Facing The Giants”. It can be Googled from YouTube. That powerful seven-minute clip shows how a coach changed the negative mindset of a key player in a sensational manner. It’s one of the most powerful scenes one can ever hope to see in a sports movie. That clip will not only help Team India but coach Fletcher as well.
Far too many of the players are living in a world of their own, insulating themselves from the well-meaning advice that’s been offered by cerebral and respectable voices. From the very first Test, connoisseurs of the game have been saying that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been positioning himself a bit too far behind the wickets. As a result, he is not only taking the ball far too low but dropping a few as well. The slip cordon, as a result of the keeper’s position, been also standing a bit too deep and paying the price for the folly. But even after three Tests and innumerable lapses, Team India has not learnt from its mistakes nor is willing to heed the advice of respected former players.
Dhoni’s attitude has been shocking. He has simply not been proactive. Instead of egging the team on to raise their game, he has allowed things to drift with a sense of resignation. This has disastrously impacted the team. As David Lloyd pointed out: “Dhoni's wicket-keeping that has typified Indian team's character, which is either too tired from too much of cricket or unwilling to fight. It is Dhoni's wicket-keeping, though, that seems to typify an outfit that is either tired from too much cricket or unwilling to fight tooth and nail to protect a title as unsexy - at least to a majority of Indian cricket fans -- as that of the world's No 1 Test team. If the ‘keeper is sloppy then there's a fair chance the rest of the fielding will be below par - and Dhoni has been sloppiness personified behind the stumps."
Harbhajan Singh is still living in an illusionary world. He still believes he is the No 1 spinner in the country – he said words to the effect in an interview after the second Test - when he is way past his best and has been struggling for a while. If he has played this long despite being so pathetic, it’s because senior players get unfair protection. As a result, the most productive spinner in the country, Ravichandran Ashwin, is sitting in India while the team is looking for a quality bowler in England. Unlike the ultra-defensive Harbhajan, Ashwin’s mindset is to look for wickets with every delivery.
To put all the blame on the players is not saying the whole story. The BCCI has to cop the blame for leaving very little gap in the calendar where they can rest and recuperate. If the players are mentally and physically drained and far too many players are breaking down, the BCCI has to take much of the blame for thoughtless planning.
Look at the crowded itinerary of the Indian team since July 2010. It’s over a year and the players have been made to look like glorified slaves with Tests ODIs and T20s in Sri Lanka, followed by visits to India by Australia and New Zealand, then the tour to South Africa, followed by the World Cup and then, within a matter of days, the grueling IPL. Immediately after the IPL came the tour to the West Indies and straight from the Caribbean came the disastrous tour to England. Even machines need rest.
Having said that, not all players play all the formats and not all players have played all the matches since July 2010. Also, when they have got the opportunity to rest, many of them have been busy with endorsements. Some of the players have also not shown the necessary professionalism in keeping themselves match fit.
Whether India puts in an improved performance or not in the fourth and final Test, the painful lessons of this tour should not be lost on the BCCI. Remedial steps need to be taken in consultation with respected men like Anil Kumble so that the process of rebuilding is undertaken with a sense of urgency for the new crop to serve the country for a long time to come.
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com.. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at twitter/hnatarajan)