After the 0-8 debacle in England and Australia, India is set to host the same two teams at home. It’s surprising to say the least, says Arunabha Sengupta, that the majority of Indian cricketers are preparing for the season of retribution by playing CLT20.
Something is seriously wrong with the thought process behind Indian cricket.
The scars of the 0-8 humiliation in England and Australia are still fresh enough for the pain to be palpable and searing.
It is hardly a revelation that the litany of losses was brought about by a series of batting failures, along with the inability of the bowlers to capitalise on the conditions.
The glaring lack of any opening partnership of substance was there for all to witness and for the opposition to exploit. The famed combination of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir lasted on an average 6.4 overs per innings. Both have been in atrocious form in all formats of the international game for more than a year now. Since July last year, Sehwag has scored at 30.60, with an overseas average of 19.91 while Gambhir has done worse with 24.36, managing 20.21 abroad.
Neither has Sachin Tendulkar, the last legendary name in the middle-order, been in excellent form, falling cheaply in the last three outings against New Zealand.
Additionally, Zaheer Khan’s incisive spells at the top of the order have been absent for long. If we care to look at his return to the national side after the injury induced break during the English tour, the numbers are not encouraging.
Harbhajan Singh’s gradual decline and complete loss of wicket taking ability have also made India slightly suspect in the spin department in spite of the rise of Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
And now, in the next two home series India faces those very sides who made mincemeat of them in their respective backyards.
Retribution, pride, honour – whatever one chooses to call it – the next two home series are definitely important from the point of view of Indian cricket, if only to do unto others as others have mercilessly done unto them.
Granted, India is playing at home, against batsmen who may be suspect against bowlers even pretending to turn the ball. But, if one packs the top of the order with too many out of form batsmen, and then opens with a pace bowler whose teeth and claws are under rehabilitation, any top team can take advantage and make it count in most telling ways.
The common solution, as anyone remotely related to the cricket world will vouch for, is to spend some long hours in the middle, getting into the groove, batting or bowling for some undisturbed hours in the traditional format of the game.
And there was excellent opportunity. Duleep Trophy has for long been a prestigious event, the ideal occasion to get out there and iron out the wrinkles that may have crept into one’s game, by spending some quality hours against impressive opposition.
Indeed, North Zone had appointed Sehwag as the captain of the side about to take on the West in the quarter-final. Gambhir was scheduled to open the innings for them. Harbhajan was supposed to lend his spinning finger.
However, Sehwag cried off with an ankle injury – Gambhir and Harbhajan dropped out because they had to travel to South Africa for the Champions League Twenty 20 tournament. For the West, Sachin Tendulkar was unavailable, and Zaheer Khan decided to give it a miss.
Within days, however, Sehwag was in South Africa leading Delhi Daredevils in the CLT20 campaign, Gambhir doing likewise for Kolkata Knight Riders and Harbhajan similarly at the helm of Mumbai Indians. The last mentioned side even had Tendulkar opening the batting for them.
The cream of Indian Test cricketers are gearing up for the important series ahead spending brief, flashy, largely unorthodox moments in a format which cannot be further removed from five- day cricket. Even the major trump-card of Indian bowling, Ravichandran Ashwin, is turning his arm over for Chennai Super Kings, for all of four overs per match, under the watchful eye of Team India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
With the spotlight of the media and fans on this toutedT20 circus, the serious trade of Duleep Trophy is being dragged out in front of empty stands and little focus. Shikhar Dhawan, leading the North Zone, is piling hundred upon hundred with uncanny regularity as an opening batsman, letting his willow do all the talking in the time-tested, perhaps archaic, way. Whether there are eyeballs to see or ears to hear the claims of his backbreaking efforts is difficult to say. Granted, the two openers in the Indian team have done little of note in the last year and more, but judging by their flagrant choice of format, the priorities seem to be driven and dictated through very unconventional routes. It will be of scant surprise if Dhawan’s fascinating run of big scores do not even get access to these curious paths of cricket governance in vogue today.
It raises several questions about the calendar, the designs and the objectives of the cricket structure in India, about the working and even, existence, of the underlying thought process.
The natural brilliance that most Indian cricketers are blessed with, aided by turning pitches, and the susceptibility of the foreign batsmen in the face of spin may yet result in positive scorelines. However, even the most emphatic victories can hardly justify the chaos of scheduling and preparation that is witnessed today.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix