2012 saw Indian cricket in a freefall; Rahane, Pujara & Bhuvaneshwar beacons of hope

Ajinkya Rahane (left), Cheteshwar Pujara (centre) and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar © PTI

It would be wonderful to write something gloriously optimistic and positive at the start of a new year. But the best one can say about 2012 from Team India’s perspective is that it is finally over. The stranglehold of Murphy’s Law choked India and just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong.

India lost far more trophies than they won and gave an unappetising send off to Test veterans Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. The much-touted revenge series on home soil morphed instead into a painful defeat to England. Be it Twenty20s, ODIs or Tests, India consistently got whacked on the field.  

Will there be any ‘takeaways’ for Indian cricket from the annus horribilis that was 2012?   Your guess is as good as mine It wouldn’t be a surprise if the season of denial extended at least until Australia comes over in the early part of 2013. However, other members of the ICC who have watched with some resentment the spectacular ‘economic’ growth of Indian cricket can learn some lessons from the Indian experience. 

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the cynosure of all eyes in the cricket world for the last four years. Players from all major cricketing nations barring Pakistan have lined up eagerly for a berth on the gravy train and, in some cases, burnt bridges with their home boards for not letting them play.  

In the meantime, the IPL has only served to distract the powers-that-be in Indian cricket. The most important asset in cricket, or any other sport, is the player. The board has to invest in building a team first and foremost. A great team coupled with a great business model fetches good money; the model by itself will not suffice. As the older generation of Indian stars gently fade into the sunset, they are about to leave a terrifying vacuum in the squad.  

It is not as if the IPL has ‘spoilt’ emerging talents and distracted them, to quote an argument that is often made. Even if that is true in specific cases, the bigger problem is a confused approach to talent selection and management. Zaheer Khan was left out of the squad by the time of the fourth Test against England as he appeared to struggle with fitness. But no pace bowler appeared to have been pump-primed to step into his shoes.

By contrast, Steve Finn as Stuart Broad’s replacement was brilliant in Kolkata. When Samit Patel was dropped for the decider, debutant Joe Root made sure he wasn’t missed. Team India has several youngsters waiting in the wings but the manner in which they are utilised appears helter skelter and doesn’t propel them to solidity in the demanding international scene. It suggests a devil-may-care-as-long-as-IPL-brings-the-cash attitude to international cricket.    

Barring Nagpur, Indian batsmen also appeared to lose the appetite for an ugly struggle to save a Test. The bowlers too lacked patience, often in key passages in matches, and, instead of identifying and persisting with a probing line, mixed it up too much to trouble batsmen. That would certainly appear to be a negative impact of the IPL as patience was the forte of the batting line up in the noughties. Even the sight of Alistair Cook shouldering arms after passing the 150 mark didn’t seem to point India to the right direction.  

Unfortunately, somebody failed to inform them that gritting out the tough moments is a quintessential feature of any format of cricket. If their reluctance to play five full days of cricket resulted in a poor run in Tests, they didn’t fare much better in ODIs or T20s either.  Across the board, Indian cricket was in freefall throughout 2012 and, but for the promise of Ajinkya Rahane, Pujara and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, was almost entirely dismal.   

The lesson for the other members from Indian cricket’s chastening decline is that there really is no freeway to the top of the pile. Efforts invested in building a good team will not go waste but neglect of the same cannot be covered up with financial muscle for very long. Boards must manage cricket efficiently and remunerate players well for playing the longest form of cricket so that they don’t jump ship for the easy money. Those that succumb to player power may well end up writing their own as well as the players’ epitaph. 

We ring in the New Year with India hoping to make a match of it at least against arch-rivals Pakistan. But even that may not be enough to paper over the cracks now. 

(Madan Mohan is a 27-year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)