Steely Dhoni proves his mettle, but there are plenty of red flags over Indian cricket

MS Dhoni slammed his fifth ODI ton as skipper in the first match against Pakistan at Chennai © PTI

You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality, says Rajesh K Shah while analysing the present state of Indian cricket.

Even though the last three of India’s T20s went down to the wire and landed in almost last-ball defeats for India, Sunday’s defeat in the first One-Day International (ODI) against Pakistan will not hurt the Indian fan that much. There was dignity in that defeat, inspite of an inexplicable top-order collapse.

All this because of a monstrous effort from captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was ably supported by Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin in the batting and later by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Ashok Dinda in the bowling. The determination and application that Dhoni and Raina showed when India was reeling at 29 for five after 10 overs and the intensity with which Dhoni crafted his entire innings made him the deserved Man of the Match, in spite of being on the losing side and Nasir Jamshed getting a century.  This is one award that Dhoni is going to cherish for a long time, simply because it brought the best out of him when he was under seige.

Conditions were not ideal for Dhoni when he arrived at the crease. Overcast conditions, a green pitch, moisture and the Indian batting’s poor technique had opened the floodgates for an inexperienced opening combo of Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan (who have played a combined 15 ODIs). They were hitting the timber as regularly as Pakistan is churning out fast bowlers. So, Dhoni had to stabilise the ship at first, take singles rather than counter attack. He scored his first 50 off 86 balls with just two hits to the fence – a very cautious approach indeed.

Humid conditions got the better of Dhoni physically and he was fighting cramps by taking lots of fluids and a breaks. Rarely does one see Dhoni gasping for breath and missing runs. However, Dhoni was mentally strong as steel. He was conserving his energy for the big shots. He knew he had to give his weak bowling attack a fighting total and boy did he show his class. Helicopter shots and brute power amidst sapping energy, a treat to watch; the next 63 came off just 39 balls. 

Dhoni’s innings reminded one of a Spartan warrior. In 480 BC, 300 Spartans warriors fought the invading Persian Army led by King Xerxes in the Battle of Thermopylae. Vastly outnumbered, these Spartans, held back the enemy in one of the most famous last stands of history. Eventually all the 300 Spartans died fighting 100,000 strong army, but they held fort for three whole days. History only remembers the spirit and the tenacity of these 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas. Dhoni’s effort will be remembered likewise.

After such an intenese effort, one doesn’t feel bad when the team ends up on the losing side. There is a winner in every loser, for it is in losing that one learns to win. When intent is weak, we are always in our comfort zones. But when intent is strong we create an unbelievable mechanism. The intent and intensity of Dhoni was unmistakably very strong.

After the World Cup win, the Indian team has shown weak intent and little intensity, barring one or two players. How often has the opening pair of Sehwag and Gambhir walked the talk? How many chances does Rohit Sharma need to prove his outrageous talent? How long are the selectors going to confine deserving talent to the benches? Where is the new bowling talent – pace or spin? If bowling is the weak link, why do they still persist with seven batsmen? How often has the bowling been exposed? In fact, it suddenly seems almost impossible to win bowling second.

These are questions that the selectors will have to answer. You can’t blame the captain. A captain is only as good as his team. The pressure must be on the selectors. Spending sleepless nights finding the right answers, travelling far and wide all over the country searching for talent in a country that eats, sleeps and breathes cricket,taking bold steps and decisions, making current performance and not past records as the selection criteria,making players earn their spot in the team not take it for granted – that is their job.
You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality. We are already experiencing the consequences. If Indian cricket prospers, the Indian economy is on a high — it’s proven.

The Indian cricket fan is not going to sit quiet now. The Indian revolution has started whether – it’s Anna Hazare’s fight againt corruption or the Delhi gangrape victim’s lesson for safety of women. It’s time for Indian cricket to revolt as well, because it really hurts the fans to see India lose and lose without a fight. The media and the internet have been the biggest allies in this fight for right, so let’s take advantage of it.

The future depends on what we do today. With the dawn of 2013, let us Indian fans make the selectors accountable in 2013 and make some of the above-mentioned questions answerable. It’s only for the betterment of Indian cricket.

(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)