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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

We, the people - Part 2

Another one-day final, another defeat !

The familiarity of the result does not in any way mitigate the disappointment of being pipped yet again at the post, within arm’s reach of that elusive trophy.

The two tournaments that India has opened its 2005-06 season with are not mega in any sense and did not exactly feature top-of-the-drawer opposition (with due respect to a constantly under-rated New Zealand and a lion-at-home Sri Lanka). India was expected to reach the finals of both these events and duly did so. But for a billion-strong public so starved of trophies that any itsy-bitsy tournament will do just fine as long as it ends with their captain holding aloft the cup, it was yet another day of dashed hopes as the Indian team continued to falter at the last hurdle.

India’s position is a ridiculously low seventh in the ICC one-day rankings. For a team which boasts some of the world’s top players this can only mean that all this talent does not get translated to results on the field, especially when it most matters. How else can you explain that Harbhajan Singh, considered one of the world’s best bowlers, often comes up totally ineffective whereas “lesser” spinners, at least on paper, like Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Chandana seem to enjoy much more success on pretty much the same wickets.

Or, take the batting. It would seem that, given his penchant for uninhibited strokeplay and his strike rate, Virendra Sehwag is a natural for the one-day game. Yet, it is amazing how often he has failed to play a match-winning innings for his side.

It is not fair to single out just Harbhajan or Sehwag. The entire team is consistently inconsistent, making the job for coach Greg Chappell a particularly difficult one.

If a player is putting in a consistently poor showing, his place in the side is most certainly up for grabs and there should not be much of an issue replacing him with a deserving candidate (some may argue that there is a particularly glaring exception to this simple rule – I choose not to discuss this).

But the frustrating thing with every Indian player is that he, every once in a while, puts up a performance that gives you hope. He seems to have vindicated himself, proven his critics wrong – and then goes through an inexplicable phase where he puts in an indifferent performance for the next five games. Just when the critics begin to re-group and raise their voices again – bang, he comes up with another performance to silence them.

This game has been going on for too long – and by too many players for anybody to be taken in by the odd performance. The public is tired of the number of chances given to some players and increasingly a cry is being made for fresh blood to be inducted into the side. Sure, the new players may also falter on the big stage but we will never know unless we take that chance. Above all, it will give the incumbent players a sense of urgency to deliver if they are to retain their places in the side.

India needs to look at all its options afresh – without regional bias. Which players deserve to be part of the “core” (whether due to performance or promise) and therefore need to be nurtured, which players, inspite of all their chances, are no better than just “fringe” players who need to either be “in” or “out” but cannot be sitting on the fence for eternity.

Greg Chappell earned a reputation in his playing days for being a tough player and captain. One can only hope that he takes some tough decisions in the longer term interest of the side, even if it means ruffling some feathers in the short-term. There is too much baggage associated with some of the members of this side and somebody needs to tell each player that he starts with a clean slate – his past is history and all that matter is the “here and now”. Even players who are part of the “core” need to get a clear message that there are no permanent positions of any sort – every position is worth fighting for.

I know all this sounds very unromantic and stressful but the game has changed unrecognizably in the last couple of decades and this needs to be reflected in the attitude of the players. While cricket is, in the ultimate analysis, just a game and needs to be kept in perspective, let us not forget that these are highly-paid professionals who are not paid such handsome sums for doing an “average” job. The times may have changed but it is not uncommon to find the Indian team sometimes continuing to exhibit qualities better suited for a different and more laid-back era.

This brings me to another point I would like to make – about the way the non-Indian media and cricket follower tends to perceive the Indian public and media.

There seems to be a feeling among the non-Indian cricket media and public that the Indian public is too demanding of its players and expects them to win at all times. It is felt that the public is too easily critical of the team and that does not help the team’s confidence one bit.

Give the Indian public some credit. They have no say whatsoever in the manner in which the game is run in the country. They have no say in selection matters. The only instrument the public has at its disposal is its voice – so it uses this to the maximum, hoping to get some message across to the administrators and the players.

It is rarely personal. The public may criticize the team, they may lambast each player – but this criticism stems only from a passion and an intense desire to see Team India win.

Let us realize that while the Indian public can be very critical of its players, it also extols these very players to the skies when they achieve something glorious (albeit an increasingly rare phenomenon). When the Indian players returned from Pakistan they were all given a hero’s welcome back to India. So, while the reaction is often extreme and not as balanced as perhaps in other parts of the world, it is fair in its consistency.

From my many years of following the game, I cannot help feeling that this criticism may actually serve as a trigger for raising the team’s performance. If the Indian public does not express its discontent vocally enough, the Indian team, never the most self-inspired of performers, would perhaps deliver even more mediocrity than they do at the moment. It seems to be the Indian public which keeps the bar high – and there is nothing wrong with that.

So it is up to Team India to recognize this and raise their game. If they want public support, they need to earn it.

The key question is – do they really care ?

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