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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

Cricket is a religion in India and anything that touches Indian cricket hits at the heart and soul of many an Indian.

It is hard to believe that it was less than two years ago that India was creating waves in the cricket world by challenging the mighty Australians on their home turf. Following closely on the heels of that successful tour, India went on to underline this with a sterling performance in nemesis-country, Pakistan. Almost all players returned from the Pakistan tour as superstars and Indian cricket seemed to be in the best shape imaginable.

Oh, how naïve and foolish we Indian supporters were ! And how distant those heady days now seem.

The first signs that all was not hunky-dory were already there in the one-day series in Sri Lanka last August. The Indian performance was sluggish in the extreme. But we were still having a hangover from a few months before and refused to recognize the symptoms. The explanation given by the team captain was "we are a bit rusty after a long lay-off" and "we will be fine for the ICC Champions Trophy".

We bought that explanation. After all, this Sri Lankan series was just a preparation for the more important Champions Trophy coming up – we brushed off any concerns we had.

India then went on to play a one-day series in Holland – with Australia and Pakistan as other participants. Unfortunately rain ruined the tournament but in India's one completed game, it got roundly thrashed by Pakistan.
The game had been reduced to a 25-overs match but, as one who was at the ground, I can safely say India never really looked like being in the hunt. It was not so much the defeat but the manner of the defeat that left a bitter taste in one's mouth.

This time the explanation given by the captain was "once the game became a 25-overs match, it was not quite the same thing". Whatever that means !

We bought that too. By now, we were getting a bit restless, especially since we realized that India would miss the services of its class act, Sachin Tendulkar, for the ICC Trophy.

September came – the ICC Champions Trophy happened – and India's performance was anything but champion-like. Although it faltered in the final, England's stock rose rapidly in this tournament when it thrashed Australia. India on the other hand, put up another miserable performance, and were shown the door by Pakistan.

I cannot recall now the explanation given for this performance. In all probability, the absence of Sachin Tendulkar would have been used.

Whatever it was, we bought it. By now, the focus had shifted to the home series against Australia. We were willing to write off all these one-day disasters as long as the main prize - winning this home series or at the worst, not losing it - could still be achieved.

India was outplayed. We can make a fuss about umpiring decisions and about rain robbing India at Chennai but the fact is that a very purposeful Australia, clearly on a mission to "conquer the final frontier", put up a vastly superior show to India.

By the end of the series, both Test and one-dayers, it was very clear that the magic, if at all there had been any, had worn off completely and everybody was beginning to take a more earthly view of the side.

During the series itself captain Ganguly had come in for a fair amount of criticism, for both his form and his mysterious absence on the eve of one of the Tests. At the end of it, his explanations could have been scripted by a five-year-old "Australia is a very good side" and "we need to raise our game".

A weak, inexperienced South African side now visited India for a two-test series. Although India managed to eke out a 1-0 win, it was about as convincing and re-assuring as a Chandrasekhar batting performance. Even a series win in Bangladesh a few days later fooled nobody – there was something missing in this performance.

It was now approaching crunch-time as one of the most important series was coming up. Much as Indian supporters would have hated to lose at home to Australia, there was a realization that this was the world's best team so India was always going to be up against it. But now, here was an opportunity to correct the situation – a not-highly-rated Pakistan team was visiting India and, with memories of their own tour just a few months before fresh in their minds, most Indians were smacking their lips in anticipation.

Forty-five days, three tests and six one-dayers later, India was in tatters. This unheralded Pakistan side had pulled off an amazing Test series draw (equating effectively to a huge moral victory) and , to leave nobody in doubt about the one-day balance between the sides, come from behind to turn the tables on India in a 4-2 win.

By now, explanations from the Indian captain were getting just as predictable as they were getting increasingly unpalatable. More than anything, the body language of the team and the manner of their defeat in the crucial Bangalore Test had left everybody fuming. That the captain himself was going through the worst batting phase of his career did not help his cause one bit. Any daggers that, till then, were still in their sheath, were now out in the open. An entire country felt betrayed.

After the winter of discontent, the Indian team has had plenty of time to reflect. A new coach has been hired. This could be a sign of new faces, new strategies and a new confidence in the side - or so, many Indians thought.

The season is just a couple of weeks old – and so far there are absolutely no signs that this season is going to be any better than the last one. These are early days and any conclusions drawn from a short one-day series in Sri Lanka and another similar one in Zimbabwe would be presumptuous.

We will need to wait and watch before passing judgement. In the meantime, as happens very often, when the performance on the field is nothing to write home about, a lot is written about events or "stories" off the field. Much of this centers around captaincy debates, discipline and attitude issues, the "strained" relationship between the coach and some players. None of this is complimentary, none of this helps the team to perform on the field.

If things do not improve dramatically, Saurav Ganguly may find his luck finally running out. The public is tired of explanations. Lines like "Winning is a habit. We need to get back into the winning habit" ring hollow and seem to be almost contemptuous of the intelligence and patience of the public.

Another line that the Indian captain has used, more than once, is "I will be among the runs soon". I am not sure whether this was reported correctly. It could well be that what he meant was 'I will be among the ruins soon". Looking at the state of Indian cricket at the moment, now that is one statement that rings so true !

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