Barely a year after winning the ODI Cricket World Cup, Team India finds itself in a soup. Two humiliating series white-washes against England and Australia followed by a disappointing defeat at the hands of minnows Bangladesh in the Asia Cup are not exactly the results a World cup winning team would like to put on its resume. Even the harshest of Team India’s critics could not have predicted such a downfall. Furthermore, the ways things seem to be going, one gets the impression that not much is being done to change the situation.
What really are the troubles plaguing Team India? While certain challenges have been in existence for quite some time, certain others have cropped up in the recent past. Historically, Indian cricketers have been portrayed as being lions at home and lambs abroad. This perception changed in the early 2000’s when India posted series wins in both tests and ODIs on foreign soil against cricketing heavy-weights that included Australia, England and South Africa. However, the recent test series white-washes stand testimony to the fact that Indian cricketers have never really mastered the art of playing in foreign conditions.
The major reason for this failure is the one-dimensional nature of Indian pitches. Most Indian pitches, being flat and lacking in bounce, are batsman-friendly. Any pitches that offer assistance to bowlers are usually spinner-friendly. The BCCI has done nothing to change the nature of playing surfaces in India. As a result, players at the domestic level suffer a sore lack of experience in batting and bowling on fast and bouncy tracks. This inexperience is glaringly reflected when they play at the international level. With the exception of Virat Kohli, India’s Gen-Next struggled against an ordinary attack that was a mere shadow of the legendary Aussie pace attack of the early 2000’s. Gone are the days when Indian players used to gain valuable exposure by playing county cricket in England. Thanks to the IPL, they no longer have the incentive to play county cricket.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has brought its own share of complexities. A batsman who scores a quick 30 or 40 in a game is hugely rewarded, in T20 cricket, as is a bowler who is able to restrict the run-rate to 6 or 7 an over. While these strategies may help teams win T-20 internationals, they are hardly appropriate for ODIs and Test matches. The younger generation of batsmen found it difficult to build innings in England and Australia. It was down to the experienced Rahul Dravid to salvage some pride for Team India in the Test series against England, while Sachin Tendulkar emerged as the highest scorer in the Test series against Australia. With Dravid announcing his retirement and Sachin approaching the end of his career, the team desperately needs new faces that can adapt to all formats of the game. Virat Kohli is the lone such player. Others like Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay, despite possessing immense talent, have struggled to find their feet in Test cricket.
Another significant cause of worry is India’s inexperienced and fragile pace attack. The Indian bowlers were unable to defend a score of 289 against a second-rung team like Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. With the exception of Zaheer Khan, Indian new ball bowlers rarely pose a threat to rival batsmen. Time and again, the team has had to rely on the experience and talent of Zaheer Khan to bail them out of difficult situations. Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel have displayed occasional flashes of brilliance. Players like Ishant Sharma and Irfan Pathan have not only lost their speed but also their wicket-taking abilities. Youngsters like Varun Aaron and Vinay Kumar have not had enough opportunities to prove themselves at the international level. While Zaheer Khan might continue playing for two or three more years at the international level, his prospective replacements hardly inspire confidence.
Player burnout is an added cause for concern. Earlier, cricketers used to enjoy a break from the game for a month or two every season. That would give them enough time to relax, recuperate and prepare for the next season. With the advent of the IPL, cricket is now being played round the year and players hardly get any time to chill out. Also, far too many matches are squeezed in, for no apparent reason. For instance, it made little sense for India to play an ODI series against England at home, in 2011, immediately after playing grueling Test and ODI series in England. Recently, the Indian team travelled all the way to South Africa to play just the one T20 international. The players returned home after the game only to take part in the IPL within a week. Players are virtually living in planes and hotels. Playing cricket 24×7, and travelling regularly over large distances, often to countries in different time zones can naturally take a toll on players’ mental and physical health. The recent spate of injuries in the Indian camp underscores this fact. These injuries not only deprive the team of its best players but also render match strategies ineffectual. Unless players are given a breather, this predicament is likely to persist.
Therefore, drastic changes in the manner in which Indian cricket is being run and played are called for. Unless such changes are effected urgently, the challenges facing Indian cricket would only serve to worsen the ruinous situation the team is currently in.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Gokul is a software professional from Chennai, India. An avid sports fan, he is a keen follower of Cricket, Football, Hockey, Tennis and Formula One. He styles his articles as razor-edge analyses of all the hot and happening events in the field of sports.