The Dark Knight Rises is readying for release. It features Bane, perhaps the nastiest creature from the Batman universe—an evil genius with superhuman physical strength derived from a drug called Venom. I’m forcing a metaphor here, but the Gotham of Indian cricket had taken a few years in the mid to late 2000s to get back on its feet after the Batman-Joker battle between Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell left things in disarray, with confused players and reluctant captains. And the bane is upon the team again. And, though, on the face of it, it again looks like the clash of two personalities, matters may be a bit more complex this time.
As we’ve seen, there’s nothing like failure to tear a seemingly well-settled team apart. Virendra Sehwag has always considered it unfair that he was overlooked for the captaincy in favour of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But he could only gripe in private as Dhoni led India to top dog status in every form of the game. However, once the chips were down, all hell broke loose.
Dhoni, who’s as smart as they come, felt the rumblings, and hinted at retiring from Test cricket next year—a veiled “don’t take me for granted” warning. When he was banned for one Test for slow over rate, Sehwag captained the team, which lost as horrendously as it had done under Dhoni. Dhoni now took the “India uber alles” high ground and said he would happily step down as skipper if a better man was found. That shut up Sehwag for some time.
Then came the one-dayers, and the strange “rotation” policy—the three senior batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, would sit out, one at a time, while younger players would get more One Day International (ODI) practice, apparently with an eye on the World Cup. Three obvious questions arise. One, long-term planning is fine, but the World Cup is three years away. Two, it’s clear that Sehwag and Gambhir don’t like this new twist. Three, if we are mentoring youngsters, why is Manoj Tiwary, who, the last time he played for India, scored an unbeaten century, warming the bench, while Rohit Sharma is given five matches to score 79 at an average of less than 16?
In fact, Sharma would have played the sixth game too, but Sehwag, as captain for the day, ditched Dhoni’s rotation policy, playing all three senior batsmen. OK, a fourth question too: Does this guy Duncan Fletcher really exist, or is he a clever hologram?
Dhoni sat out the last game because he had been banned again for a slow over rate. He blamed this on the “seniors” who were a burden since they were slow on the field. So the battle was now fully in the public domain. Sehwag retorted by referring to the brilliant catch he took to dismiss Jayawardene. Other critics, including Ganguly, felt that if Dhoni preferred to back mediocre batsmen because they could run faster in the outfieldEranga Jayawardena/AP, he was being stupid.
Even the One Who Is Above It All has not escaped the general crossfire. The dropping of Ricky Ponting, and his immediate announcement of retirement from the international one-day format, was just the trigger needed for the outburst of the criticism that dared not speak its name till now. Writer Nimish Dubey posted on Facebook: “Guess this player who scored 249 runs between 21 January 1993 and 18 February 1994 in 19 ODIs at an average of about 17.7 and yet was kept in the Indian team? And was again kept in the side after scores of 0,0,0 and 8 in Sept-October in 1994? And again in 1999-2000 in spite of a run of scores of 1, 2, 0, 13, 12, 1? And yet again in 2002-03 when he ran up just 55 runs in nine innings at an average of less than 10? I could go on, but all I want to prove is one teensy point—if you are a cricket god in India, you cannot be dropped.” Dubey clarified later in his blog that he was not asking for Sachin to be dropped, but making a larger point about the often-missing link between form and place-in-team in Indian cricket. In five games in the current tri-series, Sachin has scored 90 runs at an average of 18, which is lower than Raina’s and Ravindra Jadeja’s, but higher than Sharma’s and Sehwag’s.
A poll on a popular Indian website saw 57% of respondents voting that Tendulkar should retire from ODIs. No one talks about that 100th hundred any more. Only that he should be allowed to decide when he wants to go.
And I don’t even want to think about Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman, grimly sitting at home, awaiting the next turn of events.
In the Batman series Knightfall, Bane broke Batman’s back, crippling him. It took Bruce Wayne several years to recover and don the Batman mantle again. The same could be true of Indian cricket. The good news: when Batman returned, he was wearing a sturdier Batsuit made of Kevlar and driving a hot new Batmobile. Maybe someone in our cricket establishment should get hold of the books. They are easy to read, being mostly pictures.
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Sandipan Deb is a senior journalist and editor who is interested in puzzles of all forms