Whichever way the Kolkata match against England goes, it’s time to ask some serious questions about the state of the Indian Test team. For instance:
# Do these guys really want to win? A corollary to this question is: How many of them are playing for the team and not for themselves? A good case in point is Gautam Gambhir’s shockingly selfish batting at the fag end of India’s second innings at Mumbai. Gambhir did nothing to protect the tail-enders batting with him, instead focusing solely on carrying his bat through the innings and improve his dropping batting average. There was some poetic justice in the fact that he did eventually get out. Gambhir’s opening partner Virender Sehwag has of course never much bothered about anything, and it’s no secret that there’s no love lost between him and captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It’s been years now, but Sehwag may still not have come to terms with the fact that he is not—and perhaps never will be—captain of India. And does Sachin Tendulkar really give the impression that he is playing for India? Let’s not forget that 100th century of his, which was the slowest ODI ton in his career, and made sure that India lost to Bangladesh to be thrown out of the Asia Cup.
# Why are our players so unfit? It shows every time they are out on the field. Just count how many of them have paunches. Why does Ravichandran Ashwin have such a problem bending to pick up a ball? Why is Cheteshwar Pujara, who is one of the youngest members of the team, such a poor fielder? When Zaheer Khan runs, you can almost hear his bones creaking.
# Why do we mess around with our players’ minds so much? Over the last 18 months, the selectors and the captain have given such mixed signals to Harbhajan Singh that the poor man has a terminally confused look on his face. He even seems to have forgotten how to turn the ball on pitches where Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann are running riot. Consider Manoj Tiwary. He has been part of the 15 for more than two years now. Whenever he has been given a chance to play an international match, he has excelled. Yet he has spent game after game over the last year sitting in the pavilion and carrying drinks, watching Rohit Sharma fail and fail again. What sort of pressure do you think he will be carrying when—if ever—he finally gets to play for India, and how many chances are we going to give him? Want to take a bet that the next change the Indian middle-order will see is the entry of Ravindra Jadeja? He’s just scored a third triple century in the Ranji Trophy, plus he plays for Chennai Super Kings. Powerful combination.
# Man to man, there’s hardly any difference between the England team and the Indian team. It’s just that the English seem determined and are playing beyond their potential, while the Indians look listless and disinterested, as if they are just passing time till the next IPL comes around.
# What the hell are we paying Duncan Fletcher for? Other than sitting in the dressing room wearing shorts, his arms crossed over his chest, what really has been his contribution? When did he say anything that made any sense? When did say anything? Does he exist at all? If so, why?
# Why don’t we admit that if Dhoni was not captain, he would not be in the Test team? Wriddhiman Saha and Parthiv Patel are certainly better wicket-keepers, and there are better middle-order batsmen than Dhoni who are currently not playing for India. Dhoni may be one of the greatest finishers that the limited-over format of cricket have ever seen, but in every Test match, his captaincy skills get exposed. His field placements are often bizarre, and he never seems to have a Plan B. As Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen piled up the runs in Mumbai, the Indian team seemed to be mere mute spectators. Was there even one innovative move tried out? Why wasn’t Sehwag bowled? Or Tendulkar? Dhoni has been both clever and lucky to have got rid of most of the men who were senior to him in the team. But he hardly appears to be an inspirational leader to the youngsters. Under him, India has lost nine out of the last 12 Tests, and eight of them consecutively. How could we lose all four Tests against Australia, a team which was—still is—going through the process of rebuilding, while India had a tried and tested combination of players, many of them true greats of the game? The only two Tests we have won out of the last 12 were against the much weaker New Zealand, and on home soil. Of course, the question is: If not Dhoni, who? But is anyone in the Indian cricket establishment permitted to ask that, as long as N. Srinivasan rules the roost and Dhoni is captain of Srinivasan’s team Chennai Super Kings?
Some changes are needed, and pretty dramatic ones. After the England series, India plays Australia in Tests next. Hopefully, the men who manage Indian cricket will spend the interim in some deep and productive thought. Quite simply, some fairly large and troublesome cats need to be belled.
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