"Leave 'em alone!"The title of this post would be my response to the many detractors of the Indian cricket team. Results have not gone our way, but they have gone exactly according to reason. Which is good. Indian cricket always suffers from the flash-in-the-pan success story that flatters its supporters. Let the fans learn the hard route to setting expectations that don't conceal a sting.
Two men spent some time, during the collapse of the Indian innings at Sydney, talking about the series in its entirety and where it left Indian cricket. Both Harsha Bhogle and Dean Jones made the point that this series runs the danger of being judged by the last four games, which would wrongly erase the achievements in the months preceding that week. Jones thinks that this current Aussie team, whatever its performance against India in the Tests, is the best *ever* ODI team in the history of the game. Jones is not one given to tossing compliments lightly, also he is one of the true greats of the limited overs game, and among those from Simpson's lot that charted out a separate approach to this format - so one has to take his comments seriously. It is hard to argue with his statement - rarely has a team played so mightily in all departments as this team. Which is why let us wait before passing judgement on our home team. It's hard to say where we stand - I agree with Harish they're not number 2 yet. Maybe three or even four. For me, the real test will be what India does in the next 12 months against various other countries.
Of the many finals India has lost, I guess half of them have been to Australia? If so, and if we argue Australia are playing astonishingly well, the best ODI cricket ever, then don't weigh those defeats as much as losing to any other team. The only other times we've lost were to South Africa and West Indies, I think. And that was some time ago. This doesn't clearly show where we stand on an absolute scale, especially because in the last few months, India has been constantly playing Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. Results against Zimbabwe & NZ are skewed indicators, the former are half a team in reality and the latter were played met on strange wickets there and here. We play Australia again in the next 12 months, but we also play other tournaments - against Pakistan, England & the Champions Trophy. Those would be better indications as to where we really stand. Till then, don't exaggerate or demean the standing of the team.
People who complain India loses in finals forget that we hardly made finals 3-4 years ago. Would they rather have India bowing out before the knockout stages or India losing at finals? Atleast the latter means that the team is playing worse than just 1 of the participating teams - usually it has been Australia, and that is a fact. I agree that their showing in finals has resulted in demoralising losses, but compared to the team of 4 years ago, this team is winning more matches. Also, we now know that the team has about 5-7 players who can put in top performances - 4 years ago, that number was 1 or perhaps 2. Don't forget that we're still not a well-oiled machine rolling in unison - we commit a lot of basic errors - so don't expect them to be world champs yet. Not until they can show they know how to do those things better than the current world champs. That's why I don't have any bitterness or moroseness - inspite of my optimism, I had no real reason to expect them to outperform the team that's playing better than anyone else has in the history of the game.
There are a host of immediate problems: keepers, spinners, Dravid unable to play his Bevan-like role like he did in the World-Cup, the obvious technical faults of Ganguly, the mental fears of Tendulkar, the stop-start performances of Yuvraj. There are pluses too - 5 medium pacers to choose from, a possible bowling all-rounder in Pathan, terrific catching, the wicket-taking abilities of Agarkar, the indications that there are a lot of runs left in Tendulkar & Dravid, and Laxman's realisation that he may actually have things to do in an ODI match. One thing I must say is - the senior players need to have a long think about their place in history - it is there for the taking, but they seemed to be filled with unknown trepidations in their journey towards it. The next 5 years beckon - they will decide India's cricketing future like never before.
India are in serious trouble of becoming the 2000s equivalent of the England team of the 80s - which got into a lot of finals and had some great individual talent, but never managed to win a single important trophy. This cannot be attributed to "choking" - the finals they lost were never manoeuvred by England into winning positions (except perhaps the '87 WC final). They never looked like winning. For me, "choking" is to contrive to lose from positions of victory. Gavaskar says this Indian team has taken the tag of chokers from the South Africans. I disagree. South Africa invented newer ways to lose from winning positions - like Boucher/Pollock in the '03 WC, and Klusener/Donald in the previous edition. Also, they did so in various stages of a tournament. This Indian team looks like the Englishmen of Gatting and Gooch - they don't know how to get into winning positions in the first place. Incidentally, unless Saurav Ganguly does a repair job as an all-round player, he could end up being the Brearley of India. For a start, he could re-invent himself as a fielder like Sidhu did.
History may repeat itself, but it's not necessary that the repetition will be a clone of the past - minor mutations are possible. It is equally possible that India learn from these victories and defeats to go on to illustrious deeds. Tendulkar gives the impression that he is playing out two cricket lives in one - the newest one has just begun. And Rahul Dravid - please tell your teammates to hold on to the memories of losing and to do everything possible to not face that feeling again.