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Life for a cricketer is varied and unpredictable; new challenges await him every time he steps on the field. His success is a direct result of his mental strength, determination, dedication and that competitive spirit, which is a ready fuel for athletes in all sports. It also has a tangible effect on the general team spirit; in most cases acting as a motivating factor for other people in the team, who feed off it, increasing their confidence levels and removing the blanket of negativity that often shrouds cricket teams while they are going through a bad series.
This is where we look at the Indian Cricket Team and the current crisis it finds itself in.
Half a year ago, the Indian Cricket Team was on top of the world. World Champions and the No.1 Test side to boot. Kirsten bowed out on a high. It was like the Dhoni-Kirsten combination had done no wrong. Kirsten was the astute, low profile coach who shunned media attention and operated behind the scenes. He created a homely atmosphere in the team, thus bringing out the best in his players. Dhoni, on the other hand, was in good form on the field, and his shrewd captaincy mixed with the consistent contributions of his key lieutenants Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Zaheer made sure that the team drew, if not won, every test series, home and away for the last 3 years.
However, streaks are meant to be ended, and the Indian team’s did in the series against England. The pre- series hype was tremendous; it was a clash of the titans. The contest was expected to be of the intensity of the India-Australia battles of the past decades-two of the best teams in the world fighting it out on the hallowed turf at Lord’s, that birthplace of cricket. The early signs were there. Zaheer Khan strained his hamstring, for the nth time, during a penetrative spell on the first day itself, and was out of the series. India‘s most vital cog in the bowling was gone. It can be argued that had Zaheer been there to support Ishant during his second innings burst at Lord’s, things could well have been different. The margin of defeat in the first test showed the Indians that this was going to be their toughest test to date.
The Second test match at Headingley was the most keenly contested match in the series, where India competed for more than a session of play. They had England at 124-8 in their first innings, the door was slightly open, and a sliver of light could be seen. But India failed to put their foot in the door, and England once again fought back brilliantly to reach a reasonable score. India managed to gain a first innings lead because of the infallible WALL Rahul Dravid, but England took control of the match in the Second innings, when all their batsmen( and I mean that literally) managed to score. India was once-again looking at a target of 500 in the 4th innings, and folded again for a low score.
The wheels were coming off rapidly. What had started off as a dream was turning into a nightmare. Tendulkar, after all that hype about his 100th hundred, only had one 50 in four innings to his credit; as did Laxman. Sehwag was recovering from a shoulder injury, Gambhir looked edgy at the crease. Harbhajan Singh was the biggest disappointment. 2 wickets at 143. Not an advertisement for the premier spinner in the team. India‘s weak underbelly was exposed. Suresh Raina was a big let-down; his failures against the short ball indicating that the problem was more mental than because of his technique. Dhoni’s form with the bat was nothing to speak about. The 3rd test brought with it the return of Sehwag and the hype of an Indian victory. Sehwag’s king pair in his first two innings put paid to that theory and England won by a huge margin again. It was looking as if they were playing Bangladesh, not the world’s No. 1 team. Fittingly, India lost the World No.1 ranking to England after that match. The last test was a repeat of the series so far- India chasing 500 in the 4th innings and falling short. Sachin and Mishra showed some backbone, however, almost saving the innings defeat.
It was finally over. India had been whitewashed 4-0. Dravid stood alone amongst the ruins. 3 centuries in 4 tests against the toughest bowling attack in the world. Rahul Dravid vs England was a fair summation of the series. He was a symbol of India‘s spirit, the same grittiness and dedication, which helped India become World Champions.
This has been a brutal reality check for India. The aura has vanished. Heads will roll and uncomfortable questions will be asked. In my opinion, new players should be found. We need fast bowlers, and I mean really fast, not the medium pace ones that we are seeing now. India is a country of a billion people. Is it unreasonable to expect that out of all these people in a cricket crazy nation, 2 out and out pace bowlers cannot be found? The next few months will be crucial for India and Dhoni’s captaincy. A home series against England and the West Indies beckons, and then a tough tour to Australia, who have been in good form recently.
There is a saying,” Failure does not mean you have accomplished nothing; It does mean that you have learned something.” In the next series, we will know if India still retain the spirit of a Champion Team.