Monday, June 22, 2009


Where To Now For Team India?

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As I write this Pakistan are on the brink of cleaning up Sri Lanka for not very many in the final of the World Twenty20 and as much as I'd like to think that this will be an easy chase, every shred of logic tells me that the fat lady hasn't quite reached the microphone. Alas, this is not about the Lankans or the Pakis, this is about MS Dhoni's Team India and where they are headed after the debacle that was their World T20 campaign. Would it surprise you to know that I firmly believe this reversal will do Team India a world of good in the long run?

There is at least one virtue Team India can take from each of the two World T20 finalists. From Sri Lanka we need to learn that specialists will win you more matches than bits-and-pieces players in any format, on any surface (yes, I consider Ravindra Jadeja a bits-and-pieces player at this point in his short career).

For far too long Indian cricket has been obsessed with trying to find the next Kapil Dev, or the spin version of Kapil Dev (remember what Greg Chappell did to Irfan Pathan). If it is accepted that a Sachin Tendulkar is born once every 1000 years, is it not time that we also conceded that a Kapil Dev might take at least another 100 years to arrive? In the meantime lets utilise the services of capable and proven specialists (eg. Pragyan Ojha and RP Singh), especially when they are in rare form.

In most situations I'm loathe to suggest that we should be learning anything from Pakistan, for everything in that country, including the success of its cricket team, appears to occur through pure chance. However, there are a few reasons they've made it further than Team India in this tour. One of them being Younis Khan's open challenge to his senior players to stand up and be counted - and boy have the said players they sprung out of their chairs.

Experienced players are held in high regard because they have faced many tough situations and, sometimes, helped their side come out on top. They have the skills and temperament to cope with adversity and use it as a spur for success. Senior players are not in the team to coast through important tournaments and leave the grunt work to the kids.

Too many Indian teams have treated their experienced players as sacred cows, instead offered promising, but unproven, youngsters as sacrifice. I thought this protectionist attitude was slowly being phased out during the early periods of Sourav Ganguly's revolutionary reign and I was sure that it had definitely been confined to the annals of nostalgia under Dhoni's stewardship. Unfortunately, the pressure of a do-or-die match saw this defeatist attitude make a telling comeback. It has been said ad infintum, but for the record Yuvraj Singh should have been given an opportunity to drag his team out of a hole and gone in at four (if for nothing else than to make up for his abysmal and forever plummeting fielding standards).

India's fielding also requires a change in attitude, and I don't think that this area has received quite the attention it should have from the inept and desperate Indian media. I almost blew my lid when I read that Dhoni doesn't believe his team will ever become the world's best fielding side. An attitude as shocking as this will only serve to ensure that Team India's fielding continues to lose them games. Mahendra, son, set you goals high and you might end up somewhere in the middle - it's a proven rule that you need not attempt to disprove.

The promising aspect of the aftermath was that, unlike many of his predecessors, Dhoni has owned up to his errors. His admission implies that he is still humble enough to accept that he has much learning to undertake on the art of leadership and he is open to mending his ways.

It is this focus on continued improvement and his calm demeanour in victory and defeat that gives me unbounded hope for the short to medium term future of Indian cricket. Let's face it, for all the protestations to the contrary of various players and administrators, the World T20 is all fun and games, for us spectators and the players. The real World Cup involves 50 overs per side and it is the real World Cup through which the players' limited overs reputations are built and destroyed. For this reason I'm happy that this meek surrender has taken place now, rather than in the subcontinent in 2011.

There is plenty of time between now and 2011 for Suresh Raina to learn how to handle the short ball. There is plenty of time for the likes of Ravindra Jadeja to learn how to hit big, consistently. There is plenty of time for MS Dhoni to steel his young charges to cope with the pressure of expectation and enjoy the transformation from hunter to the hunted.

Believe not the doom and gloom spouted by your resident hack. Keep the faith and back your Team India for good times are sure to return - soon.


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