Absolute Surrender Down Under

The ongoing series against Australia has reiterated that Indian team deserves to be few notches below the Numero Uno rank, they once briefly held. The last defeat being their seventh consecutive loss on foreign shore in last six months is certainly not an aberration rather an affirmation of the above fact. Any side that aspires to dominate the game in five day format has to have a blend of quality batsmen and bowlers who can adapt to different conditions and surfaces quickly, pile on big totals for their bowlers to bundle out opposition twice in a game. This dexterity for a batsmen comes with an exquisite technique to cope with pace, bounce and spin.

While our bench strength has improved, now that we have atleast couple of names who can try and fit in the slot that exit of Indian batting trio (Sachin, Dravid & Laxman) would create, the breeding ground of these successors still remains the docile wickets that hardly test the ingenuity of a player. The standard of domestic cricket stands exposed when youngsters are blooded into our national team and made to slug it out against fiercely competitive opponents who outperform them in all department of the game. Change in domestic structure alone would not suffice unless the turfs on which our budding talent plays are revamped to create a level playing field for both seamers and leather hunters. There ought to be more overseas fixtures with other cricket playing nations especially for India A and under-19 teams to give them exposure in terms of nature of wickets, climatic conditions and chance to guage the difference in quality of international teams.

The present lot, dubbed as the best available, bereft of any fitness issues and touted as having the best chance of drubbing Australians in their backyard, is completely bewildered and rattled by the Aussie quickies. The top order is clueless in negotiating the lateral movement of the cherry as if they seem to have developed glaring deficiency in technique. For some, the deliveries invariably go past the huge gap between their bat and the pads to dislodge the stumps, others love to fiddle with away swingers to be lapped up in the slip cordon and the rest hardly move their feet to reach out to play the ball and literally swing their willow relying on the eye-hand coordination as if it were a golf stick. The likes of Sachin, Dravid and Laxman who are most accomplished of the lot have all been bowled through the gate on most occasions. They certainly need to tighten their technique and lead by example. Agreed that this trio had amassed tons of runs around the world but reflexes and footwork tends to slowdown with age. Perhaps, the time to hang their boots is just around the corner. Its just not the technique to nit-pick but the temperament that has let down the Indian team as well. Willingness to graft patiently and letting go the bait that is pitched outside the off-stump should be a part of Test batsmen’s armoury. Going into test matches without shrugging limited overs approach, is bound to result in wrapping up of a Test within four days.

Proving their mettle on dusty spinning tracks at home as well as on green tops overseas where the ball wobbles in air and after pitching, can only bring about consistency and give an impetus to reaching the top echelon of Test cricket rankings again. The argument that every cricket playing nation plays to their strength and have the prerogative to prepare wickets suitable to their style, is fine. But, invincibility at home only induces a false notion of being the best and dismal performances abroad, crumbles the team morale thereby making them surrender matches meekly rather than looking to reverse the loosing streak. Media commentators too can contribute a bit in taking the burden off the Indian team by being modest in their expectations instead of going ballistic in sensing victory before the series gets underway.

Thus, the choice between remaining complacent in winning home series convincingly but looking forelorn on away tours and being a formidable team irrespective of opponents they are pitted against on any soil, is for BCCI to make. But, the first option shall tantamount to cheating millions of Indian fans who worship the game and depriving them of seeing their heroes reach absolute glory in Test cricket.

Desolate Sporting Affairs

India will figure prominently this year on the sporting calendar as it hosts commonwealth games and hockey world cup.. With these prestigious events on the cards, the onus of scrupulous planning and execution brings forth a mammoth challenge. The commonwealth organizing committee is already feeling the heat to put up with deadlines as precursors in the form of squabbles and apprehensions over timely completion of infrastructure have raised serious doubts over its progress.

In retrospect, none can forget the glorious memories etched in our minds of Asian games, the magnitude of which perhaps was colossal way back in 1982. The accolades it garnered for splendor on display, state of art sports complexes, accommodation villages and the exquisite precision in coordinating the event right from inauguration to the closing ceremony was seen as a new chapter in our sporting history. There were some impressive performances from Indian contingent to take pride in that helped amass a decent medal tally too. This spectacle laid foundation for many sporting extravaganzas that were to follow and bestowed us the status of excellent hosts.

Over time, organizing apparatus was expected to run like well oiled machinery and in fact endeavor to surpass the benchmark set earlier. The commonwealth platform being so gigantic, preparations should have been underway with diligence and alacrity. Instead, the build up to the event is marred by controversy and under preparedness. And this concern was expressed by none other than Chief Minister of Delhi. Though, assurances from Mr. Kalamadi allay those fears, any lapse would severely dent the country’s reputation and have far reaching implications as far as bidding for future events is concerned.

Apart from the project execution glitches, there is hardly any consolation from Indian sporting arena itself. With world cup round the corner, Men’s Hockey team was at loggerheads with its governing body over non-payment of dues and threatened to boycott the tournament. The federation claiming to be bereft of money was imposing upon players to choose between playing for national pride and money. The impasse finally got resolved with sponsors doling out funds and IHF promising to fulfill their demands before the start of world cup. At last someone, realized that governing body is inconsequential in their scheme of things but Hockey as our national sport cannot be snubbed.

It is not as if other disciplines are unscathed by controversy. The tussle between administrators and sportsmen continues to brew. The rifle association has gone ahead and selected teams for two successive world cups which excludes the Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra citing the pretext of his absence from team selection trials. The bone of contention here was the international scores that were not being considered to qualify his inclusion in Indian squad. Eventually, only when feelers of Bindra mulling to quit the game surfaced that association agreed to take international scores into account as eligibility criteria but not before squandering the prospect of a medal in impending events.

These developments are a pointer to complete insensitivity towards players by sports administrators who are from political or bureaucratic arena and govern the game without any understanding of it. The view to alienate politics from sport and having professional managers at the helm too has its pitfalls. Barring Cricket and Tennis, most other disciplines practically have no visibility, making sponsorship deals hard to come by. With restricted budget allocations, promoting other sports to the fore is extremely difficult. Here political clout comes in handy to pull a few strings and bring in sponsors, which a professional might not be able to wield.

Expecting sport to thrive in penury, exhorting players to just subsist on national pride, interference in technical aspects of training (in Bindra’s case) by incompetent people at helm of affairs and holding back rewards has crippled the sporting culture of our nation. Come what may, restoring equilibrium in sports management is critical, else the rot shall never stem and might have a spill over effect.

Saurav : An Emphatic Comeback

It’s been a while since I wielded pen to scribble anything. I would wonder often, whether I could bring back the old flair for words and then ponder again as to what shall be the subject, I can easily piece together my thoughts about. And finally, I made up my mind that it has to be Indian Cricket with a special mention on how determination catapulted the fledgling career of the most successful ex-captain of team India. Well, you guessed it right. I am referring to none other than Saurav Ganguly.

I have never been an ardent fan of Saurav myself, though he amassed thousand of runs in one day format of the game and has a decent average in tests too. Somewhere there always seemed to be a flaw in his technique when it came to handling the short pitched stuff and his lackadaisical fielding always overshadowed his superlative offside strokes which very few in the game could match. This is not to take away the positive attributes ingrained in him. Leadership skills is on such area where he actually left a mark and was instrumental in making India get back to winning ways on overseas tours by backing youth and discovering quite a few talented cricketers.

But, the unfortunate slump in form for extended period and ongoing skirmishes with Greg Chappel on Zimbabwe tour, blew open the Pandora’s box and gave clues to what actually was ailing Sourav’s form. From there, began his excruciating journey. One side had, media hounding him with awkward questions and cricket experts pronouncing the end of his tryst with International cricket and on the other were his staunch supporters from Bengal taking to the streets, protesting against the injustice meted out by BCCI. Chappel and Kiran More (then Chairman of Selectors) were looked upon as the men responsible for keeping the Bengal Tiger at bay. From captaining the side, to being labeled as a disintegrating force in the team, he was finally relegated to playing domestic cricket and made to prove his mettle with the bat again.

It would have been easier to hang up his boots and call it quits rather than facing the brewing storm of criticism and lamenting public. Instead, he left no stone unturned in proving to the cynics that he is made of steel. Remaining unruffled and maintaining composure in such trying circumstance is a huge task. I just wonder how nerve racking it would have been each time he stepped on the ground to bat whilst he knew each failure would push him further into oblivion. Imagine the kind of ego pounding and embarrassment he had to sustain to be playing alongside second rung cricketers who once looked upon him with awe.

Any faint hearted person would have crumbled under the scathing attack from all quarters but true to his bestowed title, Saurav maintained the rhetoric in his interviews that he still had few years of cricket left in him and fought the lonely battle to stage a comeback like a tiger. Come to imagine his plight of being marooned by his own Indian team mates who never were forthcoming in patting his back because there was a lurking fear of being castigated for belonging to Saurav’s camp. Nevertheless, his resolute nature and belief in his capabilities saw him gaining in confidence with each domestic game he played which contributed significantly to Bengal’s team cause.

Of course, the change in regime of selection panel and induction of Colonel Vengsarkar as Chairman brought about a fresh leash of hope for Saurav who by then had a string of strong performances to show. And, how could all the hard work go in vein. The results fructified in the form of a berth in Team India test squad. This came at a time when India had a sound drubbing against South Africa in ODI’s and needed an experienced player who could provide solidity in batting line up. Not only was it a golden opportunity to cement his place in the team but also to get back at all the critics who wrote him off.

And, what a comeback it was. There was determination writ large on his face and one could see a totally changed persona of this cricketer. Showing remarkable patience while at the crease, willing to grind it out for the team cause and shouldering immense responsibility was his hallmark. He not only justified his place in the team but also silenced his detractors thus bringing to the fore his commitment towards the game and accurate judgement of his where-withal.

Since then, he hasn’t looked back. With brilliant knocks under his belt both against Srilanka and West Indies, he now looks all set to make an indelible mark on the world cup stage. Whether it was the jolt of being dropped from the team or having to prove a point that did the trick is difficult to say. But in all earnestness, emerging victorious against all adversity is no mean feat and I am sure Saurav’s stature as a cricketer must have gone quite a few notches higher in the eyes of India fans.