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How Hungry is this Indian Cricket Team?

by achettup

India were decimated in England last summer. The 4-0 whitewash doesn't even begin to describe the complete and utter domination of the English side. The summer seemed to be an unending horror story that just got progressively worse with every step. Each apparent nadir was duly replaced in the following test, until helplessness and hopelessness gave way to a dazed acceptance of the inevitable. Its strange then, that the return series at home, already hyped as India's opportunity to inflict an equally humiliating result on the English, sees only the most ardent of Indian cricket fans expecting a complimentary 4-0 victory margin. Pragmatic fans anticipate a 2-0 scoreline, and some whose mindset has been scarred by the 0-8 results abroad are already looking at potential scapegoats, and rather regrettably the selection panel and the coach have been singled out already.

But what about the team itself, do they believe that they can win every single match against the English at home? They had certainly better be aiming for that, for otherwise what hope or ambition do they carry going into the series? While they might be realistic about the nature of the pitches and the outcomes, they cannot be resigned to a fate wherein it is impossible for them to win all four matches. Forget the demands of a hurt public and the hurt the team should be feeling themselves, to pull themselves out of this rut they must pick themselves up and have the same belief and drive that saw them rise to the summit of the rankings.

England will be quite happy to play for a draw in the first two games, knowing how much pressure that will put on a home-side beleaguered by an impatient, insensitive and sensationalist pack of hounds masquerading as the media, who seem more interested in finding the next head to axe so that they can wax lyrical their tributes and obituaries. If England are to win even one of the matches, that will be victory enough for them. The big question then is, just how badly do India really want to thrash England. In considering this question one is tempted to draw analogies to the absolute hammering the English endured at the hands of the Australians following their first Ashes win in years, back in 2005. I fear however that things could not be more different in making this comparison, but it is still a useful one to analyse.

To begin with, Australia weren't thrashed, they lost an incredibly close and well-contested series. McGrath didn't play in two matches, the only matches England happened to win. But as is usually the case with the English, they went overboard and really laid it thick over the Aussies, for just winning a single test series, the first time in eons. Books, dvds, and all sorts of tributes came in by the truckload, the team was serenaded through the streets as if they'd won the world cup and the players received MBEs. Phil Tufnell was invited to speak at the Allan Border Medals ceremony and used the opportunity to continue making ridiculous jibes. All of this infuriated an Australian team, who quite honestly didn't really need too much inspiration to want to demolish the English.

Nor was this a struggling Australian side, or one that was "transitioning", a few players did want to hang their boots but they were still putting in performances worthy of the most dominant team in modern era. Some, like Warne and McGrath, just seemed to be getting better and better. Even if they wanted to leave, they were too proud to go out without routing the old enemy and putting to rest once-and-for-all all the over-the-top taunts, re-establishing their unquestionable superiority after an ephemeral single series loss. It was this belief, this mindset, this confidence in their own abilities and most importantly, this desire that drove them to the most crushing of revenge series wins, an attitude that seemed to put fear in the minds of the English, who at times appeared like sheep going to the slaughter. Never was this more apparent than in the Adelaide test, where despite scoring 550, Australia and in particular Warne, hunted relentlessly, clinically, focused, ruthless and determined to force an improbably outcome, ultimately making it appear as if it had been conjured from nowhere.

India's rise to the top wasn't the result of dominating the world cricket scene or adopting the arrogant or over-confident mindset that usually accompanies such performances. Rather, India played consistently good, not great, cricket over a period of time while other sides declined or slipped-up. Many talk about the bluster and aggression (or belief if you prefer that term) that the likes of Ganguly, Sehwag, Yuvraj and Harbhajan etc brought to the team, but it is no coincidence that India's golden era occurred while the likes of calm but determined individuals like Dravid, Laxman, Kumble and Tendulkar were guiding a team that had a sensible captain and understanding coach. The rise to the top, perhaps along with the financial success and new-found power from a curiously accommodating board, gave them the belief that they were destined to become the first side to win the world cup at home. Which is why so many found it so hard to some to terms with the abject performances in England and then Australia.

But this was a tired Indian team. The players had hardly had a break after the world cup thanks to the pre-scheduled IPL, and mentally many were jaded. Physically too, a few had sustained injuries. A team that perhaps just wanted to get away from it all, to clear their minds and start over again was never given that chance. Players who were most certainly past their prime didn't seem to want to leave while their side was the best. The delicate fabric that had united the team, the good times and the camaraderie it bred was incinerated after the first few losses and the inability to fight back, spurred on by a slighted media that had an agenda against some players. It wasn't that the players weren't trying, many just weren't there, in the right frame of mind, to mount a suitable counter-attack.

Doom and depression pervaded the dressing room and it seemed to be a sense of "oh no, its happening all over again" when the team went down under. Stupid and irresponsible comments were made, and there seemed to be no attempt to rein in the offenders. Finally, it seemed as if the players were just fed up and didn't care any more. And this is what hurt the most. Would it have been different if Kirsten was around? I honestly don't know, but suddenly all of the teams' problems exploded in public view. It was too much for Indian public who had been basking in the teams' success and had taken much pleasure in "giving it back" to sides that routinely thrashed India in the past, and they turned, as they often do, on the team and demanded heads as if that would magically transform the team overnight.

Which brings us to where the team is today. Stupid comments still seem to be coming out from the camp and there is nothing to indicate that the team has prepared collectively with the same sense of purpose as the Australian side of 2007 did. No camps for the team to prepare mentally, no quiet confidence or silent determination at press conferences. If anything, individuals seem to be pushing for their case every given chance, some even talking about the hurt they felt at the losses as motivation to be picked. Others seem far too pre-occupied with other matters. I honestly hope I'm wrong about all this, but if the intention is to just waltz in and then brag about the 2-0 win that is there for the taking, we could even be looking at losing one test and perhaps worse in the long term, not arresting a debilitating attitude that has crippled this side ever since the middle of the first test in England last year. 

1 comment:

livescore said...

I think it will be difficult for England indeed very difficult for them to beat the Indian at their home ground because they have proved themselves as "the Invincible" from the last couple of calendar years especially at the home ground. Well, it is more a mental fight for England as they have to figure out how to handle such huge pressure and even if they draw this test series then it will be a great victory for them.