Monday, August 11, 2014

Nobody cares about Test Cricket



Its 11 pm on a Saturday night. India has just lost a test match to England and have fallen behind 1-2 in the five match test series.  Winning and losing are parts of the game but this defeat is very depressing. India has lost the test in two and half days and India’s two innings have not even lasted a combined 90 overs. It has been a spineless, gutless and a worthless performance.  At the post match presentation, being conducted by one of the world’s finest cricket commentators- Michael Atherton, MS Dhoni puts up a brave face. But two things that he says stand out. He first says that he is happy with the progress made by his team.  This after India has lost 19 out of the last twenty sessions played in the test series. This after his team lost 4 wickets for no runs in the first innings and 4 wickets for 9 runs in the second. Then with a straight face Dhoni says “ one of the positives  is that the test has ended in three days so we get two days of rest “. 
That is when the thought strikes me.
 India does not care about test cricket. We don’t care about test cricket.

A week back, when the third test was being played at Southampton, Indian cricket was in a much happier space.  India put a terrific show at Lords to win the second test. And although England had made 569 at the Ages Bowl, India seemed to be fighting back through a good partnership between the two  Mumbai boys, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane and were placed at 210/4.  5 minutes before tea Rohit Sharma, on 28 charges down to Moeen Ali and plays the most horrendous shot possible and gets out. A few minutes after Tea, Ajinkya Rahane tries to slog one to deep midwicket and is caught.  India never recovers, concedes a lead of 260 and loses early on the fifth day.  At the end of the third day, Ajinkya Rahane is specifically asked if he regrets that shot and the manner of his dismissal. He shrugs and says “These things happen”. No regret. No disappointment. Slogging a part time off spinner to midwicket and getting out at crucial junctures supposedly is normal for the Indian Cricket team.

But then we don’t care about test cricket.

Virat Kohli came to England with a stellar reputation. He was considered by many as the best batsman in the world. He had all the shots in the book and had made runs everywhere. His ability has never been in doubt. He has had a tough series in England. That’s acceptable and understandable because most batsmen go through such phases in international cricket. At the end of the fourth day at the Ages bowl, Kohli gave a television interview. He said he was not to be blamed for his poor form and there was not much he could do since he was nicking everything early on. This from a man who cried his eyes out when India got knocked out of the 2012 T20 World Cup. This from a man, whose  anger is very visible, when his franchise loses an IPL game.  For him his poor form in England was something he could not do much about.Ofcourse he couldn’t do much and we couldn’t do much.

We don’t care about Test Cricket.

The period between 2007 and 2011 was a golden period for Indian test cricket. We won in England, West Indies and New Zealand. We came back undefeated from South Africa and Sri Lanka. We won test matches at Perth and Durban.  We were the number 1 test team in the world. The slide and decline of Indian Test Cricket started in England in 2011. Prior to that series an Indian team had gone to the West Indies to play a test series. This was after the success of the 2011 World Cup and after the IPL was played.  Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan all chose to play the IPL but decided to skip the test series in the West Indies.  India lost in England for want skill, commitment and attitude.  The lack of desire and attitude was manifested in the reluctance of the stars not to play test cricket in the West Indies and get ready for the England tour. We noticed that but we did not comment /criticise or opine on it. We were happy that the stars were playing our home twenty twenty tournament. Of course we would be.

We don’t care about test cricket.

The decline of Indian test cricket started in England in 2011. Since then India has played 16 test matches outside of the India. India has lost 12 of them, drew 3 and won only one. That’s a diabolical record for country claiming to be a leader in the game of cricket. What is even more disturbing is the fact that no attempt has been, no initiative taken to try and find out the reasons for this ineptitude and try and rectify them. When Australia lost the Ashes in 2011, they  formed an Argus committee and made changes to the structure of their cricket based on the recommendations of that committee. When England lost the Ashes 0-5 this year, their chief coach and batting coach were replaced, their star batsman was sacked and their captain nearly lost his job. When Australia lost 0-4 against India they sacked their coach. You may agree or disagree with some of these decisions but they at least show a desire and intent to improve. India has taken no such steps. Infact the president of the BCCI in an interview to cricinfo.com justified these defeats by stating that the test matches were played on ‘super fast wickets’. It is unlikely that even now an Indian board will take any steps to find out the reason for this pathetic show. But why should they do anything.

We don’t care about Test Cricket.
  
MS Dhoni is an impressive personality. He is, in my view, India’s best ever limited overs batsman. He is also a very impressive limited overs captain. But he is also, in my view, one of India’s worst test match captains. Apart from the record stated above, all of which has occurred under the leadership of Dhoni, India has allowed dominating positions in test matches slip away on many occasions. At Cape Town in 2011, at Trent Bridge in 2011, at Melbourne in 2011, at Durban in 2013 and Wellington in 2014, normal basic test cricket would have seen India win test matches. Instead on each of those occasions India allowed the opposition to recover and dominate. Even in this series some of Dhoni’s tactics have been bizarre. The idea of playing Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin as your front line spinner was strange but the idea of asking Jadeja bat ahead of Stuart Binny and Ravichandran Ashwin lacked any sense of logic. At Southampton, Jadeja was bowling with 7 fielders on the onside inside the second session on the first day. At Manchester, India, needing early wickets on a seaming track, opened their bowling with Ravindra Jadeja.  Shane Warne has called Dhoni’s captaincy bizarre. Saurav Ganguly has called it poor. Ian Chappell, perhaps the most brilliant cricketing mind alive, has repeatedly called for Dhoni to be removed. But among the Indian cricket board and the Indian cricket selection committee, there is no discussion or debate on Dhoni’s captaincy. And why should there be one.

We don’t care about Test Cricket.

Mohinder ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath was one of India’s greatest batsmen. In 1983, playing 8 test matches away from home against Imran, Sarfaraz, Holding, Roberts, Garner and Marshal, he scored 600 runs , making everyone unanimously declare that he is the best player of fast bowling in the world. Jimmy Paaji was a selector when India lost 8 consecutive test matches to England and Australia in 2011/12. Always believing in calling a spade a spade, Amarnath declared that Dhoni should be replaced as captain of the test team. Two months later he was sacked as the selector of the Indian Cricket team. Indian cricket does not like people who tell the truth. Commentators tell us whata brilliant place Indian cricket is. We are told that the IPL is a magnificent event. We are told that  our players are the best in the world. Nobody tells the BCCI what’s wrong. Nobody discusses captaincy on Indian television. Nobody discusses selection. After India lost 0-8 to England and Australia, there were no calls for review, debate, discussion about selection, captaincy, domestic cricket structure etc. Why would anybody do that?
  
We don’t care about test cricket.

Of course all of this is my perception. I may be totally wrong. May be Indian cricket does care about test cricket. May be currently every single Indian cricketer in England is hurt and disappointed. But India are doing the fundamentals wrong. They are dropping slip catches.  They are bowling with a defensive mindset. Batsman are throwing their wickets away after being set. The basic application and temperament required to succeed at Test Cricket seems to be lacking. And when the conditions are hostile, there seems to be a lack of desire to fight. The Indian cricket team is like a brilliant student who appears for a mathematics exam without any preparation. Through his brilliance, he may get one or two problems solved but the chances of consistent success are slim.  It almost as if they don’t care. And that has led to this perception.
We don’t care about test cricket.

Last summer in England, India played some stunning one day cricket to win the Champions Trophy.  Early this year, they played some very good cricket to reach the finals of the world T20.India will always have success in the shorter formats of the game. Unfortunately for history to recognise you as a serious cricket team, you need to succeed at the longer version of the game. Arjuna Ranatunga’s Sri Lanka dominated world one day cricket in the late nineties. Imran Khan’s  Pakistan won the one day world cup in 1992. But when analysts and experts debate the great teams of the modern era these teams are not even considered. Clive Lloyd’s West Indians and Steve Waugh’s Australians are considered the greatest and this is based only on their test match success.

It is unlikely that an Indian Cricket team will be spoken of in the same breath as the above teams. But I  believe that  people  who run Indian Cricket currently will  not  lose any sleep over it.

I have said it a lot and I say it again. We don’t care about test cricket.

6 comments:

Tanmay said...

Well done mate. Exceptionally well written.

Anoop said...

Very well written. You should take to writing on cricinfo

Rajesh said...

Reflects our sentiments so well - wish cricinfo allows some form of visitor blogs...deserves to be read a lot more..very well written...

Shraven Kumar said...

Well written mate. Keep posting.

Hemant Kulkarni said...

Blunt and ruthlessly accurate. Technique and temperament are best tested in Test cricket. From the bcci board to the cricket field, there is no evidence of this.

chrispscricket said...

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The cricket blogger survey | Declaration Game cricket blog
https://chrispscricket.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/the-cricket-blogger-survey/