There was great sporting excitement and anticipation two Sundays ago. In London, at The Oval in Kennington, the Indian team had the chance to win the World Test Championship (WTC) final. In Paris at the Roland Garros courts, Novak Djokovic was looking to win the men’s singles title at the French Open and become the first man to win 23 Majors, or “Slams,” as they are now called.
Even with the one-hour time difference between Paris and London, by the time Djokovic and his support staff had reached the change room to warm up at Roland Garros, the Indian challenge at The Oval had been snuffed out by some persistent bowling and forgettable shot selection by the Indian batters. The huge turnout of Indian supporters on a hot Sunday wasn’t even in the mood to eat lunch after seeing the sad capitulation of the Indian batters.
A couple of hours after Australian captain Pat Cummins and his team lifted the ICC mace, Djokovic was lifting the trophy that signified he had won more men’s singles titles in the Majors than anyone else in the history of tennis. That is truly a stupendous achievement in a sport where there are so many youngsters waiting in the wings to take over from the so-called old guard.
At the age of 36, Djokovic knows he is surrounded by eager beavers just waiting for him to slip up so that they can take his place, but the Serbian superstar is not going to let go easily. To read what his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, says about his preparation and practice routine is to understand why the man has won so many titles. Ivanisevic says he and his support staff get tired, but not Djokovic, who wants to practise a few more serves, a few more backhand slices, and a few more forehand drop shots.
While the physical conditioning aspect of a sport where at the Majors a match can go for five hours or more is undoubtedly crucial, what towers above that is the ability to dig deep into the mental reserves and pull yourself up even if you are two sets down and a couple of service breaks down in the third set.
Djokovic has that mental strength, and that’s why in a five-set match he is supreme. The young whipper-snappers can beat the big boys in tournaments that are best of three sets, but when it comes to the Majors, which are decided over five sets, the champions, with their experience and mental strength, can do it round after round.
Going the distance was what was required of the Indian team too, but they were simply not up to it. The reason why the Gabba Test match is such a landmark win is because it was one of those rare occasions where an Indian team not only scored over 300 runs in the fourth innings but also showed the staying power to do so. Whether too much limited-overs cricket has taken away the ability to play the long innings required to chase big totals is something that can be debated all day long. Leave aside chasing, even trying to save a game by batting fourth has often been beyond the current generation of batters.
Now that there’s been disappointment at the WTC, it’s time to look ahead and plan for the next big event, which is the World Cup in India in October and November. Those who have been playing non-stop over the past few months should be given a break to rest their bodies and come back fresh for the new season. Those who are certainties for the Indian team for the World Cup should be rested for the Test series against West Indies so that they get a nice long month and a half break. Since the World Cup is a 50-over contest, they can come back for the white-ball series against West Indies, and after that, there’s going to be white-ball cricket right up until the World Cup.
Indian cricket lovers, including me, have vented at the disappointing result at the WTC, but now it’s time to look forward and back our boys for the big season ahead.
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