India must build on its good work

Two weeks ago, in this column, I suggested India required a miracle to win the final. Australia, whose ruthlessness suggests they drink pure bull's blood at the drinks break, erased that possibility in the first over of a 100-over final.

ROHIT BRIJNATH

Two weeks ago, in this column, I suggested India required a miracle to win the final. Australia, whose ruthlessness suggests they drink pure bull's blood at the drinks break, erased that possibility in the first over of a 100-over final. After five overs, Indian hands were being wrung in embarrassment; after 10, we were reduced to saying, and not incorrectly, India had done well to merely get to the final; after 15 overs the match had effectively concluded.

When Damien Martyn was struck down with a broken finger, much of his counselling in a time of despair came from former wicketkeeper Ian Healy and slip-catcher Allan Border, both of whom have nursed similar injuries in their time. — Pic. AP-

On a dismal Sunday, the Australians confirmed the obvious: everyone else plays cricket, they play a game we are not familiar with. If there is something they do not do well on the field, it is hard to remember. Even their behaviour, the stick we continue to beat them with, was close to impeccable. This was one-day cricket in its purest form.

Nevertheless, next week or next month, when Ricky Ponting and coach John Buchanan sit down to review their performance, there will be little gloating and even less back-slapping. If anything, they will seek out their flaws. Already Buchnanan has said: "I don't subscribe to the fact that we have taken the game to a new level," he said. "We can get better, no question, in every part of the game. If we sit back, we will do world cricket a disservice."

It is this craving for perfection India must embrace. If it sits still, then it is doing itself a disservice. We have the momentum and a cupful of self belief, and an interesting mix of young players of fierce ambition and older ones of restored spirit, and it must be built on. We must not succumb to the flattery that we more or less beat every other team, for champions do not find solace in almost-triumphs. The standard we must aspire to is Australia... .. they believe they have no opposition but themselves. We must change their mind.

It is going to take time, maybe a generation, it will take wisdom, it will take a concerted effort from a team, its board, former players and the public. These are exciting times, but for India to inch forward everyone must play a hand.

The public must demand the best from its team, but it must back them too. This rapid-fire exchange of garlands for rotten tomatoes does neither our team's confidence nor reputation any good. Emotion has its value, but so does practicality. World-class teams arrive from patience and planning, never from hysteria.

Former players, many who dispense wisdom in front of a microphone, should be encouraged to do so at the Indian nets as well. A rift between team and commentator serves no purpose; egos must be locked away and loud voices hushed for the sake of Indian cricket. The game is bigger than players both past and present.

Former players need to build trust with this team, to encourage them to write a better history than they did. Similarly, to read a quote from Parthiv Patel, a schoolboy finding his way, that he did not need ask advice from outsiders because there were enough wise men in the team, is nothing less than silly. There are things Gavaskar knows about footwork and Shastri about attitude that others do not.

When Damien Martyn was struck down with a broken finger, much of his counselling in a time of despair came from former wicketkeeper Ian Healy and slip-catcher Allan Border, both of whom have nursed similar injuries in their time. Not every former Australian player has affection for the present team, but they are quick to help when the call comes. They understand that the cause is Australia not themselves.

It is time too for officials to stop posturing and come to the party. We are too busy sparring with the ICC and helping to widen the gap between East and West rather than reduce it. Of course, there are battles that need to be fought, but if India is the engine room of cricket we must behave accordingly. Dignity is lacking, so is foresight. While we are busy sledging Mike Denness, whether rightly or wrongly, it takes our attention away from what must be done. The team is organised, disciplined, committed; but it is no good if the official world around them is not.

Soon Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble will be gone; in five years, maybe a little longer, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly will follow. The batsmen especially have much to offer India still and no one is suggesting their retirement. Merely, that when they go, when age defeats them, we must not be left wringing our hands. We should mourn their passing but fill their places and carry on. Yet we continue to function more on prayer than preparation.

That we have got this far at the Cup, and have been competitive in Test cricket, is itself miraculous. Why is Dravid keeping, why is there no bevy of spinning options beyond Harbhajan, why don't we have young pace bowlers to push Zaheer and Nehra, why don't we have a set Test opening pair, why isn't our bench as strong as Australia's where the absence of Waugh, Warne, Gillespie makes no impact... .these questions stand amid a hundred others. The board must answer.

We have spoken about pitches till we have tired of it, we have discussed the need for a schedule that allows Indian players to participate in the Ranji Trophy till our vocal chords have cried for rest, we have talked about qualified fitness trainers attached to state teams till even our wives have cried stop. But we can't, till someone listens. Half of the present Indian team plays cricket standing with feet cemented and bat flailing away, yet we see no cause for worry. There is much to do and this is not the time yet for congratulation.

We will never be like the Australians in some ways and that is fine. They have a certain resilience, a hunger for physical competition and toughness that is embedded in the national character. These are fellows with a rhino's hide, whose only occasional weakness is their conduct.

But they are not born cricketers. Instead, they are presented with a superb infrastructure, top-class coaching, an intense domestic competition, a reasonable schedule and fine rewards. They are given the best, and thereafter the public has every right to expect the best of them.

This system, with the necessary modifications to suit India, can be replicated, and it is evidently worth aspiring to. We have the money and the manpower, but we lack the intent. Greatness cannot be bought at a shopping mall, it must be designed painstakingly over time.

Get Shastri and Ganguly, Manjrekar and Tendulkar, Gavaskar and Wright, Ian Chappell and Bob Simpson, players and administrators, coaches and bio-mechanists, psychologists and fitness trainers, Indian and foreign, young and old, and let's design a future for India.

Let's go into the 2011 World Cup, not relying on hope and good fortune, but assured that from a fine system we have produced a fine team that is ready to take on the world.

Australia needs someone to battle it for supremacy. Let's be that someone.