The stale side-in-transition theory

SO once again India have underperformed and once again, India are a side in transition. I don't understand that and I don't think anyone needs to. To underperform is not a crime, all of us go through those phases, it is merely a mistake that needs to be acknowledged and rectified. However, to look for reasons for such underperformance elsewhere, and not within, is a major crime.

India have been a side in transition ever since I started covering cricket. As a statement, it made the movement from admissible fact to pitiable excuse long ago. Now it sounds pathetic. Even the only other statement that can match it for irritability, rukawat ke liye khed hai, from the dark days of Doordarshan has vanished. One day, when Sachin Tendulkar puts his feet up and talks to his teenage grandson, his newspaper will say that India are a side in transition!

When I started Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath were going out and for a lot of us that was unthinkable. We fell for the transition theory like eager guinea pigs. Then, even the perennially youthful Kapil Dev went into decline and out went Srikkanth, Vengsarkar, More and Shastri and surely that had to be a transitory phase. We accepted Raj Singh Dungarpur's team of the 90s theory with great confidence. By 1996, players were coming into the Indian team faster than their shirts could be printed and they were going faster than the dye on them could dry.

Rathour, Dharmani, Joshi, Mhambrey, Kulkarni, Chauhan, Johnson, Ganesh, Kuruvilla, Kapoor, Somasundar, just to name a few. That surely was transition. And now we are in transition again! It's a slow train this because people keep coming and going but it never seems to reach its destination!

I think it is time somebody called the bluff, threw the transition theory out of the window and admitted that in the world of cricket we are second graders. Introspection and analysis are no good unless they are accompanied by honesty. What we do with this side-in-transition theory is seek justification for poor performance and apart from being lame that is being dishonest. It is merely passing the buck and that never did anybody any good.

The reason India won three matches out of six in the one-day series against England is that in our conditions, we are a gifted side. And we were up against ordinary opposition. We have a lot of individual talent but we are a poor team and that has been the case for a long time. But, more critically, we need to see why we lost three matches out of six in our conditions. Two reasons stand out provided we are willing to look them in the face and not shut our door on them. We should have got tired of shutting that door on reality by now.

The first is that our youngsters are happy playing breezy cameos but are not willing to take leadership roles. One of our biggest diseases is the desire to stay in the team rather than win matches and I sometimes fear if that is the reason why they find the transition to becoming matchwinners so difficult to make. To some extent they are creatures of our system that emphasises, and rewards, selfish cricket. Tournaments like the Challenger and, to a lesser extent, the Deodhar Trophy are very good at spreading that virus.

The other, more glaring, reason is that we are among the slowest moving sides in world cricket. The point has long been made, and accepted as truth, that fielding, fitness and discipline, contribute more than 50 per cent towards the result of a one-day game. And while India are a very decent catching side we are a very average running side. It is my hypothesis that a 50 per cent increase in hitting the stumps alone will win India 10 per cent more matches. Missing the stumps on a direct hit should be regarded as the equivalent of dropping a catch and if you work on that assumption, see how many lives we allow the opposition.

The real answers lie here and in the attitude of those that are serious about looking for the right answers. That is why the best teams in the world are those that are honest in their analysis. We don't like that word very much in our cricket whether we are assessing results, assessing fitness, selecting teams or allocating venues for matches. Honesty is one of the greatest forces of achieving societies and we ignore that at our peril.

We talk about sides in transition, we offer dubious fitness certificates, we drop players for one reason and state another and we allot matches based on who voted where rather than who deserves them. Certainly shabby stadiums and dubious ticket sales must be a prime reason because the Ferozeshah Kotla keeps getting matches in spite of a terrible track record.

It is time we stopped fooling ourselves and gave the truth a little more prominence. And it is time we started looking for people who care for Indian cricket. That is why I have always held the view that Jagmohan Dalmiya, should he choose to exercise the option, can win more matches for India than Sachin Tendulkar can. Currently our idea of winning one-day matches is to hope that Tendulkar or Sehwag or Ganguly win them and that is the predominant feeling all the way down in domestic cricket. The moment we start thinking that teams, not individuals, win one-day games we will start winning much more. Teams will always win more matches than Tendulkars.

For that we have to look inward. For that Jagmohan Dalmiya has to think about the way our domestic cricket is played with the same passion with which he takes up cudgels against the ICC. The latter isn't wrong but there is more to gain by transferring that passion towards developing the modern game.

Passion and, above all, honesty are the paths to walk on. Currently, in our administration, we have neither. No wonder we keep recycling our side-in-transition theory.