The typical, Indian chalta hai attitude

Published : Nov 13, 2004 00:00 IST

The Indian team is not falling apart, but some stitches in the seam have come loose. The truth is the system must change and this team must renew itself. Anything else and India will creep out of the sunlight and back into the dark ages, writes ROHIT BRIJNATH.

IN the end, and not without considerable irony, Australia in a sense got the pitch it wanted. After all, from the day before the first Test in Bangalore, paranoid reports flew wildly across the internet of "India unashamedly doctoring the wicket". Of course, it wasn't true. In Mumbai, finally it was, and there was reason to carp. Whatever, it was a disgrace.

Curators and officials in Nagpur and more so in Mumbai need reprimanding for something is askew if the home side is unhappy with two of four wickets, even if the last brought them unlikely victory. It does our reputation and cricket's no good to produce a strip of earth where batting becomes the equivalent of the roll of a Las Vegan dice. Winning for once did not sit as sweetly on the tongue.

Of course, officials will look the other way, for professionalism does not sit comfortably in their vocabulary. Even the heavens wept in Mumbai at the sight of the pitch and you'd think officials would be in a hurry to cover its unsightly presence. But, no, even that simple task was carried out in agonising slow motion, a reaffirmation that Indian cricket is content to function with a chalta hai attitude.

In the end, a laughing, angelic Sydneysider, produced such irrepressible magic that no doubt his next trick will be a hurdling of the Grand Canyon. After all, is there anything Michael Clarke cannot do? He takes blinding catches, tosses up the ball and is rewarded with 6-9 and bats like a saucy teenager who delights in breaking his neighbours' windows. This is a cricketer constructed under God's full attention.

Clarke evokes memories of an early Becker, or a teenage Ronaldo, all attractive, exuberant skill and boundless energy, unbound for this fleeting moment by expectation, youth uncorrupted by fame, just advertising his singular elation at being given this opportunity to show the world who he is. When Clarke plays, you can feel his laughing pleasure and there is more than a suggestion of greatness to him.

In the end, India, while losing the series, refound some of its nerve as a team, turning away from outside cynicism to embrace self-belief and play for each other. In such a dismal series for so many, only pride was left to play for and it was partially reclaimed.

After a starting 104 in the first innings, victory appeared out of reach, but old men awoke from temporary slumber to bat with a promise we knew they had and young men grabbed the ball to reaffirm they are made of stern stuff. But still it was not so much skill they showed but heart, not so much cricketing expertise but defiance. That in their minds they had not accepted defeat was in itself beautiful to behold.

Although the series was lost, hope has not abandoned India completely, the signs are unsettling but not completely dispiriting. The bowlers have carried on like tireless warriors, and in Harbhajan's renaissance, Zaheer's revival, Kumble's continued doggedness, Kartik's valour after a hiding in Australia, there is powerful satisfaction.

Still, it cannot mask India's frailties and growing mumbling within the dressing room. The batting collapses at home have been mystifying and even dedicated crystal ball readings may not sufficiently explain such collective losses of form.

Cynics bellowed after the Nagpur Test for a complete revamp of the batting line-up, a call driven more by rage than logic. Apparently it is felt in some quarters that inexperienced youngsters could no worse than those already selected, but that is nonsense and Gautam Gambhir might himself tell them so.

Of course, no disrespect must be paid to the debutant opener, but he gives us an idea of the woes India faces. After all, what in the Indian system makes such a batsman ready for a baptism that includes a miserly McGrath and a galloping Gillespie. Has he played even close to the quality of such fast bowlers before, has his batting been honed on sensible wickets, how often has he had the opportunity to play against Indian team members in domestic cricket, has he ever had his batting examined on video, has he been privy to a professional fitness trainer? Is he the product of a plan or a hopeful fluke?

Or must we merely hope that another Sehwag blows in from an unknown suburban lane full of arrogant ability? The system is failing and the officials are not well equipped in the science of resuscitation. Indeed, only within the team has some semblance of professionalism come to stay.

In a land content to embrace cricketing exaggeration it is no surprise this Indian team is not as good as we believed — it is yet to win a series overseas in the literal sense — yet neither is it as insipid as we now claim. Wright and Ganguly and Leipus and Dravid have helped energise this team and set it somewhat on the path to greater things: the coach has brought discipline and professionalism; the trainer has helped them learn to turn left to the gym instead of right to the restaurant; the captain has been defiant in demanding a team of his choice and nurturing young fellows; the vice-captain has been a role model in every way possible, from punctuality to work ethic.

They have done reasonably well, but carry a powerful irony with them; in most countries such a team would be a reflection of the system; in India, we hope, mostly vainly, that the system will be educated by this team.

This team must keep reinventing itself, never slipping into complacency, renewing itself with fresh and resilient young blood, discovering refreshing alternatives to men whose time it is to leave. We know that, but just do not know how. Australia does, for it has forged not just a dynasty but learnt to keep it going by judicious replenishments.

India, for instance, has need for not one opener but two, for Sehwag will agree it is not his preferred role. India, in less time than it believes it has, will require replacements for Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly. Disaster is heading our way and we are yawning.

After all, who will drive change, who will take responsibility for hard decisions, who will be the architect of a new era? Can a politician's son who leads the BCCI demand a blueprint and will he understand one when given it; furthermore, is there anyone to craft it; will Jagmohan Dalmiya write a future of us when the BCCI can't even award television rights (a routine function) without it becoming a national disgrace; will treasurer Jyoti Bajpai do something more than warm a seat on the BCCI longer than some players' life-spans; will selectors, who have played chequers with Yuvraj and Chopra and left both shorn of confidence, draft sensible change. We are entitled to be nervous.

Leipus is departing, John Wright's tenure will come to an end one of these days, and has any official got bored of discussing political alignments in the board to ponder succession and the need for a smooth handover.

Furthermore, we don't need the Australians to widen the cracks in the team. An Indian team member apparently told an Australian selector that Ganguly suffers from "greenwicket-itis", and irrespective of the truth of the charge, only we can wound ourselves further when already bleeding. Already there is talk of a gentle hum of discontent among young men in the team about Ganguly's absence from the two Tests, but are these fellows ready to offer themselves up as leadership alternatives? It is pointless to hysterically call for Ganguly's head and conveniently erase his accomplishments, but in a hypothetical scenario, even if Dravid, the obvious choice, took over from Ganguly, it would be a 2-3 year solution; and then who would follow? Sehwag and Harbhajan?

Both men are finely skilled but captaincy is not about a boundary struck or ball turned; it is about people management, setting the standard at the gym, in what they eat, in the way they conduct themselves, in their discipline at nets, in their dealings with media, in their leadership at team meetings. At present, Harbhajan on the field is a picture of intemperate behaviour, and Sehwag's occasional rashness with the bat does not echo the responsibility a captain must display. These men have potential but must step up and take the load from the shoulders of older men.

The Indian team is not falling apart, but some stitches in the seam have come loose. Soon enough, if they are successful against South Africa and Pakistan, some might see this tour as a distant bad dream, a mere hiccup, but that, too, would be an escape from reality. The truth is the system must change and this team must renew itself. Anything else and India will creep out of the sunlight and back into the dark ages.

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