From the archives: To embrace greatness, Indian cricket must reinvent itself

Indian teams rarely go beyond the point of impressing; they do not embrace greatness, for they are not conditioned to chase excellence.

Rahul Dravid’s work ethic is unquestionable, his desire undeniable, but his ability to inspire men to play for him is under discussion. He is not a back-slapping fellow and perhaps India is in search of one.   -  AP

Perhaps this defeat was coming, this exit inevitable. How long were we going dance on the edge of mediocrity and not fall in? How long could a system focused on everything but actual performance on the field carry on unembarrassed? Perhaps our cricket has so fallen in the hope that only such an upheaval could shake us out of our inaction.

Don’t listen to the deal-making men exiting boardrooms with satisfied smiles. We are not a great cricketing nation by the measures that matter. This cup has laid waste to every subcontinental boast (or at least those carried by the two larger nations), it has been an advertisement of our ineptness on field and beyond. The West sees our cricketers as pampered, our officials as slothful and our fans (some of them) as overzealous. It has become increasingly hard to refute.

READ | Dhoni, through the eyes of family, teachers, friends

In a flurry of a fortnight, a coach from the subcontinent has been murdered, Pakistan played a brand of cricket so unskilled it defies description, India’s crew committed batting hara-kiri twice in succession and a photograph of fans breaking parts of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s house was flashed across the world. The stress of coaching, match-fixing, bookies, fickle teams are subjects being discussed again, and mostly as subcontinental afflictions.

The subcontinent views itself as the game’s headquarters, its beating heart. Certainly its enthusiasm fuels the game, its economy enriches even foreign players. And there is no unspoken rule that insists the centre of cricket’s universe must produce its finest team. But certainly you expect progress. As the game’s centrepiece, there must be evidence of sound decisions, a moving forward, a grand ambition with regards to the team. There is little evidence.

ALSO READ | Kuldeep Yadav - the accidental chinaman

So angry, so shamed, so hopeless are Indians feeling about their cricket that the board may feel compelled to offer up a sacrifice. So the coach will be removed, and possibly the captain.

Greg Chappell’s ideas are provocative, but his salesmanship has been unreliable. Individually almost no player has improved during his tenure, and as a team they display no collective nerve. After much shuffling of the order we were left mostly with disorder. By placing himself at centre stage, Chappell put himself in position for all praise, and also every criticism.

Dravid’s work ethic is unquestionable, his desire undeniable, but his ability to inspire men to play fo him is under discussion. He is not back-slapping fellow and perhaps India is in search of one. Sometimes leading by example is not enough. He made his name without anyone holding his hand, but sometimes lesser men need more careful handling. An introspective man must ask himself if he could have done better with this team.

ALSO READ | Hardik Pandya, Team India's soft-hearted killer

Culling coach and captain is easy, but scarcely solves India’s problems. Despite hefty biodata, members of this team have not struck fear in anyone’s heart for a while. It is revealing that in hypothetically choosing a replacement for Dravid, not one young player appears as a suitable candidate. Neither in form, or personality, has anyone stood out. Any year now Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble will be gone and the future is terrifying. A West Indian collapse comes to mind. There is only one captaincy contender and he is the nation’s favourite maverick, Ganguly, who requires all his concentration to keep his batting sharp.

Still, let us place Ganguly with say Mohinder Amarnath, to pick one distinguished name, as coach, and step back.

Is this the beginning of hope and the end of our problems? Could it be so simple? The team may play more energetically for a while, for the sound of new voices and the arrival of fresh ideas is always invigorating. But Indian teams rarely go beyond the point of impressing, they do not embrace greatness, for they are not conditioned to chase excellence.

ALSO READ | Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the antithesis of a Merathiya

In a recent interview in Good Weekend magazine in Australia, swimmer Ian Thorpe disclosed that in his retirement he misses “pain,” that pure, undiluted feeling known mostly to the great athlete. He spoke about how he would push his body so hard, so far, so long that he had to halt and vomit on the side of the pool. “I miss pushing myself to the point where it almost brings you to tears,” he said. It is that desperately that a player must want to become better.

As much as we might censure Chappell for players not advancing under his watch, it might be argued that slothfulness is ingrained in our sporting culture. After all, what stops players from taking it to the next level, what stops them from practising, from running, from vomiting, from fielding till they bleed. What stops them from greatness is sometimes only themselves.

Without excusing the players, eventually so many attitudes they own are not new, but passed down through generations, cemented into the culture. John Wright having to banish the practice of drinking tea on the ground before nets is a tiny but telling example. These attitudes flourish because the system is okay with them, because the system does not encourage greatness.

ALSO READ | 1983 World Cup: When BBC missed Kapil Dev's 'surgical strike' on Zimbabwe

And here lies the heart of India’s cricketing inadequacy. No one in the Indian board has ever been involved in producing a champion sporting team. And no one in the Indian board appears interested in producing a champion sporting team.

What exactly is India the best at? Does it have the best academies? No. The best umpires? No. The best coaches? No. The best range of pitches? No. The best domestic setup? No. The best schedule for its team? No. The best schools programme? No. The best fitness regimes across states? No.

So then, how do we expect the best team? Yet ask those questions about Australia and how many answers come up “yes.”

Until Indian administrators alter their view of themselves, not as masters of the universe but servants of the game (requiring a world record leap of humility), progress will not arrive. Unless they understand the ingredients of excellence; unless they ask themselves, how can we construct the finest team in the world; unless they say, how do we remove these obstacles facing the team, greatness will elude us. If you dissect great sporting dynasties, you often find that everyone, from chairman to office boy to clerk is passionate about the team being the best.

ALSO READ | 2003 World Cup: When Tendulkar's brilliance floored Pakistan in Centurion

Most Indians do not want to hear about financial deals; they want to hear about how we will be a world- class team in 10 years, how we will have a competitive side for the 2011 World Cup. Indians want to see plans, ideas implemented, development, players inspired. Indians are tired of words, they want results.

In his fine essay on Cricinfo before the Sri Lanka match, Sambit Bal wrote: “As an Indian, I would like India to win the World Cup. But it might not be such a bad thing for cricket if they were to be knocked out in the first round. Cricket needs a reality check.”

India’s exit from the cup is a tragedy. It is also a unique opportunity.

(From Sportstar March 31, 2007)