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India, non-starter for the World Cup

Cricket commentary


June 7, 2006: Forget how India lifted itself out of a logjam thanks to a Wasim Jaffer century and came within sniffing distance of a victory in the Antigua Test match against West Indies. Forget also how West Indies managed to save a Test that it dominated so much in the beginning. 

Let’s go back a little to the one-day series that India lost 4-1 to West Indies. What is the significance of the ODI series loss? That we still haven’t learnt to win abroad? That we lost to a country that is rungs below us in Test ranking? No, the real significance is that we are not in the list of favourites to win the World Cup that is round the corner. Sad but true that we are non-starters for the game's biggest event. 

Sometime back, when the team was having a winning streak under new skipper Rahul Dravid, coach Greg Chapell was asked if the players have peaked too early. He then dismissed peaking as another ‘phrase’. He may have been right that cricket writers often resort to clichés and concepts to explain the game and these may not have much to do with what actually goes on in the field.

Forget smart catchphrases like peaking. The simple truth is that the Indian team is not a world-beating unit, yet. It’s heartening that even when the line-up is without names like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, we have stars like Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It’s also a good sign that new stars like Suresh Raina and Wasim Jaffer are emerging.

But clearly, bowling is far too inexperienced and fielding nothing to rave about. So, if anybody, within the BCCI or outside, thought that Greg Chappell had all the answers to the World Cup question, God save India. It’ll most probably be an Australia-South Africa final simply because there is no other team worthy of challenging the champions. And no prizes for guessing who will walk away with the cup. 

The 5-1 home series victory against England at home suddenly seems ages ago. A team is only as good as its performance in the last series. 

Wait a minute. If Tendulkar makes it to the team in time? Well, that would save him a few contracts but he is unlikely to make a huge difference. When was the last time we saw him win a ODI with his bat? I simply can’t remember. Oh yes, they talk about the motivating factor that he brings in but is there space for two philosophers in the dressing room? I mean, isn’t motivation Greg’s responsibility?

What then is the best course? Bring back Sourav Ganguly? Well, not really because it is not lack of batsmen that is bothering the team. We have enough batsmen –Dhoni, Yuvraj, Kaif, Dravid, Raina – and what we need is some new strategy that can cover up for bowling inadequacies. 

As spectators, what we can do is not to hope for the cup. That way, we can save some disappointment and more embarrassment.

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