Ups and downs are part of every sport and cricket is no exception. Great cricket teams of the past have been associated with a certain aura and a feeling of invincibility. Case in point, the West Indies team of the 1970s and the Australian team of the early 2000s. Rankings of today are not the rightful indicators of a team’s performance, yet they make a subtle point. Today, India is ranked 5th among the test playing nations. With a rating of 102, they are ranked below their arch rivals Pakistan, who despite their lack of home advantage, are ranked 4th with a rating of 103.
When India toured England for a four match test series in 2011, they started as the No.1 ranked team with a star studded batting line-up and an okay-ish bowling attack. Six weeks later, their pace spearhead had already pulled out of the series due to a hamstring, their batting was in shambles except for one superhuman gentleman (literally, as he did everything apart from rolling his arm over) called Rahul Dravid and their team morale was utterly shattered and considerably beyond recovery.
For a team which was on the high of a limited overs World Cup victory after 28 years, it was a fall that can be best described using a mathematical graph with a near to vertical slope (although it is undefined, it pretty much stands for this case). Soon after the debacle, the explanations and excuses followed. People listed excessive cricket, player fatigue/ burnout as reasons and some of them even had the atrocity to blame the pitches for assisting excessive swing and seam, a traditional chink in the Indian batting armoury. Yet, for all the hullabaloo that emerged, the bottomline was that India, being the top test ranked team, lost 4-0 to an opposition who was very well prepared and came out all guns blazing. On the other hand, India looked under-prepared, burdened and lost.
So much so that they had to recruit a seam bowler midway through the series, who until a week earlier, was partying on the beaches of Miami. Predictably, R.P.Singh’s first ball after his comeback was a dud, bouncing three times before it reached the batsmen. The delivery was called a dead ball and the stands were filled with laughter, with people wondering if this was a joke.
Throughout the series, India never managed to score more than 300 in eight innings, with only Dravid managing to get to the three figure mark thrice, with a top score of 146. Two of the losses were innings defeats while the other two featured huge losing margins of 196 and 319 runs respectively. Probably the only time when they had England on the mat was in the first innings of the 2nd test, when Ishant Sharma ran through the English top order to reduce them to 88/6. Stuart Broad then played a fighting knock of almost run-a-ball 64 to lift England’s spirits. He came back to claim 6-46 with the ball with an economy of 1.96; a spell that is remembered for sharp, incisive seam bowling. India never really recovered from this onslaught.
Incidentally, this series started a period of steep decline for India in tests, with yet another whitewash against a rampaging Australian side down under and a shock series defeat at home against England. In retrospect, India’s rise to the top of the test rankings was a painstakingly slow process. It took years of toil for stalwarts like Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble to lift India to the top. Yet, the slide to the bottom was pretty swift and shocking rather than surprising.
Three years later, Indian cricket has moved on. The greats have bowed out. The young guns are establishing themselves and the pain of those humiliating defeats is just a memory. Barring MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma, none of the other squad members have played Test cricket in England, let alone being a part of that horror series. Yes, the squad does not carry the burden of defeats, but then it is also largely short of experience. Among the batsmen, MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir have played 81 and 54 test matches respectively. Ishant Sharma, for all his unfulfilled potential, is the only bowler to have crossed the 50 tests landmark.
Preparations to the tour seem to be on track, with the BCCI resting most of the squad members for India’s tour of Bangladesh. For obvious monetary reasons, it values the IPL participation of its stars more important than an international fixture against Bangladesh. Probably the BCCI is aware of the fatigue factor and deems it necessary to send a mentally fresh squad to the series. While Bangladesh might be crying foul over the lack of interest shown by the Indian board, it at least provides a much needed rest to the players.
From an Indian fan’s perspective, this is an exciting series. An opportunity to redeem the lost glory. With an exciting bunch of players, most notably the batsmen, India has the chance to start its ascendancy to the summit. Make no mistake, this series is not the platform to avenge the humiliation of the past. Sport has no place for revenge sagas. Rather, it is a chance to recover the lost respect and re-establish the faith and pride among the supporters.
To quote Confucius:
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.
India has not won an overseas test for about three years now. Trent Bridge looks like the perfect place to start.Share this post