Monday, 22 August 2011

Where Do India Go From Here?

It's a tough place to be in when you've lost 4-0. The series has ended in humiliation for India, the number one test ranking has been lost, and there are seemingly no silver lignings to speak of. However, if England have proved anything over the past couple of years, it's that a team can go from a seemingly hopeless situation to the summit of test cricket in not a long space of time, with only a few minor tweaks. So how can India regain their number one ranking and become a successful test team again?

1) Don't accept mediocrity

England have got where they've got by carefully stripping away the chaff to find an exceptional group of players. Yes, this may be a once in a lifetime golden generation of English cricketers, but only the best of the best are tolerated. Throughout the English team are players at the absolute pinnacle - Cook is the best opener in the world, Trott the best number three, Pietersen and Bell the best middle order. Matt Prior is the best wicket-keeper batsman, Swann the best spinner, and the pace attack of Anderson, Broad and Bresnan / Tremlett is the best fast bowling attack going. For a team who came into the series as number one, India have an awful lot of players who aren't really good enough to compete with the world's elite. Raina was out of his depth, Sreesanth and Sharma didn't cut it, and neither Harbhajan or Mishra looked consistently threatening. India must be ruthless and cast aside those who just aren't good enough, in order to bring in young talent who can be.

2) The batting needs a shake-up

It's clear to see that India's batting boasts some of the best run-getters in the history of test cricket. However, the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag and Laxman won't last forever, and to avoid a situation seen with the Australian team post 2007 when all of the legends retired at once, India need to gradually ease a few new names in. Some tough decisions need to be made - at 36 (and 10 months) is VVS Laxman as good as he once was? Is Sehwag? Is Dravid? And heaven forbid, is Sachin? Tought as it may seem, Indian will be better served shifting aside some of the legends in order to move on and look towards the future.

3) Sachin

The cult of Sachin, as it has become known, is weighing heavily on the Indian team. The fact that headlines have been focused more on Sachin's failures to make the elusive hundredth hundred rather than the embarrassment of a 4-0 reverse speaks volumes for the over-arching importance Sachin has in the Indian team. As much as a legend as he is (and make no mistake Sachinistas, before I get death threats, I am not in any way detracting from his past), at the end of the day, Sachin is just one player out of eleven. He is not the be all and end all of the story. While Sachin must bring a lot to proceedings - his experience and calm head in the dressing room for one, it does seem from the outside that some players are unable to cope with the pressure that being even in the same side as Sachin brings. For India today there didn't seem much thought about saving the test - instead all focus was on Sachin's attempt at the 100th 100. As unbelievable a player as he was, and still is, Sachin has become a distraction to this India team and their goals. In an ideal world for the Indian team, Sachin will make his seminal ton in the ODI series that now follows, and hang up his bat, allowing India to move on and out of his shadow, and refind their focus.

4) Preperation and priorities

Put simply, the BCCI have made a complete hash of organising this tour. The single warm-up game at Taunton was not enough to get ready for a tour in the notoriously tough conditions of England, and reminiscent of England turning up undercooked ahead of the 2006/7 Ashes mauling at the hands of Australia. And ultimately the way Sehwag's injury (that he picked up during the World Cup) was handled shows the lack of respect that the BCCI have for test cricket (and how low on the list of priorities it is) - had Sehwag had his operation immediately he would have been fit for all of this series, and probably the West Indies tour as well. But he delayed the operation with the BCCI's blessing... to play in the IPL. Only when test cricket is put at the top of the list will India again prosper.

5) End the culture of player power

Duncan Fletcher is a very shrewd, experienced coach who has done an awful lot in the game of cricket. However, his word, which was always law when coach of England, seemed as though it was often overruled and ignored. From the outside, it seems as though the Indian players, and the senior players in particular, did what they fancied and the coach was powerless to stop them. From only warming-up or training when they felt like it to (supposedly) calling for only the one warm-up game (some wanted no warm-ups at all), players were taking the easy way out in order to avoid any hard work. Which led to a failure of a series. After Zaheer's injury, it was disclosed that the Indian players decide personally how to look after themselves, and picking up a series ending injury only a few overs into the first morning at Lord's certainly suggests that Zaheer was doing it wrong. Only when responsibility and power is handed back to the coach can India do well. Ultimately, he is paid to make these things happen, and the Indian players would be fools to ignore his experience and expertise.

All in all, it's been a pretty abject tour for India. And while there is a lot of hard work ahead, it isn't all doom and gloom for them. In MS Dhoni they have an excellent forward-thinking captain, and if he develops a strong partnership with Duncan Fletcher, they can organise a master plan not too dissimiliar from the plans of Andys Flower and Strauss. They also do have some very good players who took them to number one in the first place, as well as a lot of promising young talent to choose from to help them return. It has been a pretty humbling series from an Indian perspective, but with a lot of hard work and subtle changes, there's no doubt that the mase for world's number one team will be back in Indian hands sooner or later.

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