Sept 9, 2022: The Indian team in the limited-overs version of the game looked like one which seemed to have an edge over the others as to how to play it. The reason being that Indian cricket has a major following as regards the T20 version.
This has encouraged and stimulated India to play it at every opportune time available. The Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the bonanza that the BCCI is thriving on and cricket stars are exploding in abundance.
Many, unfortunately, are like the ‘shooting stars’ that have passed by without one having the time to make a wish. Every Indian cricketer, whether established or upcoming, has just one goal in mind and that is to get a lucrative IPL contract.
This is quite understandable for cricketers, as apart from the financial gains, a good performance could catapult one into the Indian side. Players are coming out from every corner of India and the successful ones are made to think that they are superstars.
The reputation that many of them have garnered is that they think they are ‘god-gifted idols’ who have the natural flair to play as they wish.
This is where Indian cricket and cricketers are getting a false impression of themselves, as the ones established are being pampered, whereas, even the lesser-known ones think they have achieved a prestigious status.
The common belief that India rules the cricket world does not hold any truth at present, at least on the cricket field. The Indian cricket team on the multi-nation tournaments seems to continuously disappoint since 2013. The cupboard is bare of any recent trophies and one hoped that the Asia Cup 2022 would be the one that will get the Indian cricket team into motion.
Once again, they have faltered, leaving one to live in hope that things will change when they play in the T20 World Cup in Australia in six weeks’ time. However, the famous saying of ‘Hope is like the clouds, some just pass by and others bring rain’ seems to be very relevant to the Indian cricket team’s performance.
Failing to win the ODI World Cup in England in 2019, not qualifying for the last-four in the T20 World Cup 2021 and failing to make the final in the Asia Cup 2022 does put even the die-hard followers into a quandary.
India does have the highest numbers of cricket fans and followers and is at present the richest of the cricket boards around the world. The best facilities of travel, stay and practice are at the beck and call of the Indian team, and still one wonders as to what hinders them to do well when playing in a multi-nation tournament.
India have done exceedingly well in the bilateral series and are at present the number one side in the ICC T20 rankings. They have Rahul Dravid as their coach and a support staff that caters to every need of theirs on and off the field.
Each one of the cricketers is now financially well compensated and has a media following of millions of people. A cricketer today, apart from being a super-star, is also a professional whose only role is to play the game.
On paper, the Indian team is one that every other country aspires to have. A batting and bowling squad for one to be envious of and a proven squad of cricketers, which has shown that it has the skills to be the best.
One can eulogise about the records and performance of nearly each one of the Indian players. However, something does not gel when on the world platform. One feels it is not cricketing skills that are lacking but definitely mental strength. This, unfortunately, is not only relevant to the Indian men’s team but the women’s team as well.
The likes of Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur, Shafali Verma and Jemimah Rodrigues also appear to be troubled mentally when playing on a big stage for India. The main reason for this is the word ‘expectation’.
The build-up and the multimedia coverage that the cricketers are subjected to in today’s world make them into centre figures. This is wonderful in boosting one’s ego but can become a huge burden that one has to shoulder when out in the middle.
Maybe the huge expectations and hopes that the millions of Indian cricket fans have about the brilliance of their men’s cricket heroes may dwindle due to their lack of performance and then the players will be looked at as normal cricketers and not those who absolutely have to win.
The think-tank of the Indian team, fortunately, has identified the need for a mental and performance coach. The renowned Paddy Upton from South Africa, who was a part of the winning Indian World Cup side in 2011 and the author of ‘The Barefoot Coach’ has been specifically hired to do the job.
His experience and knowledge, one felt, would make a difference in the way the Indian players approached the Asia Cup 2022. However, one did not see a change. Upton has a very important task on hand, as it is not the cricket but the mental frame of mind that will decide as to how India performs hereafter, and especially in the T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia and the ODI World Cup 2023 at home.
Another reason for India’s failure could be the continuous chopping and changing of the players. India seems to never have a settled team in place before any major tournament. The prime reason could be the multiple choices of players to choose from. This is wonderful for most sides; however, it could get to be a painful exercise in reality. There seems to be not one but many replacements for each position and this could be another factor of a players’ uncertainty.
Unfortunately, Indian cricket has gone off the rails at present. However, with the series against South Africa and Australia before the World Cup, one hopes that the Indian players get substantially infused with a positive frame of mind.
Indian cricket needs to be put back on track expeditiously.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)