June 30, 2023: The defeat at the hands of Australia in the World Test Championship has brought about a fiasco in Indian Cricket. The Indian side was till then considered to be the epitome of the cricketing world. A team that boasted superlative batters, mesmerising spinners and a battery of fast bowlers. Indian cricket was running at full throttle speeding towards what one imagined as an unparalleled success.
Another loss in an ICC tournament has put a question mark on the direction that Indian cricket was happily cruising towards. Presently there are concerns and brickbats are being hurled at the selection of the players and the reason for India’s failure. The Indian Premier League (IPL) naturally has become the easiest target to attack, not for the cricket but for the lack of time that the Indian players were given to recover and get fully acclimatised.
Test cricket, one understands, is an entirely different game from the limited-overs versions. However, a good batter and bowler should be able to adjust to it without much of a problem. Ajinkya Rahane is a good example of a player put in the wilderness in all the formats of the game, who changed and made a forceful and impressive comeback. More than just one’s cricketing skills, it is the mental approach that one requires to hone to make the adjustments.
The next big ICC tournament is the One-Day International World Cup 2023 to be played in India in October-November. Why one considers this to be the prized trophy of the world of cricket, one fails to understand. However, it has become the hallmark of a crowned winner and a side winning it is looked at as the reigning World Champion.
The schedule of matches for the WC’23 has just recently been released and one already feels sorry for the Indian team, who will be travelling the maximum across the huge length and breadth of the country to play its matches. The commercial advantage both for the host and the ICC as well as the Associations has ruled over a simple issue — the comfort level of the Indian players. Travelling for T20 IPL matches cannot be the benchmark for a team that one expects to perform at its best at home after playing a 50 overs night game the day before. Rather than India having to play at every Indian-earmarked centre, the BCCI should have ensured a more easy and comfortable journey for the Indian side.
The fiasco that one mentions that is reigning in the Indian side, starts from the criticism that emanated from the side that played in the World Test Championship. The absence of Ravichandran Ashwin and the lack of winning performances from our senior players became the centre-point for the loss. A change and transformation were the order of the day from the wise men of Indian cricket, as well as the millions of fans and followers. Inducting young blood was the call of the day.
The next cycle of the Test Championship begins with a series against the West Indies. A team that is struggling to even make it to the final Super 10 of the World Cup’23. Fortunately for Ajinkya Rahane, because he performed exceedingly well in the Test Championship, he was selected and also made the Vice-Captain. However, his middle-order colleague, Cheteshwar Pujara, was not so fortunate.
This was the same storyline that had emerged after the 2021 World Test Championship loss. They were both dropped, thereafter, to make room for youngsters. However, they were back on the side through their performance in the domestic circuit. The new crop of players, who played and some who warmed the reserve bench, were not pursued, solely because of the lack of faith that the selectors had in each one of them. One wonders why, the best batter in T20 cricket, Suryakumar Yadav, who has the capability of playing the longer format of the game as well, has been sidelined after playing just one Test match.
The folly that one feels the Indian selectors seem to fall into is classifying players into a certain category without having a solid base to do so. One was astonished to read the comments as to why Sarfaraz Khan, the most prolific run-getter in the Indian domestic prime tournament, the Ranji Trophy, was not considered for a place in the squad to the West Indies. He was identified as one who cannot play quick bowling. His attitude and fitness were another reason for his omission.
The scores that Sarfaraz has made in the last three years in the domestic circuit could not have been achieved without having the skills to play fast bowling or without immense concentration and fitness. A big-built bloke is always looked at as unfit against one who is slim.
Sunil Gavaskar, at one of our fitness camps in the late 70s, when confronted by our trainer as to how slow and unfit he was while taking rounds of the ground, so correctly retorted, ‘But not many of the fast movers seem to be able to bat and last the whole day’. Sunil, the master thinker that he is, knew exactly what building speed and stamina in cricket entails. After a net batting session, he would run three runs 3 times after a short gap at a fast pace. When one analyzes it, cricket does not require one to do more than that, speed and short-term endurance and recovery of breath are the successful formula.
The guns are now being aimed at India’s two master batters as well. A side that would play against India without Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma would be licking their lips in glee. However, they now have a golden opportunity to keep their detractors silent.
India, tour to play the weak and depressed West Indian side in both Test and limited overs cricket. This is just what the doctor ordered to regain a team’s and individual’s confidence. Thereafter, matches against Bangladesh, Ireland, Afghanistan and the Asia Cup are all wonderful to gloat about. There are matches in September against Australia, however, after the strenuous Ashes series, one does not foresee their top bowlers being a part of the side.
India, apart from the World Cup schedule, will also lack playing top-quality opponents. This is the fiasco gripping Indian cricket at present and one wonders whether this is the best preparation to play the important World Cup 2023.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)