The Indian cricket team’s defeat against England in the ongoing Pataudi Trophy brings to mind the famous lines of Lt. General Frederick Browning in the film, A Bridge Too Far, in which he tells Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery: “I think we may be going a bridge too far”. This resulted in a defeat for the allied troops against the Germans in World War II. India, currently the top Test team in the world, gave the hope to conquer the best sides in their backyard. But series defeats in South Africa and England have dampened the aspirations of millions of fans.
The Indian team, which left for England, looked to be a great batting and bowling unit capable of withstanding the vagaries of the English climate. There was an air of confidence that you didn’t see in several teams that had left the shores of India earlier. “We can be the best touring side in the world,” was what Ravi Shastri, the coach, said of Kohli-led Indian side. Many such statements made one believe that they were on the brink of achieving unparalleled greatness. This did not materialise and therefore, disappointment and criticism were seen everywhere from digital to print media.
The victory in the third Test at Trent Bridge and the manner in which it was accomplished seemed like they had the grit and determination to come out victorious from the jaws of death. However, a listless performance in chasing only 245 runs in the fourth Test showed they were far from being a world-beating side.
The Oval, where the fifth Test is being played, had been a good hunting ground for India as the wicket is generally beautiful to bat. The Indian batsmen may come out shining, but internally a lot of them would feel hurt, having realised that they are still far from perfect as world-class players. This brings one to the superlative performance of Virat Kohli. He needed to prove himself in conditions that had been his nemesis in the past and he did so in a splendid manner. He has now conquered the universe as a batsman, and aptly he’s rated the best in the world. He showed how important it is to adapt technically and mentally to be successful, unfortunately a trait that one did not see in several of his teammates.
This reminds me of an interview of the young Indian batting prospect, Prithvi Shaw, on the radio during the last Test in Southampton. He was all praise for the India A and U-19 coach Rahul Dravid. When asked what advice he got from the legendary batsman, he replied that Dravid was not one to tamper with the way one batted as he reckoned the uniqueness each individual should remain. Dravid concentrates more on improving their mind-set than their technical skills. This is where one disagrees with the modern coaches as adaptation, changes and knowledge are important and essential to be successful. Learning by trial and error method is a passé in the modern world, where knowledge is power. Not every cricketer can come through like Virat Kohli or bat in the unconventional way of Virender Sehwag.
Most of the Indian batsmen looked confused and dazed, as their style and approach, which were successful earlier and elsewhere, didn’t quite suit the English conditions. The cliché of “wrong shot selection” being the reason for many of their failures was a diplomatic way of by-passing the root cause of the problem, which was the lack of adaptability and knowledge. The young crop should be made aware of this. The quicker this is done, before they tour Australia this winter, the better they will perform there.
A more worrying issue is the nature of the two recent defeats—the one the Southampton and the other in Bangalore of India A, who were thrashed by Australia A. Both of them were lost to the opposition’s spin bowlers. Indian batsmen were known to be the best players against spin and therefore these two defeats are an indication of problems that may arise in the future if not addressed seriously. Maybe, the lack of domestic cricket played by the International stars could be the root cause.
The first paragraph of a cricket poem “Cricket at Thrumpton” written by Adrian Buckner comes to mind, “Lined up behind boundary flags, a fleet of Renault, Nissan and Ford: only one or two from the village now close enough to pedal or walk.” This is a good reflection of the commercial success of the current Indian cricketers. They are flushed with adulation and funds that may have made them uncaring. A loss for them may just be an unfortunate event in their lives. One hopes that this is not the case as cricket plays an emotional part in the life of so many Indians. A win at the Oval as accomplished during the Ganapathi celebrations in the year 1971, is what all are praying for in the Ganapathi season of 2018.
(The writer is a former India cricketer)