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Indian Men's Cricket Needs a Reality Check, Not a Knee-Jerk Reaction

Number one ranked Indian Test team lost the series 1-2 to sixth ranked South Africa.

Updated
Cricket
5 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>India lost the three match Test series against South Africa 1-2.</p></div>
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Another tenuous test series is in the books for an Indian team, whose reputation seems to precede its performances. Long on ambition, this is a team that demands to be measured against the highest standards in international cricket. High expectations though, both inside and outside the team, leave the management facing some uncomfortable questions.

As discomforting as that might be, the team and Indian cricket might be served well, if the answers to some of those questions arrive dressed in naked honesty.

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The last thing we need is a knee-jerk response to the South Africa tour. It is merely one stop on a journey pregnant with promise, but barren at delivery. These notes of dissent are meant to call upon the management of this team to find the courage and honesty needed to reflect and respond with meaningful long term measures to build a team on the robust foundations of performance rather than sailing shallow on self-proclaimed perceptions.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>South Africa has won the Test series against India with a 7 wicket victory in Cape Town.</p></div>

South Africa has won the Test series against India with a 7 wicket victory in Cape Town.

(Photo: BCCI)

Cricket provides for sight screens at either end of the ground, enabling the batters a clear view of the bowler’s hand at the point of delivery. Indian cricket, it appears, needs a mirror to reflect on the truthful nature of its performances. Reality can be discomforting, but living in the shallow waters of perception could be harmful for its very health and existence.

Ever since assuming the cloak of leadership from MS Dhoni, captain Virat Kohli has made no secret of his desire to impart a winning culture.

Working largely with a team and management of his own making, Kohli has endeavoured to transform the team into a world beating unit. But it is increasingly apparent that an injudicious dose of self-belief has begun to chip away at the very edifice that this unit has promised to build.

Building a world class team of champion cricketers requires consistency, a culture of accountability and merit, commitment and character. It would be harsh to say that Kohli’s team did not present us with several examples of those behaviours. Their conquests in Australia and England showed us ample evidence of the unit’s ability to forge victory in the cauldron of cricket, while withstanding unspeakable pressure and heat.

But much of it has taken unlikely heroics. Bursts of individual brilliance, as with the counter-attacking century by Rishabh Pant in the fourth innings of the Cape Town Test, have kept India in the hunt.

The brilliance of the bowlers, the backbone of the remarkable success of this team, has been well documented. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and one of Ishant Sharma, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav have constantly bailed out a faltering batting unit that has squandered a period of riches without learning to function as a team.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Virat Kohli has not scored a century for over a year.</p></div>

Virat Kohli has not scored a century for over a year.

(Image: ICC)

The captain, Kohli, has been meandering from series to series battling to produce 30 runs to the innings – in fifteen matches since 2020, he has accumulated 760 runs from 27 innings.

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While we have known Kohli to be a world class batsman with great pedigree, it cannot be tenable for the leader to also continue sailing as a passenger.

Cheteshwar Pujara has reached the wrong end of a serpentine rope with barely any jewels in his bag. In 20 test matches since 2020, Pujara has produced 973 runs in 38 laboured innings, spending hours on the ground pondering for ways to rediscover the rhythmic arc of his bat. Last year, he averaged 28 over 14 tests. That must be unacceptable for a team aspiring to be champions of the world.

Ajinkya Rahane’s rope stretches just as far as some of his other entitled colleagues, holding a spot on the team through sheer reputation and managerial insistence. Over a thirteen match stretch in 2021, Rahane scored his runs at a dismal 20 runs to the innings. That has to be unacceptable for a middle order bat, even for a minnow of the ICC living off development funds. 819 runs from nineteen test matches and 35 innings must surely not merit a specialist place on any team, let alone India.

No international team can afford so much baggage from the past.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>KL Rahul finished as India's highest run-scorer in this Test series.</p></div>

KL Rahul finished as India's highest run-scorer in this Test series.

(Photo: Twitter/BCCI) 

KL Rahul is showing signs of maturity. Not only as a leader, but also a reliable opening bat. Even though he will be disappointed with his returns at Cape Town, he can draw strength from his batting in the first two test matches. The hundred at the Centurion and the fifty at the Wanderers augur well, if he can find ways to continue building.

But the bright spots are too far spaced for any degree of comfort for a team that seems to rely more on accident than on any significant sign of determination.

The selectors and the team management need to begin an honest conversation. It is time to draw the curtains and breathe some fresh air into a suffocated bunch of weary warriors.

Rahul Dravid has great vantage. Not only can he feel the pain of an inconsistent collection of cricketers, he also has the inside lane to the talent on the bench. The wise man will need to assert himself at the table for the health of Indian cricket. It is imperative for the management to herald a culture of performance, without clutching at the excuse of pedigree. And Dravid needs to put himself at the forefront of this transformation.

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Photo: IANS

The age-old malaise of favouritism and cocoons of comfort have ushered in complacency into the DNA of the current setup. The rawness of defeat has admittedly awoken their spirit every now and then, producing some memorable results. But most of it has emerged from inspired spells of bowling rather than any measure of impeccable batting. And it is time for Kohli and his lads to shoulder responsibility rather than continue hiding behind the satin curtain of their sturdy contracts with the BCCI.

Players such as Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer and host of other talented cricketers are paying a heavy price waiting on the fringes at a time when they ought to be laying the foundations of a career at the highest levels.

But it isn’t just the careers at stake that is at the heart of this problem. Even more important is constructing a team structure that is independent of personalities. Building a culture and temperament that transcends the individual and extends itself wholeheartedly to the cause of the team will be essential in order to harvest the wealth of talent at India’s disposal from a dense collection of aspiring cricketers.

And the process has to begin now. Reputations and misplaced ideas of self-worth are best left outside the boundary line.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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