Weird are the ways of Indian cricket. The preparations for India’s participation in the ensuing World Cup have all the elements of a Dickensian novel — insignificant characters playing decisive roles, ludicrous situations being handled by even more ludicrous characters, priorities lacking perspective and being ignored.
In the run-up to the most important quadrennial championship in cricket, we prepared ourselves in the last six months by playing against three oppositions which are ranked lower than ourselves among the cricket-playing countries: England, West Indies and New Zealand. Not once did we think of competing against Australia, South Africa or Pakistan.
Further, earlier this year in England and now in New Zealand we acquainted ourselves to conditions that are totally different from those that we would encounter in South Africa for the World Cup. And, of course, in the home series against West Indies as well as in the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, we played on typical subcontinent pitches on which we thrive and prosper.
A complacent bunch
If the Board of Control for Cricket in India is thinking that the players would be able to adapt to the changes with ease, it is indeed waiting for a surprise. Our players, who cannot shed their shorts even in the cold and windy conditions, nor their sun-glasses in the cloudy climes of Kiwiland, do not give the impression that they have the desire to adapt and apply themselves to varying conditions. They prefer to stick to their favourite dress, diet, technique and attitude, no matter what the changing conditions demand. They will, in all probability, cut a rather sorry figure in the World Cup in South Africa, where the pitches would be much faster and bouncier than those in New Zealand.
In England, we were indeed fortunate to scrape through by the scantiest of margins. But the euphoria generated after the series would make anyone think that India had beaten Australia in Australia. In the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, where we reached the final playing in all-too-familiar conditions, too, India’s performance generated a kind of hysteria among the so-called experts and the followers. The material rewards and the mass adulation that followed, far from elevating the morale of our players, merely made them more complacent.
Say no to money
The loss against a weak and depleted West Indies was thought to be an aberration. We refused to see the writing on the wall. And now against an inexperienced New Zealand team, we have been caught not just napping, but in deep slumber. Before the series began, New Zealand was considered to be no match for India. And what chastisement they are subjecting the Indians to match after match! Yes, New Zealand is weak compared to the strong teams in international cricket. But then, what made us think that we were among the strong' If our performances in England and in Sri Lanka have, then we have to be realistic enough to see that they were nothing to crow about.
Why did we reach such a state, it could be asked. The seeds of the decline were sown when the players began to concentrate too much on sponsorship deals than on cricket. No one seemed to have the time for honing his cricketing skills. Led by the example of the seniors, the junior members too lost sight of their priorities and made a mad rush for lucre. Cricket had to take a back seat as a result. The primary repercussion of this attitude would be a disunited team of disenchanted individuals in what will be a disastrous World Cup for us.
The only solution in sight is for every Indian player to tell his private sponsor as well as the BCCI that he does not want a single rupee for representing India in the World Cup. Only such an approach can bring back the self-respect of the player and also revive the pride and passion of wearing the national colours. But, then, how many people today bother with such things as self-respect and national pride'