The Telegraph
Friday , January 4 , 2013
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Forget 2015, today is just as important

Sachin Tendulkar

Calcutta: Looking at the bigger picture, one can appreciate the sentiments expressed by Sachin Tendulkar when he decided to retire from ODIs.

Sure, one should plan to defend the World Cup in 2015, but we’ve got to be winning now. Today is just as important as tomorrow.

Last month, India lost a Test series at home, to England. Now, we’ve been vanquished in the ODIs by Pakistan. Forget getting it right overseas, we can’t win at home.

Coach Duncan Fletcher is in hiding, so captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the team’s most visible face, keeps getting the flak.

“It’s tough,” Dhoni, a captain who has won both the World T20 and the 50-over World Cup, and taken India to No.1 in the Test rankings, conceded on Thursday. Having put up a brave face for much of the past five weeks, Dhoni looked weighed down as he took questions from the media.

After playing a lone hand, Dhoni, who has greyed considerably in recent times, cut a very lonely figure.

It’s with good reason that many believe India’s cricket captain has the toughest job after the Prime Minister.

From being a much-loved jamai (wife Sakshi is a Calcuttan), Dhoni even found himself being booed by a section at the Eden, after the 85-run defeat at the hands of Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have, over 25 years, featured in four ODIs here. The result has always been the same — victory for Pakistan.

Given a chance, Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq would play all his cricket at the Eden (“a very special ground”).

One is actually at a loss. It’s fashionable to haul our bowlers over the coals, but the batting is turning out to be a bigger problem.

Indeed, it’s ridiculous to argue that India’s batting is among the most formidable. On paper, yes. On the consistency scale, no.

Worse, the batsmen continue to struggle against the left-arm quicks and, in Junaid Khan and Mohammed Irfan, Pakistan have a pair which is set for bigger things.

Irfan is already in his 31st year, but Junaid has just turned 23. The tainted Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Aamer aren’t being missed.

It’s easy to blame the IPL, but the nature of wickets in domestic cricket needs to be addressed immediately.

Ravindra Jadeja has two triple hundreds in this season’s Ranji, but in four innings for India since then, he’s totalled an embarrassing 27.

As the Board’s technical committee chairman, former captain Sourav Ganguly asked for wickets with pace and bounce. That was last June. But shortly afterwards, he got replaced by Anil Kumble, another former captain.

That was strange.

“Your players look tired... But see the hunger and the determination on the faces of our players... They came to win and have done so,” former captain Zaheer Abbas told The Telegraph.

One or two individuals may not have made a huge difference, but a series against Pakistan demands experience and our bowling has been anything but experienced.

Pakistan have been smart. Getting the seasoned Shoaib Malik to stay back for the ODIs being an example. Also, head coach Dav Whatmore (praised by Misbah for changing the team’s mindset) and chief selector Iqbal Qasim quickly extended Irfan’s stay as well.

They didn’t sit on prestige.

While India haven’t found a replacement for mental conditioning expert Paddy Upton, who left with Gary Kirsten, Pakistan have brought along psychologist Dr Maqbool Babri.

Psychologists have a contribution to make in high-pressure engagements and Misbah was candid in explaining Dr Babri’s role.

Whatmore, seen running and jumping after Misbah and his men took a winning lead in the three-match series, has an able colleague in fielding coach Julien Fountain.

Truly over are the days when Pakistan’s captains had to ‘hide’ more than half the team.

The ODI series has gone to Pakistan, but the Kotla match, on Sunday, remains. Patil and Co. pick the squad for the ODIs against England that evening.