Picture this: You’re a parent to a child who once yielded ‘straight As’ but has since flunked eight algebra papers in a row. Moreover, the child has also been bickering with his/her siblings and peers. How would you react? Would you feign ignorance and gloat about your child’s once-upon-a-time achievements or would you try getting to the root cause of the matter and help your kid overcome the demons that have set in?
Likewise, after a year in which the then No 1 Test team and 50 over World Cup champions plummeted to eight consecutive away losses in Tests and couldn’t go beyond the league stage in two successive ODI tournaments, what should the management of the team in question do?
Neither shaken, nor stirred
As guardians of the Indian national cricket team, you would expect BCCI’s head honchos to be concerned about the drastic decline of the goose that lays the golden egg. However, as it transpires, that’s clearly expecting too much. BCCI’s office bearers seem to have taken an oath to abide by what Sigmund Freud popularised as psychology’s best known defense mechanism – Denial.
They’ve chosen to deal with the dip in fortunes by first of all pretending it never happened. Instead the average day is spent parading Indian cricket’s financial clout or celebrating statistics achieved in lost causes along with the folk from tinsel town.
Sample some of the ways in which they’ve have reacted to India’s performance over the past year -
There was the statement BCCI Vice President and IPL Chief Rajeev Shukla made after India’s 0-4 drubbing in England - "England have been losing for the last 10 years, most of their teams, and at football also. So therefore we're absolutely happy because we want cricket to grow in England."
Or the follow-up Board President N Srinivasan provided during India’s disastrous tour Down Under. He later backtracked and distanced himself from the remarks but the damage had been done. “England won 5-0 in England. They came here within a month or two after that and lost 5-0. Last time, after our loss to England, I had said that we will beat them when they visit India,” said Srinivasan. He added that this time too it was a case of Australians playing better in their home conditions and that once India plays and beats teams like New Zealand, England and Australia at home in the coming months, everyone would “feel very happy.”
Then there was the issue of infighting in the Indian team during their tour of Australia. Things began to sour over a period of time and reached a crescendo when seniors in the team started to make statements that were indirectly targeting one another. In order to douse the fire, the Board back home rubbished all talk of a strain in relations between members of the team and blamed the media for creating a non-issue. But then they followed it up by getting in touch with the team and asking them to sort out all issues between them.
BCCI’s top brass were equally quick to shunt everything associated with Lalit Modi post the IPL 3 season, to save themselves from any of the backlash the tournament had generated. Whether it was financial impropriety or crass commercialisation – the blame lay squarely on the shoulders of the former IPL commissioner even though there were many others clearly in the loop. This time around though frivolities like the IPL opening ceremony turned into an even lengthier Bollywood soap opera that had very little to do with the cricket, and word is that IPL after parties are also on their way back.
Also read: Lost chances and mismanaged priorities
It wasn’t just on field performances that were alarming over the past year. For the first time, international matches involving the Indian team on home soil were played in front of stadiums with some stands empty. The lack of crowds was previously unheard of. The low spectator turnout was compounded by diminishing interest in the sport due to the ‘mad merry-go-round’ of meaningless non-contextual matches.
If the BCCI’s poor vision kept them from acknowledging the situation themselves, Rahul Dravid tried to help them out when he delivered the Bradman oration. The response was true to form - a defensive shot off the back foot - "Every country wants to play with India and there are certain obligations to fulfill and there are only 365 days in a year. We have told the players to inform the Board whenever he feels tired and needs rest. No player is forced to play. Low turnout of crowd is a global phenomenon but we are concerned of it."
Ignoring the example
Now compare this to what has been happening elsewhere.
In the 2010-11 season, Australia’s performance dipped in Test matches and culminated in their defeat in the Ashes at home. This was followed up by their exit from the World Cup in the quarter-final stage, a loss they couldn’t easily digest after taking the trophy back home thrice in a row. Cricket Australia called into question the state of the sport and the national team. To address the issues on hand they initiated a review with a two-fold objective for the Australian Cricket Team- to be the number one ranked team in all formats and to be the favourite team in Australian sport. It also went into specifics on future goals – such as qualifying for the inaugural ICC Test championship, regaining the prized Ashes and laying their hands on all three World Cups to be held up untill 2015.
When released, the 40 page Argus review’s recommendations included a harsh critique of the management. Chairman of Selectors Andrew Hilditch, national talent manager Greg Chappell and head coach Tim Nielsen all lost their jobs. Michael Clarke had already replaced Ricky Ponting as skipper. Based on the report, the new coach and captain were made part of the selection panel. The scathing review also dealt with aspects like team culture and created a single point of accountability for the team’s performance – the general manager.
The sweeping changes made based on the recommendations seemed strikingly similar to the Schofield report after a string of poor performances beset the English team in 2006-07. There too, a wide scale turnaround was orchestrated after a thorough review. The changes went on to transform the England team from a bunch of has-beens to world class competitors. This year they usurped the No 1 position from under India’s nose and though they too have since lost 4 consecutive Tests away from home, they competed in all of them, unlike India who could offer nothing more than abject surrender.
Asking India to take a leaf out of others books is off the radar. The first step to recovery is acceptance and admitting you have a problem. But with the men at the helm of living in denial, the alleviation of all that ails Indian cricket is just a distant dream.
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