I grew up watching cricket. I would watch all of India’s matches ball by ball. Even though India would be clearly loosing, I would still be optimistic about its win; maybe a batsman becomes the hero by hitting the fastest hundred or a bowler makes a hat-trick.
But it rarely happened with India, although similar things did happen with Australia. I always envied Australians for such a brilliant team. In other words, I grew up watching Australians dominating world cricket and they still continue to do so. And they dominated International Cricket at the time when most of the teams were doing better than what they are doing today.
The ongoing cricket world cup in England shows the deteriorating cricketing standards. I am not talking about rain washing up the complete matches. I am talking about the teams who have been brilliant in the past but have deteriorated over the time and not the teams that joined the test cricket in 21st century like Afghanistan and Bangladesh, which are still in their learning curves.
Half of the teams participating in the tournament are struggling with their internal issues so badly that they have become a mere punching bag for a few teams like Australia and New Zealand. In fact, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are the only teams that are performing better than expected.
The South African authorities introduced 54% reservation for the players of color in their national team i.e. a total of six non-white players including two African black players. Reservation and Competition are mutually exclusive i.e. either you could have reservation or you could compete, you can’t do both. Although, this kind of reservation was always there at the domestic level, but in 2016 they introduced it in their national team as well. You could look at the SA’s performance in Champions trophy 2017 and World Cup 2019. If the players were good enough, would they need reservations to play for the national team? I don’t think so. If you are playing with six average players, your team would also be average and is obvious to be at the receiving end.
Sri Lanka who produced players like Sanath Jayasurya, Kumar Sangakara, Mahela Jayawardane, M. Muralidharan, C. Vaas etc. etc. has never been able to fill their shoes. A poor team culture has been cited as the underlying reason by the Sri Lankan cricket board for such a predicament. A culture of privileges and entitlements for the senior players in the dressing room, which India also suffered a decade ago.
Pakistan which had always been a side with the strongest bowling attack has now left with only one consistent bowler in the name of Mohammad Amir. In fact, they are playing with only two reliable players Babar Azam and M. Amir. Pakistan lost to Afghanistan in a warm-up match. Pakistan does not have the necessary ecosystem to sustain good cricket any more. Ever since the Sri Lankan team was attacked in Pakistan ten years ago, there is very little cricket in Pakistan. The condition is so bad that they conduct Pakistan Super League (an IPL like tournament) outside Pakistan. They tried to host PSL final in Karachi last year, the city was put on curfew for two days. Terrorism and entertainment don’t go together. Terrorism is eating up that country from the inside like termite. They rely on two players which is why they are called an unpredictable team.
West Indies have limited themselves to the T20 cricket. They are all in for the entertainment factor, be it the hard-hitting or signature moves of different players. They are in their own fantasy world. When it would be a T20 tournament, they would be the top contender for the trophy. But now, it is not their game. Their ODI ranking is 9 at the moment.
Now coming to the point, I am writing this:
India is a country where cricket is considered as a religion and players as Gods; then what is stopping India to dominate International Cricket when the other countries are already struggling?
The problem is not with the players, it is with the selection criteria. India never goes on in a big tournament with the best of the cricketers available at its disposal. I guess you would agree to the fact that unless the best cricketer is injured he should be in the 15 player squad representing team India in World Cup. Wouldn’t you?
Now, look at our current team. How does Vijay Shankar fit even in the 15 player squad let alone the playing 11? The man debuted in Jan 2019 and has played 8 matches before the world cup, his personal best score was/is 46. What did the selectors see in him to deem him eligible for the big tournament? It is not that World Cup was announced a few weeks ago, the selectors did not have enough time to choose the players. Same goes with Rishabh Pant, he has played 5 one day internationals so far. What happened to the players who debuted after 2015? World Cup is not a tournament to test your new players. Is it?
India’s only bowler who had played more than 60 ODIs and can bowl consistently at 150 kmph is sitting outside; Umesh Yadav. Why is it that all other countries value their fast bowlers but India does not? Not only him, there are other more deserving players not selected for the world cup, for example, Ajinkya Rahane, or Axar Patel just to name a couple. India has three wicket-keepers in its fifteen member squad. Why?
A player’s glamour quotient and his performance in IPL can’t be a benchmark for his selection in the national team in a different game format. There have been a few players who are in the team because of their IPL connections. Wicket to wicket bowling or hard-hitting for a couple of overs might be sufficient for winning a T20 game but is not sufficient to win a 50 overs game.
The other problem with Indian selection has been that they shortlist mediocre players in the name of all rounders. The specialist players are kept out whereas unreliable players are kept in the team, just because they can ball as well as bat. This makes the team strong on paper, however, it collapses like a pack of cards on ground. You must have seen or even better you could observe yourself, whenever the Indian top three batsmen fail, the rest of the team struggles with even a score of 150-200. Same goes with the bowlers, if the two strike bowlers fail, the rest of the bowlers fail to get even a single wicket. India is currently playing with two all-rounders in the team, Vijay Shankar and Hardik Pandya plus Ravindra Jadeja in reserve. They would not perform when they would be needed the most.
This is not just today’s Indian team. It has been the case forever. India has always supported all rounders against specialists. You could choose the time frame of your liking and you will find a couple of players playing in the team who are/were not reliable and were in the team and more deserving specialist players were benched.
If India has to dominate world cricket, it has to rely on the specialists, be it specialist batsmen or specialist bowlers. If you keep on doing the same thing over and over again you would get the same results over and over again. India has to let go of its all-rounder fetish.
In the ongoing world cup too, if India has to win the cup, it needs to change its playing XI. There should be a full-time seamer in place of Hardik Pandya i.e. a total of three pacers in the team. And there should be one full-time specialist batsmen in place of Vijay Shankar or Rishabh Pant. Two changes! Otherwise, don’t get too optimistic about India’s performance. India’s game against NZ was washed, it actually has played only two games with good teams (Australia and England), and lost one of them. Others teams are not in a good state at all. The other good game would be against England. I hope Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar get fit by the time knockout games begin.
(Anant Chetan blogs at Infinite Sea Of Opportunities)