Failure of natural talent Down Under proves Indian cricket’s antiquated system

first_img“Body language is 80 per cent of communication. With my state team, the Western Warriors, you can’t tell if they’re winning or losing. But if you look at the Indians you can see they’re losing.”Sandy Gordon Australian team sports psychologist If cricket evolves into a contact sport, where lips cut,”Body language is 80 per cent of communication. With my state team, the Western Warriors, you can’t tell if they’re winning or losing. But if you look at the Indians you can see they’re losing.”Sandy Gordon Australian team sports psychologist  If cricket evolves into a contact sport, where lips cut open and blood run down noses, the Australian would die with a smile on his face. But even he, this Australian who early morning brushed his teeth with a glass of beer, was ready to hold your hand.For, like an actor arriving for a Broadway show every evening having forgotten his lines, the Indian team was an embarrassment. If there was laughter it had died down, if there was glee it had vanished, for to heckle the handicapped seemed uncouth.Click here to EnlargeIn the Herald Sun, Robert “Crash” Craddock, reflecting a national need to resuscitate the Indians, wrote wonderfully: “Come on India. Get angry. Get aggressive. Shake a leg. Fight back. For goodness sake, do something.”The taxi drivers, the hotel receptionists, even the bloody chambermaid all said every morning: “You guys going to win today?”How could you tell them that full-grown, world cricket travellers, were still being told at nets that if they moved their heads while throwing, the direction went awry?How was it possible to explain, as a player said, “that what 13 year old Australians know about backing up at the wicket is taught to the Indians when they arrive in the national team”?How did they know that Kapil Dev actually told Javagal Srinath, after he batted like a man in a coma against Pakistan in Hobart, “What’s the point of giving you batting practice at nets anymore?” And later said wearily, “Common sense is missing?”It meant that when the chambermaid looked at you for an answer to India’s chances that day, the word “yes” stuck like a fishbone in the larynx.Then 66 days after it all began sometime in late November – after losing to Queensland and the Prime Minister’s XI and all three Tests and the first four one dayers – as the church bells in Adelaide echoed across the ground to signal that even an impartial God was moved to intervene, India beat Pakistan.advertisementIt was like a dying man given a breath of oxygen, and there was something both tragic and uplifting in the forgotten smile that came to rest on Sachin Tendulkar’s face.Twenty-four hours later, savaged by Australia by 152 runs, the grimness had returned.”Mate, you should be ashamed of this team. You’ve only brought two bloody batsman.”Tony GreigCricket commentatorBatting Unlike the Australians, the Indian line-up did not have the depth to absorb the failures of Tendulkar, Ganguly and DravidIndia arrived in Australia with three batsmen with a Test average of over 50. In the Test series Tendulkar averaged 46.33, Saurav Ganguly 29.50 and Rahul Dravid 15.50 (Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist all averaged over 50).It would seem uncommonly arrogant to call this the best batting line-up in the world ever again. The bounce rested in India’s subconscious like a restless demon. But if Devang Gandhi – and he was not alone – was made to look more like a boxer evading punches, a fellow player responded: “In India he’s never played a ball that’s bounced so high.”Domestic cricket is played on sham wickets where batsmen close their eyes and play on the front foot; it breeds a mediocrity so apparent here, but so deep is the BCCI’s stupor they are committed not to change.If pace undid us, what further stupefied Mark Taylor was India’s reluctance to challenge Shane Warne: “Why didn’t you try to take him on and jump out, he’s still bowling with a round red thing when I last noticed?”For the bowling, two stories suffice. The first was about Glenn McGrath. On his first tour to England, hammered in the opening Test, he asked himself: “If I was a young academy bowler what would I have been told? The answer, keep your line and length. I did that and got eight wickets the next Test.” Moral of the story: discipline. While McGrath kept his ball in the channel, the Indian fast bowlers, though menacing in patches, seemed to drift off, no one fine spell ever replicated. Click here to EnlargeThe second story is Ian Chappell standing in a bar one night, cold beer in hand, and asking, “Mate, why the hell aren’t you going out and finding spinners? You’re clever, cunning people, that’s your style.” advertisementKumble had taken 5/450 in three Tests and though he found occasional form in the one-dayers, leg spinner and Warne-mentor Terry Jenner moaned: “He disappointed me. Our pitches are different in each centre and I expected more flexibility, but Kumble bowled the same everywhere.” And here’s what’s truly frightening.This is the list of players who haven’t played for Australia this summer: Darren Lehmann, Adam Dale (played one one-dayer), Andy Bichel, Jason Gillespie, Simon Katich, Matthew Elliot, Matthew Hayden, Matthew Nicholson, Stuart Law, Ian Harvey (first played in Australia’s second last one-dayer), Colin Miller, Tom Moody. It is why Symonds says, “I’ve got a long way to go, I need to play well every innings because look at the guys out there.”This is the list of players who didn’t play for India: Ajay Jadeja.The team we brought is the best we have. There is, believe it, no one else. No fast bowler, no spinner, no opening batsman waiting on the bench.”I thought when we came here that we were 10 years behind Australia. Now I think it’s 25 years.”An indian player To crucify Tendulkar for his captaincy, rubbish the batting, scorn the bowlers, sneer at the fielding, is to see this tour and this team in dangerous isolation. A fragile history abroad suggests a flawed team is but an offspring of an incompetent system. In a professional world, we seem to preen in our amateur status, steam engines puffing wildly in a jet age.When Steve Waugh says, “I have so many players to choose from, I might as well pick names from a hat”, he’s acknowledging not some bizarre cricketing gene pool but a substantive system. Team Spirit While the Australians thought win, win, win the overawed Indians only seemed to be thinking draw, draw, draw  To follow Waugh’s team is to wander into a modern sporting machine. Coach John Buchanan, who carries on his gangly frame the air of a philosophical Oxford don, starts with his computer.Pictures from television flow into it, and a technician records every ball, where it lands, the length, where it went, how the batsman plays it.So at lunch time during a Test if McGrath wants to see those deliveries that beat Tendulkar, or Ponting after a one-dayer wishes to note the short balls he missed, the computer can immediately display those exact deliveries.Buchanan, who airily suggests that this present computer system is “second class” compared to the one he used when he was Queensland coach, confirms that every Australian state has one.The Indian team is left with only dinner-time conversation posing as analysis. If Tendulkar, with Kapil, must play technical adviser, he is resident nursemaid too. Asked once what his batsman lacked, he admitted, “It’s self belief.”For the Aussies, fear and insecurity find a harbour in the Scottish ear of sports psychologist Sandy Gordon. He is a reflection of Steve Waugh’s understated reputation as a thinking man.As he once said, “If cricket is 80 per cent mental then why do we place so little emphasis on it?” Gordon meets the players at the start of every series, working with them for an hour individually, “helping them identify what makes them tick, letting them speak about issues both in cricket and outside, assisting them in setting goals”.advertisementAlways, he stresses, there is a need for “positive mental momentum”. In contrast the Indian team struck Mark Taylor as quite the opposite: “You’ve got to think win, win, win. But I didn’t see that, I saw draw, draw, draw.”But where cricket has evolved the most, and India stands as Neanderthal man to Australia’s Homo sapiens, is in the peripherals of cricket. Indian trainer Andrew Leipus says players still feel lifting weights will make them stiff – ignorance in a world where even fluid golfers pump iron.The running between wickets is a comedy of “yes”, “no”, “damn” – Ganguly learnt nothing after failing to ground his bat in Melbourne and being run out, for in Adelaide against Pakistan though not in any danger he again failed to slide his bat into the crease, grounding it only inside.India seemed to require six standing stumps to manage a direct hit in run-outs, the Australians, off balance, managing to hit a single one with laser-guided regularity. The Indians’ distinct unathleticism warrants a session with human-movement expert Bernard Savage, who says, “The way they move and their general speed needs improvement.”Savage works with cricketers from the Commonwealth Bank Cricket Academy (CBCA), teaching them how to run “more efficiently”, by developing simple exercises.He places three markers on the left, right and in front of a player; then as a player walks in, as if during a game, he screams “right”: and watches how quickly a player changes direction and manages to accelerate into a full sprint.Considering more than 50 per cent of the Aussies have been tutored at the CBCA, his method is working.”Anything that can give you an advantage should be looked at.” John BuchananAustralian coachAustralia’s secret does not lie in vegemite but in the simple commandment of good facilities, practice and a ruthless fitness regime. All Australian grounds have 5-10 practice wickets, all outside the main stadium; in Hyderabad the Indians said there wasn’t even one.Australian players are given an off season fitness programme, are tested for strength, flexibility and fat in a lab at the start of a season and fined for being overweight. At practice, routine is accosted by fun. Captaincy Tendulkar is unsure and reticent, Waugh aggressive and assuredThis season they rowed in the Yarra river, had a mock Ironman triathlon on Sydney beach, went cycling, and had an egg-throwing contest to see how far they could throw an egg to each other without it breaking.If it exercises different muscles it’s also competitive, Buchanan splitting them into teams, like country boys versus city slickers, and in net sessions, grouping them in fours with each team supposed to look after and encourage each other.All this also incorporates a fine sense of team, diverse warriors – Warne and MacGill don’t speak to each other – welded together by a common cause. Every evening that bond is celebrated; it may be a cigar and beer to herald the arrival of McGrath’s first child, or to have in attendance a bevy of guests champion swimmers or women hockey players or Aussie Rules footballers. It is dismaying then they see India more concerned with individual accomplishment. Taylor who wrote in his autobiography, Time To Declare, that subcontinental fans were bemused when he declared at 334 not out last year in his team’s interests rather than chase Brian Lara’s 375, tells an interesting tale.On the day when Tendulkar scored his Test century in Melbourne, a huge crowd of Indian fans gathered outside the hotel, and as Taylor says, “Sure it was a great century but you were just about to lose a Test.”The implication of all this is obvious, the BCCI is an inept outfit, content to leave Indian cricket stagnant, collecting money by the bushel, but leaving it in some unknown safe deposit rather than invest in the national game.Much like hockey, Indian cricket is being left behind, plodding ahead as the rest of the world sprints. To walk into the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) and into the friendly handshake of Grant Wyman, the coaching and development manager, is to understand India’s remoteness from reality.Wyman, unlike any Indian counterpart (coaching and development manager in the Delhi and District Cricket Association, that’ll be the day) is paid and thus accountable.He hands you a 100-page brochure on which is written “Vision Statement”, and Sunil Gavaskar flipping through it later points at the word “Vision” and says, “That’s it, what we need.”Wyman must oversee an under-13, under-14, under-15, under-17, under-19, SA Academy, Second XI and state teams. Everywhere there is the smell of professionalism. The state team, coached by Greg Chappell, has a fitness consultant, two physiotherapists, an assistant coach, sports psychologist.Such is the intensity of state cricket here that New South Wales requiring its young batsman Michael Clark urgently, recalled him from Sri Lanka prior to Australia’s semi-final at the under-19 World Cup!The thoroughness of their organisational ability is evident in the squeak of a mouse, for Wyman can pull out of his computer a file of any player from any team that rates the player’s skills, physical levels, mental make-up, tactical ability, competition record, home life, social interests. Each of his players is videotaped every month, and they are broken into spin bowling, fast bowling, wicket-keeping squads where a 13 year old quickie and Jason Gillespie will train at the same net, under the visiting guidance of Dennis Lillee. The pyramid goes even lower.Clubs organise primary-school cricket, then pick the best of the youngsters for their club teams, which are under-14, under-16, under-17 and A, B, C and D elevens. The best of this lot is grabbed by Wyman.If a player shows exceptional ability he is kidnapped by the CBCA, where Ian Chappell arrives for a week to teach captaincy and batting, where young kids are taught not just cricket, but public speaking and even umpiring and coaching courses should their careers not go the distance.India waits, still, year after year, for its cricket academy; India won’t invite Sunil Gavaskar for nets, or Bishan Bedi; India’s state and junior teams have no modern-day qualified fitness trainers. India waits, one supposes, for a miracle.There is a lethargy that has embraced us, a belief that such is our karma. That if we beat the visiting South Africans our glory will be restored. It is a fallacy. We forget that in almost every sport we count for nothing, that cricket alone has been our sporting passport.But for how long?last_img

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