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April 3, 2000


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Vox Populi

Avinash Subramaniam

I have a confession to make, this article was written by you. And you. And you. And you. And all the cricket lovers who take the trouble to read and respond to the reams and reams written about the sport, the religion, we all love and worship. And the more one reads some of the responses one gets from all the readers, the more one wonders why the mentally impoverished people who run cricket in this country are allowed to run it. Even the hate mail I get has at least a point or two worth making a note of. (Well, now you know where I get a fair bit of my raw material from. Right or otherwise.)

By the way, I once again stand corrected. And, once again, would like to apologise. Yes, India did have a forgettable tour to SA in 1996-97. Not surprisingly I forgot. But hey, as yet another most peeved reader pointed out, it's so easy being an armchair expert. (I won't even get into some of the disadvantages. Like being called a crank, instead of cricket fanatic, and somebody who does little else than shoot his mouth off.) The fact of the matter is, I heard that last factoid from players who were there. And one would imagine, at least, they'd get their facts. But why quibble? The point was, we don't tour often enough. We don't lose often enough. We get back to our winning ways at home. And, as a result, we seem to learn little from our tours. (Do most people agree losing is one way to give oneself a wake-up call or do I have disagreements here too?)

Incidentally, the sadist that I am, I watched every ball of the thrashing Shahid Afridi and Imran Nazir gave Nantie Hayward and co. And I can't for the life of me, understand why the likes of Ganguly and Tendulkar had such a hard time doing the same. Neither Afridi nor Nazir are, by any stretch of imagination, more talented than the big names in our top order. And yet, we plodded our way to next to nothing against this very same attack…and that's a six. (The second in two overs.) No, I won't get into an argument over the advantages of adopting an aggressive frame of mind. After all, we can't try to do what lesser mortals do, are doing, so successfully. And it's so easy to say things from the cool confines of my armchair, right reader? And anyway, it's such a cliché to say luck favours the brave. No? (And there goes Nantie. For yet another boundary and out of the attack.) No, the wicket is not that different. The weather is not that different. The attack is the same. Only the mindset is different. But hey, who am I to presume what's going through the players mind. (But boy, it hurt to watch the Pakis take it to the South Africans.) Well, back to the readers.

As a certain Murali writes in…we all are fans of Indian cricket and bigger fans of the sport itself. Right now, we are trying to reconcile to the fact whether it's worth being a fan of the sport or the Indian team. (Sorry Murali, took the liberty to tweak it around a bit so it would fit in.) He goes on to add…is it time to move on and appreciate the other teams (viz. SA, Ozzie etc) that have become more professional and have learnt the tricks of the trade to win games? (Evidently, the people in charge of cricket in the country don't bother to appreciate and, more important, learn from what the winning teams are doing right.)

A lot of the mail I get also points out how some of what I say is pure bilge. (With some very good reasons thrown in.) Which only goes to prove one thing. The passion for the game in this country is simply amazing. People take the trouble to keep track of this Indian team. People think about what the team is doing wrong. People expect them to win every time they go abroad. People never stop wondering why the team doesn't. People devour anything they can lay their hands on about this team. And they don't stop at that…Almost all the mail I get points to the pitches, the lack of mental strength, the need for a sports psychologist and the inability to perform under pressure as being the cause of our failures. But…the malaise continues. Makes me wonder: if the reasons for our failure are so obvious, so transparent, and if this is not the first time we are hearing these things, why are the people who ought to be taking notice, not? Oh, I forgot. They're too busy making deals, doing ads and cultivating their respective power-centres. (Silly me, to think they were there to do good for cricket.) Many readers also believe there is immense cricketing talent in India as compared to other cricketing nations.

And yet, nothing seems to be coming out of it. The MRF Pace Academy has been there for a while now with little to show. We have some of the best batters the game has seen to help young cricketers hone their batting technique and still, have batsmen who can hardly play off the back foot. We have a great think-tank for budding spin bowlers but few spinners able to take the next step. (One also wonders whether any of these so-called cricket academies lay stress on the other 50% of the game cricket is today. The part played inside the head. The one that talks about aggression, attitude, mental strength, mind-games. Or is that all, as some readers would conveniently call, most un-Indian?) The question is, why do we do so badly?

According to some, the reason for this is simple. (Is it?) In order to win games, you need the drive to win them for your country and for your team. (And the fools in charge of running the game in this country still believe it's variable pay that will do the trick.) They say the motivation is simply not there. It takes more than individual talent to win games. And some of the things that immediately come to mind are collective team effort, fitness levels, playing on all kinds of surfaces, the art of backing one another, a consistent team of players playing together for a considerable period of time and so on. (Thanks guys. I couldn't have said it better. Especially the point about backing one and other. It's no surprise India has a few individual champions and few team achievements worth writing home.)

To continue…players come and players go without contributing much to Indian cricket. Thanks to fickle selectorial policies, we rarely manage to build a cohesive unit of eleven players. And fitness? The less said about it, the better. When is the last time we had eleven completely fit players who can jump around and consider aspects such as fielding a talent worth considering a profession? Is the board doing anything about this? (I'll tell you what they are doing. They're playing musical chairs with our fitness experts.) Are the players taking this profession of fitness seriously? No. (I'm not so sure this charge can be levelled on all eleven. But yes, even the captain isn't exactly a great example when it comes to fitness.) All they do is simply complain that they play a lot of cricket and that it should be reduced. (Something a lot of ex-cricketers can't seem to understand. If you love the game, you shouldn't dislike playing it. After all, you've chosen to make a living off it.)

A lot of the mail also seems to come from the US. And almost all of it points to the NBA as an example of incredible playing schedules and physical fitness there. (To which I'd like to add the conditions faced by professional wrestlers. Most people tend to mock these guys but you've got to see, read about, the schedule these guys are faced with.) Apparently, the NBA players do it day in and day out for 8-10 months a year with a crazy amount of intensity and travelling between games to boot. (Not to forget the training and fitness programmes they go through in the off-season). Hmm…I'm not much of a follower of the NBA but I do know basketball is a tremendously taxing sport. So the point ought to be taken.

To continue…some of the readers believe our players just don't want to work that hard. In Murali's words…why would they, when they can earn their million dollars every year just on endorsements. It seems, recently, Rahul Dravid had made a comment that the reason for low fitness levels in India is we don't have surfaces where a cricketer can fling himself and practise the art of fielding like so many cricketers do in other parts of the world. Now although the reason for not flinging oneself may be true, it still does not justify not being able to bend, field and throw accurately all in one go which is all that is required to be able to become a good fieldsman. (More or less true.) How can an Azza do it? How can a Robin, at the age of 37, still fling himself at everything? (Don't ask me, ask the players who don't.) It's all in the mind. And every single Indian cricketer can do it if he wants to. (Bang on guys!) Again, it comes down to…why should I do it? What is my gain in this? I don't get any lesser endorsements if I don't field accurately. (Ouch!)

And speaking of backing one and other, when is the last time we have seen a bunch of players (or at least one) rise to the occasion and back someone else who has failed? Why can't we do that when every other team in this sport is able to? The answer is again simple. The Indian cricketer does not think much about backing one another and contribute to the team's cause. All he cares about is topping the various ratings, create a reputation for himself and get that demi-god tag on his sleeve. (Perhaps. I do remember reading an interview with Ramesh where the first thing he said was that he wanted to be as famous as Tendulkar! Now, depending on how you interpret it, you can draw your own conclusions.)

Like Murali and many others, I too liked Harsha Bhogle's recent article about the 100% man - Robin Singh. He is no demi-god. He is no man for records. He is no man in any ratings. Yet he is the man who has been there for India every time, more times than not, when the country needed him. He has tried on so many occasions to pull India out of a hole that…I need to take the time off to wipe a sentimental tear off the corner of my eye. We need eleven players of this calibre. (But for that we'll need a BCCI of some calibre.) In a nutshell…I think I'll take the liberty to end this one my way.

We all say our two cents worth because we all love the game. We want India to win. And we want to feel the pride of being part of a nation of winners. Sure, not everything you and I say may be the gospel truth. We may disagree on a few things. But, all in all, one thing's for sure. We desperately need some genuine cricket lovers to take charge. Or else…well, you know or else.

Shit! And that's the 100-partnership for the opening wicket. What did Tendulkar, Dravid, Azhar, Jadeja and Ganguly manage against the SA in the crucial match? Never mind. And…what a catch by Kallis! (Remember the sitter dropped by Jadeja, of all people, in that match? But hey, only we have problems like losing sight of the ball. And we can always laugh it off.)

Finally, thanks guys for all the mail. So what if nobody listens to us. We've got to keep trying. Cheers and catch ya later

Avinash Subramaniam previously used to write under the pseudonym Armchair Expert.

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