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January 18, 2000


India Down Under

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Wake up, and smell the coffee!

Armchair Expert

>Wanted: think tank, witch-doctor, shaman, lucky charm anything that can change the following;

Read somewhere: "We had a little discussion before the last ball was bowled. We said to ourselves, we've got to do it. It's a life and death situation. We can't let this one get away. And I'm glad the boys stuck together. Everyone chipped in. And in the end, things fell in place for us. It's what great teams are about. Delivering when the chips are down."

Heard on TV: "It was a close match. We thought we were out of it. until we got that vital wicket. From then on, we knew we were in with the chance. We had got the big one. And we felt it was only a matter of time before the rest crumbled. And it happened. We got the big wicket, and the rest just collapsed."

Seen last week: "It was a wonderful match. It's a pity one team had to lose. Today was our day. The boys believed in themselves. And we came through in the needle finish. God was on our side."

When x plays India: "Boy, the game of cricket is the winner today! What a wonderful match. Both teams played marvellous cricket. And it couldn't get any closer. Or any bigger. Arch rivals facing off. One ball to go. One run to win. One wicket to get. And they win it on a bye. What pressure! What a win."

Guess which team lost? Hint, five letter word starting with 'I.'

India always loses close matches. It doesn't matter whether it's a Test match or a one-dayer. If it's close, you can bet your bottom dollar India will lose. Any idiot will tell you that. And no, you won't need a bookie to help you. That's how much damage our mentally challenged cricket teams have done to the psyche of the Indian cricket fan. (Even more so, in the last decade.) Nowadays, it hurts to be a supporter of India. (Thanks to believing so much in a team. Only to be devastated time and again by their utter inability to keep their nerve. While the rest of India is trying their damnedest to hold theirs.)

If it's not the batting, it's the bowling that'll fail. And if both deliver, you can be sure the fielding won't. Better still, these occurrences will almost always take place in crunch matches. Series deciders. Finals. Or when something like 10 is required to win with six wickets in hand. Which will very quickly become 10 required to win with two wickets in hand and one over to go. What's more, we enjoy the dubious honour and distinction of having lost close matches at home and abroad.

Wanted: think tank, witch-doctor, shaman, lucky charm anything that can do one or all of the following;

Feed the Indian team a regular diet of adrenaline and attitude along with their idlis and eggs for breakfast. Mix two spoonfuls of passion with their early morning glass of Ovaltine. Marinate their chicken and subzis in a gravy of grit, gumption and aggro. And dunk their tea-time donuts in a generous sauce of sporting intellect. In the absence of the above, just make sure the powers that be stop fooling around and start doing something about the depths to which Indian cricket has plummeted.

I mean, hello! Is anyone listening? We are in deep trouble. We struggled to beat New Zealand at home. Lost a three match series, 3-0 -- this, despite having every reason not to do so. (After what had been reportedly said about their chances by one of the powers that be!) Our batting technique has proven to be sorely inadequate. (Just like it has for the past 10 years on even mildly bouncy wickets.) Our bowling, toothless. Our batsmen, timid. Our captain, wound up. And our temperament, in shambles. Sad to say, we have been exposed on all fronts. What's worse, this has been happening for quite a while now. So much so that even a die-hard India optimist like me feels only a sense of déjà vu when India loses, yet again, in a needle finish. No sadness now, only déjà vu. So sad.

I see it happening again and again and again. The three tail-enders make between five and seven runs among themselves. (On a good day.) The bowlers bowl at least one wide or one short-pitched or one ball down the leg-side or all three every two or three overs. We lose the match thanks to consistently clumsy cricket. Rewind to five years back, we were just as bad. Forward and play. We were still the same. Cut to now, Pause. No change. We still lose close matches. Like the last one to Pakistan. Oh, I'm sorry, does that hurt?! Don't worry, you'll get used to it. Follow the Indian team long enough and have full faith in selectorial incompetencies. Have no fear, Indian cricket is in good hands. (In fact, we seem to be leaving our ugly administrative mark even in matters like chucking. But then, doesn't Mr. Dalmiya know a thing or two about fast bowling?!)

Our unparalleled skill at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is something few teams can match. (You see, they just don't try hard enough. Whereas, we really work at finding all kinds of ingenious ways to lose close matches.) The less said about specific matches the better. I mean who wants to get into details like when our last four batsmen couldn't put together 12 runs to win the Test match? On home soil? After Sachin had made a stunning hundred? With back spasms? But then, of course, Mongia couldn't resist going for a wild heave when there was no need to. Of course, Joshi suddenly forgot how to play the same bowler he had hit for a magnificent six just a couple of overs before. Of course, Srinath didn't realise that that thing in his hand is called a bat and that he is supposed to use that to hit the ball with. Not the pad. That if he blocks with his pad he will be lbw. And if he misses with his pad, he will be bowled.

Srinath was bowled. For 0. Such is the agony and the ecstasy (when?) of being an Indian fan.

And speaking of ecstacy, who can forget that amazing World Cup semi-final between South Afirica and Australia? Where SA needed a run off the last ball. (After Klusener had bludgeoned his way to the doorstep.) And they didn't get it. Because the team they had to get it from was Australia. Which might then go on to remind us 'more heartbroken than happy' Indian cricket fans about the match between India and Pakistan. Where Pakistan needed a run off the last ball to win. And they won. Because the team they had to get it from was India.

By the way, remember that opening World Cup clash between SA and India. When we got off to a great start. And then we couldn't turn the screws on their bowling. Still, we got a decent total. We even got off to a decent start while bowling. And, we kept it fairly tight till close to the end. Only, to gave it away. And thus, a World Cup might well have been lost. All it takes is one great win to turn things around.

Unfortunately, these wins only seem to happen to others. And, more often than not, against us. Australia did it to us in the World Cup. South Africa did it to us in the last triangular series in South Africa. Even Zimbabwe has done it to us more than a couple of times. When it comes to close matches the only thing we get close to is victory. No further.

In fact, things have turned so bad, I shudder to think what Tendulkar is going through. We all know the pride with which the Little Champion wears his India colours. We all know the passion with which he plays and leads his team. But what isn't immediately obvious is the damage each loss is doing to his confidence. Case in point, he broke one of the best one-day opening partnerships in a crucial match against Pakistan. On a wicket that wasn't doing a great deal. Against an opposition that was visibly pumped. And instead, sent in an unproven stroke-player, suspect against genuine pace, to open the innings!

What was he thinking? What were they thinking? Were they thinking?

Yes, Dravid is woefully out of form. Yes, the middle order is brittle. Yes, none of the frontline batsmen are in form. Yes, our tail makes little or no runs. All the more reason you've got to back your best batsmen to deal with the crisis. But then, this whole tour has been a crisis. And the only response so far has been defence. Did anyone leave the think-tank back in India because they were worried about excess baggage? (Possible, but they did bring a lot of excess baggage with them. And it sits reading newspapers and magazines in the shelter of the pavilion.)

It has been proven beyond a doubt that there is something very seriously wrong in the way we seem to be playing our cricket. The captain's comments after every match (more often than not, lost) sound like a stuck record. "We didn't take our chances. They played really well in the crunch situation. We missed some crucial breaks. We bowled one or two bad overs. We were unlucky. We made a mistake. It just turned out to be their day. Blah, blah!"

Small correction, it always turns out to be their day.

What this team needs a sports psychologist. There, even I've said it. Perhaps if we all said it loud enough somebody might actually listen. So let's all try it together. One, two, three -- THE INDIAN TEAM NEEDS A SHRINK!!! Helloooooo! Anybody home? Guess not!

We need a shrink. Our team, that is -- though I am not sure the fans don't need one, too. Because if we don't get one, these losses are going to seriously damage our cricketers. Sure, it's not easy to cultivate the winning habit. But, it's a lot easier to cultivate the losing habit. And it gets really, really easy in tight finishes. All it takes is one little negative vibe. And the more you lose, the faster these negative vibes appear. The cricketer becomes less and less able to fight his way out of tight situations. He begins to accept losses more easily. Which is why we need a sports psychologist.

>There, I said it again!.

This is not mumbo-jumbo. We're seeing a team atrophying right before our very eyes. The once-mighty West Indians. They lost big to the South Africans. Lara beat Australia. They lost big to New Zealand. Lara couldn't do a thing. Hell, they even lost to Ganguly's India at Toronto. (But hold the celebrations, it's not like we steamrolled them or anything.) They're so deep down in the boondocks, you almost feel sorry for them. Something Steve Waugh actually admitted feeling for us. Well, almost.

#@$%ing %# it! The opposition is now considering feeling sorry for us. And our team doesn't seem to be able to do anything about it. They have forgotten that they possess some of the most exquisite skills in the business. Actually, they seem to have forgotten the basics of the game. Will someone please tell them that consistency is not about making the Indian cricket fan feel consistently ashamed about supporting them? That it is okay to make the opposition feel the gut-wrenching pain of losing a match by the skin of their teeth? And that it's high time they did so? It's also time we put a stop to this nonsense. A country of cricket crazed, cricket frenzied, cricket obsessed followers will no longer tolerate this amazing ability to screw up.

I repeat, wanted: think tank, witch-doctor, shaman, lucky charm -- anything that will bring an end to this. Not wanted: action replays.

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