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May 20, 1999


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Indian cricket is going the way of Indian hockey

Harsha Bhogle, on Real Audio.

A transcript of the conversation Harsha Bhogle had with Prem Panicker on May 20

Good Morning Harsha. Though 'not so good' would be the right word for the morning, wouldn't it?

Mohammed Azharuddin
Pic: Laurence Griffiths / Allsport
Well Prem, in all the 180 one-day international matches that I have covered, and all the Test matches as well, inclusive of the one that India lost to Pakistan at Chennai, I have to admit that I have never ever felt the kind of depression I went through after India lost yesterday. I mean, I had a little bit of work to take care of last night, but I chose to spend the time instead with non-cricketing people. I would have to say, and I say this without any hesitation, that this has to be the most disheartening performance I have ever seen

I have to agree with you there, Harsha, I have never ever seen a team try harder to throw away a match on a cricket field. But, where exactly do you figure that things went wrong?

Prem, I think this match was not lost on a cricket field, but in their heads. I think we have seen this ten or twelve times before, that in a tense situation, India always tends to play death or glory cricket, and we all know this quite well... don't we, that death or glory cricket is not going to win you any matches.
I just feel that we are not a nation of team builders, because there tends to be so much competition coming through the ranks, in a country as populous as ours, all of us tend to have an individualistic streak in ourselves that prevents us form being outstanding team players. For example, look at the South Africans: they are such fantastic team men. You can take one player out and put another one in, and you'll barely see the difference... because they all have the same high levels of commitment . But in India, because we have this individualistic streak, we tend to go for glory in tense situations and try and finish things off ourselves, with as much flourish as possible, because when the big cake is being handed out, we all want a bigger piece of it than the others. I sometimes feel as if the Kanitkar boundary was one of the most terrible things that happened to our cricket. It portrayed the fact that you can sit back and do absolutely nothing of significance throughout the whole match, but you can come in with a couple of balls to go, hit a boundary, win a match, land two or three contracts and be a big, national hero. Let alone our cricketers, look at ourselves. The fact that we cheered Kanitikar on, and made him such a big star, is the reason why our cricketers tend to chase glory in crunch situations, and inevitably, it is death, not glory that we end up with.

But Harsha, if we go with that analysis, we pretty much give up on the team, don't we? That this sort of thing is going to keep happening again and again...

Well, I think the team lost it in their minds. Towards the end of the match, I was by the boundary ... because of our television positions, and Pradeep Mandhani, the photographer, came up to me and asked me to look through his lens, and he focussed them on the Indian dressing room. The ask at that time was 45 of 8 overs, and what I saw through the lens was absolutely shocking. India had just finished clobbering runs of the last two overs, and yet the faces in the dressing room were so long …the mood was so pessimistic, almost like that of a funeral. And I asked myself, 'how can the team win if it doesn't have even this much of belief in itself' ? If you have Nayan Mongia, a batsman who was middling everything, a batsman with a Test hundred, and the coolest head in the Indian team - Robin Singh, playing some superb cricket, I mean, he was keeping his cool, stealing the ones and twos, cooling his partners down, and the mood in the Indian dressing room was so dark, so identical to that of a funeral .
If the dressing room is not going to be optimistic with two quality batsman in the middle chasing 45 off 8 overs, then it simply does not believe in itself enough.
Michael Holding came up to me and said that if the Indian team believes in itself, it is going to win. And I think therein lies the problem, it simply doesn't have the necessary confidence. And I cannot understand for the life of me, as to why it does not have this belief in itself. I see this in myself sometimes. I believe that we, all of us involved in presenting cricket live, are all performers at some level or the other, and every time I am confronted with a tense situation, I try to get it over with as quickly as possible. People in the media have told me that I speak too quickly, and I believe that is because of an inborn lack of confidence and insecurity, which is why I tend to speak far too quickly, to try and get things over with as quickly as possible. It is only when you acquire confidence, that you acquire patience. This could be the reason as to why India were trying to finish it off with big shots, because they did not have the confidence, the required self -belief to leave it till later.
India could have finished the match in a canter, what with five balls to spare, by just pushing the ball around for singles . Five years ago, that margin of five balls wouldn't really have been particularly acceptable, and hence the tearing hurry. Someone like Michael Bevan for instance, we tend to laugh when people call him the best one-day batsman in the world, but he would have had that required self-belief and confidence to keep chipping it around, and waited till the end to finish off the game. He wouldn't have rushed himself . But India ended up playing glory cricket. Didn't they? They tried to go for the big shots, because they aren't too fond of finishing off a game with singles. But look at what happened: no glory, just death. The only positive aspect I thought was Robin Singh, keeping his cool, and I think he deserves a huge pat on the back for it.

But Harsha, when the team took the field, they seemed quite charged up. With all the emotions of "lets win it for Sachin" running through the team, they seemed like a motivated outfit out there, but all this seemingly went to pieces after eight overs or so, ever since Agarkar came into the attack. And it wasn't just the bowling, it was the fielding cracking as well. All the team spirit that we saw in the game against South Africa, players being there for each other, all of it seemed to just disintegrate.What do you think went wrong there?

I have absolutely no idea at all, Prem. I just think they lost it somewhere along the way while fielding. We seem to have one quality performer in Srinath who is bowling fabulously, but there just doesn't seem to be enough back-up if one of the main bowlers ends up having a bad day . Poor Ajit Agarkar is having a nightmare in the middle, and at a juncture like that, there just needs to be a bit of on-field vision, to pull things in the right direction. The situation needs somebody to say that "Look guys, there's no need to panic. We need to win this game.We can beat Zimbabwe nine times out of ten, they really are not that special a side". But the team just seemed to lose their minds, didn't they? 51 extras! The word Tony Greig used for it was 'disgusting ' , and he didn't just confine himself to that. There was a lot of other strong language as well.

Yes, but the stronger words seemed to come from Geoffrey Boycott, didn't they? I think when India chose to field first, and he said this on air, that India did not have the nerve required to chase.

Yes, that is exactly what he said. And he told me this later, that India is a team full of nice guys, and so on and so forth, but when there is a crunch on, these guys are simply crap. But in retrospect, it wasn't a bad decision to field first.There was a bit of life in the pitch and India had Zimbabwe hopping around at 40 odd for 2, but they just let up on the pressure on Zimbabwe. I think, mentally, they really aren't made of champion stuff. Look at the Proteas. When they were 30/3, and then 100/7, everybody thought there was going to be an upset; that Sri Lanka was going to pull it off. But deep inside, I bet the South Africans believed that if they could stretch their total till about 150 or so, their bowling would be good enough to shoot out the opposition and win the game. That is a product of their self-belief. India, instead, tends to panic … I wonder if that is a sign of our culture.

Yes, after the match against the West Indies, Akram said the same thing, that if they were shot out for 200, they believed that they had the bowling to get the other side out for less. But at this juncture, Harsha, the point is that the rest of India's World Cup campaign has boiled down to three must-win matches...

Yes, for India to get into the Super Six right now, they obviously have to win all their matches. Plus, Zimbabwe will have to drop all their games from now, against England, Sri Lanka and South Africa, and the game that Zimbabwe might pick their points up from is their match against Sri Lanka, because Sri Lanka is low on morale now, and Zimbabwe is pretty high on confidence. Plus, if England lose their match against South Africa, as well as against India, then Zimbabwe, India and England will all be stuck on six points, which means that net run-rate becomes the decisive factor. But India still has to believe that they are in with a chance to make it to the Super Six by winning everything, because there is every likelihood that Zimbabwe might lose all their matches from this point - against Sri Lanka, England and South Africa.

But India has to go into every game from now firing on all cylinders, don't they? They have to keep one eye on their net run-rate, and win comprehensively, not just scrape through their matches, which again brings it down to the confidence thing, and the fact that this side is much lower on confidence than the other big sides in the Cup. How exactly does one go about introducing self-confidence into this side in the little time that remains?

I say this without joking, that I think a hypnotic effect is called for to raise the confidence levels of this side. I think it needs someone to put the team in a trance before they step out onto the field, a state in which they say to themselves that they can win, that they are capable of beating top sides.Tony Greig and Boycott were telling me that which team wouldn't give their right arms to have the talent that India has... And yet, they are nowhere mentally. I have written this for the last four or five years, that Indian cricket is going the way of Indian hockey. They are not losing out on talent, but they are losing out on the required nuances of the modern game. South Africa do not have the sort of talent that India and Pakistan do, but they have mastered the grammar of modern cricket, and that is why they are where they are now, they have pretty much become the team to beat, haven't they? If you have the talent, and you back it up with discipline, then you become a truly great side. But there is no discipline.We bowl wides and no balls, give away runs on the field, miss the stumps, and this indiscipline, or this ignorance, or arrogance or whatever, is the primary reason for our downfall. And indiscipline is rampant in our country isn' t it?

Another point that Tony Greig made after the match, albeit a point tangential to the one you were making about the indiscipline factor, is that India is shooting itself in the foot by isolating themselves from the media. He said that the experts in the media, apart from just interviewing the players and presenting shows, are capable of providing very important feedback to the players within the Indian team. And Greig was very harsh about this habit; extremely critical. What do you feel about it, Harsha?

Ten out of ten, Prem; Ten out of ten. We in the media have been banging our heads against the wall trying to tell the players, the Indian manager, Brijesh Patel, that the players need to be made more accessible to the media. No one can blame Brijesh Patel, because he is the manager on a short term basis, for being loyal to his bosses in the BCCI , but the Indian cricket board simply has to believe that all the positive stories that are coming out in the English papers, the ones about South Africa, about England, about what wonderful teams they are, and what wonderful players they have, is because their teams and players are accessible to the media. The other day, there was this lovely, long piece on what a wonderful player Craig McMillian of New Zealand is. Now, he is talented, but really nowhere as talented as say someone like Rahul Dravid or Saurav Ganguly is. Now, if the board allowed the players to be accessible to the media, these same players would be able to talk positively about themselves, and in turn, positive, good things about them would be written in the newspapers and magazines. This would automatically raise their own self-confidence, boost their morale, as they see nice things being written about them. And interaction with people outside the immediate confines of the game, the media, might actually help them tumble across new ideas that might help them raise their own game . Our cricketers aren't prisoners, neither are they morons, and they do not need to be hidden from the media like this. They are wonderful people, and they need to let the media know that. Minus the interaction, an international player often tends to believe that "I am a cricketer, I know all there is to know about cricket, and there is little that anyone outside the game can actually teach me" and they close themselves off from new ideas. Tony Greig is spot on when he makes this particular point.

But where exactly is this instruction barring player-media interaction coming from?

From the cricket board, Prem. Because they believe in the old Zamindari system of keeping their own people down. They believe that they will start speaking out against other members within their team to the media. That is so demeaning for our players. To think that they will go to England as a team, and then talk about how hopeless other players in their side are, is terribly insulting for the players.
The only reason I feel is acceptable, is the fact that very few people in India's highly competitive print media do interviews with tape recorders, so it is easy for a mischievous journalist to misquote a player. And you know how hard it is for a person to go back to the media and say that "no, that is not what I said, I was misquoted". That is a very big fear within the board, that no tape recorders are used, and reporting nowadays has tended to be very sensational in its nature in recent times. What I suggested was, don't cut yourself off completely, but speak to a camera, a tape recorder, not to a scribble pad, so that you cannot be misquoted. But they have to speak to the media, because it is insulting to believe that they do not have the necessary maturity to speak to the media.

Harsha, the frightening part of this scenario is the fact that all the things that you are talking about, such as self-confidence, maturity, openness to the media, all seem to be things that India are currently incapable of. Does that mean that we are giving up on India in this contest?

If yesterday's match was any indication, and I hate to say this, because I am so pumped up about this tournament.... but yes, it could be the end of the road for India. In terms of cricketing ability, India have no problems, absolutely none when it comes to putting bat on ball. Yesterday, India were the superior side by a long way, I think that the problems lie within the mind. The team has a coach right now, i.e, Anshuman Gaekwad, who is trying to solve cricketing problems out there. There are no cricketing problems, the problems are all mental. They have a fantastic mind coach in Bobby Simpson, but the players have to listen to him a little more, which I'm not sure if they are.

I'm still looking for positives in this whole mess, Harsha …do you think shame might be a factor that will pull them through?

Fear. Fear could be a bigger factor. The prospect of coming back home in May, after all that hype, will instill a fear of what might happen to their reputations, their name, maybe even what such abject performances might do to their commercial contracts, their commercial value. That might contribute to a positive performance. Coming back in May, I think, is the cricketing equivalent of being faced with death, and pushed into a corner, they might then start to look at themselves and think that they were chasing almost 270 yesterday, considering the fact that they had 4 overs lopped off, and that even after losing their three best batsmen with barely fifty on the board, they still came as close as they did, which I figure is a fantastic effort.
Sadagoppan Ramesh
Pic: Stu Forster / Allsport

I thought that Sadagopan Ramesh had the mind of a veteran till he got to fifty. When he got to fifty, he had the mind of a baby. Anybody who has watched even five one-dayers would have known that Ramesh was going to throw it away after he got to his fifty. There were banners all around the game shouting "I am going to get out, come watch me do it ". He got shackled, couldn't push the singles, tried a pair of wild shots over long on and long off, one of which was dropped, after which Jadeja came down the track and had a rather harsh, almost desperate word with him, but next ball, he holed out to mid-on. Everybody on the ground knew he was all set to throw it away, it was that apparent. But till he got to his fifty, I thought he played outstandingly well. Someone should kick him up the backside now, and tell him to go and watch the highlights. And ask him to see what a brilliant player he was for the first 50 runs, and how stupidly he played for the last five runs, and then tell him to pull his socks up, and take note of how big an enemy he has within himself .

But the guy who is going to be kicking all the backsides is going to have his work cut out for himself , isn't he? There are ten others in the team waiting in the same queue?

Yes, but you really have to look at the positives too. There was Jadeja's batting, Robin's batting, Srinath and Kumble's bowling. Really , there were lots of positives in the game yesterday, and you have to take heart from them.

Well, Harsha, that should be it for today. I'll be in touch with you for the rest of the tournament.

Alright, bye for now, Prem.

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Harsha Bhogle

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