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Quo vadis Indian cricket?
April 02, 2007
On March 23rd -- the day the music died -- they first called up friends and consoled each other. Then like all good Indians, they developed irrefutable theories about Indian cricket. A spruced-up version of their scholarly email exchanges follows.
Once upon a time, Sridhar and Amogh were also part of the Coffee, Cricket & Curd Rice Club of Atlanta, GA. They have dumped it now, and got a life instead. Poor them.
1. How was India knocked out of the 1987 Reliance Cup?
2. Who won the 2006 Duleep Trophy?
If you are like me, you know the answer to 1: For want of a fine leg, a Cup was lost. But you don't know the answer to 2. Therein lies the rub.
We are a nation obsessed with cricket, yet we hardly know our foremost domestic cricketers, and we won't go watch our State teams play if we were paid to do it. All the same, we expect our international team to lord it over the world. We want our cricketers, like our Gods, to spring from nowhere.
As one friend pointed out, that's not necessarily the end of the world. Brazilian soccer runs that way, and Brazil has won more World Cups than anyone else.
The Name of the Game
Let's walk down that path a little. Assume that we want to follow the Brazil school of sport, and win games by un-coached raw brilliance. It is a sound, even delightful way to go about it. The problem, however, is that cricket is not soccer. It's a long game, and 30 minutes of individual brilliance will not win you games consistently. And even if it did, we do not have the right kind of brilliance. The only way a Test match will be won in an hour is through bowling, and we all know that we have never had bowling brilliance, notwithstanding Messrs. Dev, Kumble, Chandra and Bedi. Indeed, that's why Test cricket's closest answer to Brazil are our friends from across the border. They pull out the Ronaldinhos of bowling from their dusty gallis every passing year.
Let's take one-day cricket then. The experts often lament India's obsession with it. Alas, they fail to understand something that the Indian fan has, by instinct. If we have to be Brazil, our soccer will be ODI cricket, or even, I suspect, Twenty20. These games can be won by 30 minutes of frenzied batting, and it is in batting that we have consistently thrown up brilliance. (It's a pity that we deify our freak master batsmen, but that's our problem, not theirs.) Do we produce enough brilliant batsmen to be the Brazil of Twenty20? I don't know. All I know is that it's our best bet, if we want to be Brazil.
The Unimportance of Being Germany
But let's say we don't want to be Brazil. If we want to be Germany, we need to buy in to Greg Chappell's much-maligned process. We need to knuckle down, forget about winning anything for 2-3 years, and come up with a unit which will consistently be more than the sum of its parts. In cricketing terms, we will become South Africa. (Not Australia -- the last ten years of Australian dominance have been built on a freak marriage of Brazilian flair with German system.) Such a transformation may not be possible, because it requires changes too deep, too far-reaching to be possible here and now. It may not even be desirable, because for most of us, sport is 75% entertainment and 25% inspiration. Grant that, and you'll also have admit you'd rather watch Pakistan bumbling than South Africa executing any day.
Wanted: The Indian Cricket League
Whichever way we want to go about it, we need a reality check. People don't buy tech stock because a company has a great Design spec. They buy tech stocks if they see working prototypes and products. Not so Indian cricket. We have been overselling the Indian cricket stock, with absolutely no tangible evidence that it has intrinsic worth to match. Getting knocked out of the Super Eights is, I admit, below expectations. But if you are anyway not going to win the Cup -- and I daresay noone realistically expected us to -- what's the big damn difference? As they say in American football: "If you are first, you are first. If you're second, you're nothing."
Which brings us around nicely to the core problem: There is no team game in which the US of A are world champions, unless you want to count relay running. It doesn't bother the Americans, because they play each other and declare themselves World champions anyway. It is a wholesome, Gandhian way to go about sport. American sport is local, intense and free of narrow-minded hatred, racism and nationalist frenzy. It is entertainment at its best; and as for its sporting merits, argue with Dwayne Wade's incredible shutting out of the Mavericks circa 2006.
Take India, on the other hand. We play no sport, and watch one. And even that one, we only watch it on TV on a global, grand scale. It is unwholesome. Worse, it borders on psychotic, delusional behaviour.
It is true that soccer and cricket, national team-games both, produce more thrill and poetry than tennis and basketball. Let us strike a balance then, and follow the soccer model. If we used our cricket money to set up a vibrant league with international players, we will be halfway there. If Ponting played for the Bombay Blues this week, we wouldn't insanely cry for his blood when Australia plays India the next week. Who knows, we might even find our bowling Ronaldinho in a league game.
Too much i' the Sun
Most of all, if we want the Indian cricket team to improve, let's stay away from the game for a while. Michealangelo, it is said, turned out his assistants because he was having too much fun with them. He worked in solitude for years, and out came the vault of the Sistine chapel, The Creation of Man and all. He couldn't have done it before cheering crowds. Let's face it. Rome was not built in a day, and it most certainly wasn't built on a Reality TV show.
(About the authors: Like everyone else, Badri, Arumugam and Arvind are engineers. They spend their days following cricket and their nights running eminently pointless simulations)
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