WORLD CHAMPIONS – after 28 years of eternal wait, doing it on home soil, and chasing a target which no other team had achieved; yes, the Men in Blue had created history on April 02, 2011 and filled the hearts of billion plus population of India with joy and pride. Needless to say, the decibel levels at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai broke all records and just as captain cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni heaved the winning six, the place erupted in an unprecedented celebration.
The moment was one of the most emotional ones for me as a fan. I was overjoyed to see the team take the victory lap around the stadium, being cheered and applauded by the spectators, waving the Indian flag and to top it all, Sachin Tendulkar being carried on the shoulders of his teammates.
The team had rallied around each other, had the belief that they could win and was led by a captain who at that time seemed could do no wrong. Dhoni was adjudged the man of the match for his unbeaten 91 off 79 balls as India won by six wickets over Sri Lanka and put an end to our endless wait since Kapil Dev’s men had lifted the trophy in England in 1983. Gautam Gambhir scored precious 97 after India had slumped to 31 for 2 by the sixth over. And the man of the series Yuvraj Singh was in the form of his life.
But what followed later in the year was akin to a nightmare. The fans watched in horror as we faced one humiliating defeat after another. It almost seemed that Team India was telling its fans – we gave you enough joy, now how about some heartbreak!
The frightening period started in England – in a series which was billed as the clash of the titans. But at the end of it, all we had to show for was one tied ODI match. There was a complete whitewash in the Tests with only one consistency – the margin of the defeats got bigger. This was something which Dhoni too accepted in one of his post-match press-conferences in England.
The batting did not click as a unit and the bowling was below par to say the least. The loss of Zaheer Khan due to injury did not help matters. The fact is that you don’t have to be an analyst of the game to see that Indians are tigers at home and struggle abroad. The pace and the swing is something that they cannot cope with. How many times have we heard experts talk about getting rid of the dead pitches of the domestic cricket if we really want to perform well abroad?
A case in point – the same English side when they toured India for an ODI series lost 5-0 to the hosts. After beating England in the fifth ODI, captain Dhoni pumped his fists in the air in a rare show of emotion and gestured towards the dressing room. Probably he was telling the boys that they had taken their revenge. Little did he realise that questions that were being asked of his unimaginative captaincy and the lackluster performance of his team would return to haunt them when they toured Australia at the end of 2011.
The only redeeming point of the England tour was the good form of Rahul Dravid who true to his tag, ‘The Wall’ fought from one end when the rest collapsed like a pack of cards. Also I was emotional to see him finally get a century at Lord’s after having missed out earlier. At that point I could not fathom him announcing his retirement in less than a year, though age was catching up on him. But such is the way of life and destiny.
What was like rubbing salt over wounds was the fact that India lost their top ranking in Tests to a resurgent England side after being at the helm for nearly 20 months.
It was almost a relief for aficionados of the game of cricket like me to see the team return back to the comfort of home soil. But it was short-lived as one of the worst years of Indian cricket was not over and we had to get ready to stomach more. Thus, a team low on confidence but high on posturing left for Down Under at the end of 2011. There were talks in media as to how this was our best chance to win a Test series in Australia and create history as the bowling attack was new and untested and their batting was not clicking as a unit. Also the big guns like Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey were struggling for form. Moreover, England had pulverised Australia in the Ashes some 12 months back and other teams like New Zealand were making hay while the sun was shining.
Yes, we did create history but the other way round. Completely outplayed and outsmarted, we came back to India after more than three months from the land of Kangaroos. It was the worst tour Down Under in 45 years for India. Ponting and Hussey came back to form and piled runs against us in the Tests and the rookie bowlers terrorised the Indian batmen as if they were the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson. To add to our woes, there was talk of rift in the Indian team with two senior players Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virender Sehwag slugging it out in public. It was almost symbolic of all that had gone wrong with our team.
The last rite of the Border-Gavaskar trophy was completed in Adelaide, as the Australians dealt the deathblow to the gutless India team and defeated the visitors in the fourth successive Test to complete the whitewash. Digest this - India have gone winless in eight successive Tests abroad and it seems that the good work that was started by Sourav Ganguly where he instilled confidence in the team that they could win abroad has been undone.
Post India’s whitewash in the Tests Down Under, Sehwag said, “The fans should be upset with our performance and I agree with them. But this is the time the fans should back the team, back the players.” How long Mr. Sehwag, how long?
The Test series was followed by the triangular ODI series where Sri Lanka joined India and Australia. Nothing much to talk about there too - India won three matches and tied another and came back home after failing to reach the finals.
I almost felt sorry for Dhoni when he came out for post-match ceremonies and press-conferences after every defeat. He was running out of excuses and failing with the words. Same old pleas – our batting is not clicking as a unit, bowlers need to do more, fielding is not up to the mark, we will try our best in the next match and so on and so forth. It seemed that the man with the Midas touch, who won us the inaugural T20 World Cup, who took us to the number one position in the Tests for the first time and who ended our wait for the World Cup after 28 years could do nothing right anymore. The man who had come back after drawing the series in South Africa in January 2011 was deserted by both his bat and his luck.
Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman and Gambhir’s showing was poor, Sachin was average with the bat and Virat Kohli was one of the silver linings. Nonetheless, he showing the middle finger to the crowd dented the image of the team further. Needless to say the Australian media slammed us and reveled in our misery by denigrating the team as a "rabble with no redeeming features".
Write-ups like - “Australia has been presented with the same under-prepared shambles that lost top place on the Test table with a 4-0 flogging in England mid-year. This over-paid, over-indulged, over-aged bunch of prima-donnas should be ashamed of themselves" – really hurt. I just hope the next time we tour Down Under we give it back to them in their own backyard.
The men in blue must have been feeling liberated after leaving the Australian shores. Moreover, Asia Cup in Dhaka was beckoning them. The thought of playing once again in the sub-continent must have made them feel good. But the outing in Dhaka turned out to be another drab and disappointing affair. India failed to reach the finals and came back home with only Sachin Tendulkar’s hundredth 100 as the redeeming feature. Yes, that was special because it was a celebration of the man who has been the pride of India for more than two decades, even though we lost to Bangladesh in that particular match.
Oh yes, the year since we won the World Cup also saw West Indies tour India for Tests and the ODIs which we won. In between Virender Sehwag blasted his way to the record books by scoring 219 against the West Indies at Indore in the one-day games. India too had paid a visit to the Caribbean before the England tour and won the Test and the ODI series there.
On the other hand, the BCCI at the moment seems more interested in the moolah that is generated from the IPL and seems to have turned a deaf ear to all the pleadings and the cajoling to stop turning the game of cricket into a circus.
Please note - we play next 18 months in the sub-continent. So men in blue can breathe easy for sometime at least.
<i>Postscript:</i> I cringe at the thought of our failed heroes hitting four and sixes in the T20 league cricket. I am an angry and a sad fan today. But like so many other diehard fans, I too haven’t given up. Guess I will again watch the next match and the next like I have been doing since my schooldays with the faith and the hope that we will get back our winning ways. As they say that there has to be light at the end of the tunnel.