Myopic India architects of their own downfall
Mumbai: England steamrolled India with a consistent and ruthless display in the recently concluded 4-0 series whitewash but the tourists` meek surrender of the number one Test ranking was primarily their own doing.
Occupants of the top slot since December 2009, India added the 50-over World Cup in April this year to signal their intention of dominating the game like the West Indies and Australia had done so in the recent past.
However, England`s utter dominance in a quartet of lopsided Test victories proved that India`s fortress was built on flimsy foundations.
India`s much-vaunted batting line-up failed to fire, their bowlers bled runs without success and the standard of their fielding would have embarrassed any club side.
"Indian cricket has become the laughing stock of the world game and while that might not seem to matter to a board that generates 70 percent of the sport`s global income and has in its locker-room the World Cup trophy, no less, ridicule tends to be a corrosive disease," ESPN Cricinfo`s Andrew Miller wrote.
Many believe the seeds of destruction were sown by the Indian cricket board, which compiled a lucrative but punishing schedule that ensured most of the players were either exhausted or injured by the time they set foot on English soil.
India`s World Cup victory in April was preceded by a South Africa tour and less than a week after lifting one-day cricket`s biggest trophy in Mumbai, skipper MS Dhoni and his men were honouring their Indian Premier League (IPL) obligations in the cash-rich Twenty20 league.
A short tour of the West Indies followed before they arrived in England just in time for a practice game ahead of the four-match series against a battle-hardened and hungry England side.
Ajit Wadekar, who led India to their first series victory in England 40 years ago, insists the players should have skipped the IPL tournament.
"Tell me which English player participated in the IPL? None of them," Wadekar said.
"We could not even enjoy our World Cup win properly. The IPL started immediately. It was too much and it`s telling on the players."
Wadekar`s point was driven home by the dismal experiences of three key players before and during the England series.
Openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan either picked up or aggravated existing injuries during the 51-day IPL tournament and subsequently skipped the trip to the Caribbean.
On top of that, a fresh injury to Gambhir compounded India`s crisis and the tourists were only once able to start a Test with their regular opening partnership, tinkering with the batting order in the other three matches.
Sehwag was unavailable for the first two matches as he recovered from shoulder surgery and after being rushed into action for the third Test at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, was dismissed for first-ball ducks in both innings.
Zaheer lasted just one Test, bowling 13 1/2 overs in the first innings of the opening match at Lord`s, before a hamstring injury ended his tour.
India`s lack of planning the hallmark of any team that wants to dominate the game, was also cruelly exposed.
Devoid of a reserve opener in the squad, Rahul Dravid, India`s only batsman to offer resistance was promoted to the top of the order to face England`s fired-up seamers with the new ball.
Selectors also sprang a surprise when they called up left-arm seamer RP Singh as Zaheer`s replacement, despite not playing a Test match since April 2008.
They also recalled Dravid for the subsequent limited-overs series after an absence of two years in another decision that smacked of poor planning and desperation.
As Dhoni pointed out after losing his first series as captain, cracks had appeared throughout India`s much-vaunted batting line-up.
While the team urgently needs to identify and groom a third opener, the lower-middle order position vacated by former captain Sourav Ganguly when he retired in 2008 has also proved difficult to fill.
Yuvraj Singh, who brings immense value in the shorter formats, has not been able to cement his place in the Test side and Suresh Raina`s inadequate technique does not make him an automatic choice either.
Adding to that dilemma, batting stalwarts Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Vangipurappu Laxman are all on the wrong side of their thirties and phasing them out will be the biggest challenge for India, where cricket towers over all other sports.
"That`s a phase I think every country has to cope with. It`s like a cycle," Wadekar said, referring to the crisis Australia faced after the retirement of players like Matthew Hayden, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
"Here, nobody bothers about it and there is no planning at all. We have to plan our future properly. This is where we should do a little bit of rotation and get more youngsters."
Former wicketkeeper and chairman of selectors Kiran More echoed those views.
"Test cricket is the biggest concern area. Test cricket makes a huge difference for the young and fringe players. I think we haven`t developed one Test player in the last few years," More said.
"You have to promote young players, give them opportunities and carry them on the tours. That`s how you develop a player.”
"You have to carry AN extra couple of fast bowlers on the tour. Pakistan during Imran Khan`s time used to carry 17-18 players on the tour.
"Imran used to carry extra fast bowlers who could bowl in the nets and gain the experience of the conditions. That has not happened... there have been so many changes. It is not helping the players and they are not gaining any confidence."