One year after World Cup high, India continue downhill
Mumbai: The Indian cricket team has sunk from one low to another in recent months but good memories come flashing by as the first anniversary of its epoch-making World Cup triumph falls on Monday.
One of the most poignant reminiscences is the six over long on, hit fittingly by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni off Sri Lankan pacer Nuwan Kulasekara. It capped a successful run-chase of the stiff target of 275 in the summit clash, which enabled the country to recapture cricket`s show-piece after 28 years. The previous triumph had come in 1983, at Lord`s, London.
Other memories that run across the mind are of the celebrations that followed at Wankhede Stadium here with fireworks lighting the sky, a full-throated cheer from the packed gathering inside, across the country and elsewhere, and senior batsman Sachin Tendulkar and coach Gary Kirsten being carried around the ground by players on shoulders.
The partying by the players continued till the wee hours of the morning at Hotel Taj Mahal Palace. Elsewhere in the metropolis, fans made night into day with noisy celebrations.
The post-match media conference, jointly addressed by Dhoni and man of the tournament Yuvraj Singh, saw a jam-packed hall in the basement below the Media Box. Both the players had a dazed look on their faces and often looked at each other with a smile or a laugh before answering the plethora of questions.
The next day, the players were feted at the Governor`s Bungalow at Mumbai`s Malabar Hill. They did not have much time to bask in the glory, though, as the Indian Premier League was about to start, followed by a tour to West Indies. It has been downhill since. Barring victories over the none-too-strong Windies away and at home, the team suffered 0-4 Test series whitewashes in England and Australia and also losing the no 1 Test status.
For Dilip Vengsarkar, a member of Kapil Dev`s triumphant 1983 squad, India were always favourites to win the World Cup at home with the side they had.
"We were always favourites to win, especially because we were playing in India. Everyone contributed...In the final, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj and Dhoni did exceedingly well to chase the target," said the former skipper.
Vengsarkar blames the lack of sufficient preparation for the slide that followed.
"Lack of preparation and overlapping of tours affected the performance. We went to the West Indies (soon after IPL), and then went to England and then Australia where we were found wanting in those conditions," he said.
Even in the one-day format, the team`s fortunes nose-dived as they lost a weather-affected series in England, failed to make the tri-series final in Australia and then continued the flop show in the Asia Cup in Dhaka last month.
While Sachin Tendulkar and his countless fans had to endure an agonising wait for his 100th international hundred after the maestro had notched up his 99th in the World Cup, things changed off the field too, with the departure of Kirsten as coach, replaced by Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher.
The biggest blow, perhaps, came in the form of the news that Cup hero Yuvraj Singh had a rare form of cancer. He underwent treatment in USA, and is recovering now. The form of quite a few members of the team slumped, including that of Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh.
The off spinner even lost his regular place in the Test and one-day squad. The poor form in Australia also led to the decision of no. 3 batting mainstay Rahul Dravid to pull curtains on his illustrious career in which he has scored over 23,000 international runs and stands next only to Tendulkar in the Test run-getters` list.
Even Tendulkar, who called the Cup triumph as the culmination of his childhood dream, saw a significant dip in his form in England and Australia, and at the end of unsuccessful campaign in the Asia Cup, he decided to go to London to consult a specialist doctor for his injured toe.
The Mumbai Indians captain returned yesterday to lead his franchise outfit in IPL, starting on April 4.
The indisputable fact is, after the euphoria of the World Cup victory, the team`s fortunes have plunged steeply. A quick resurrection of the glory days is what the Indian players and millions of fans are waiting for.