The Art of Somanambulism

Indian cricket, juggling chainsaws, is in disarray. A series of searing defeats and Houdini-like escapes have been dominating the headlines. Barring victories on patta wickets at home, its record over the last couple of years overseas has been abysmal.

A confused Board, an even more out-of-sync coaching support staff, a selection committee which doesn’t know what to do (it has since been kicked out), an ageing lineup with 35-year-olds trying to keep pace with the dynamic changes in white ball cricket and, despite its availability, a diverse gene pool not being given adequate opportunities, and an ecosystem that encourages hyperbole covering up warts are responsible for the dismal state of affairs.

Innumerable experiments, chopping and changing players, keeping them on tenterhooks, have together accentuated this decline. Moreover, bowlers who are capable of delivering with the jagged edge of a katana and wakizashi, such as Kuldeep Yadav and Umran Malik, have been kept sheathed.

In this theatre of the absurd, also known as the strange world of Indian cricket, there is only disorder and chaos. In two successive T20 World Cups over two years all these failings have shown up. We need to cut the umbilical cord with the past, right here, right now.

Transposing the learnings from the M.S. Dhoni playbook of 2008, when he reportedly asked the Board to junk Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman because they were maladroit on the field when the team for the CB series was being selected in Oz. This enlightenment dawned on him after winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa with a young squad.

Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa. Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, R.P. Singh, Dinesh Karthik and an unknown Joginder Sharma were some of the young guns picked to represent India in this latest abbreviated version. By the time the Commonwealth Bank tri-series came along in 2008, Dhoni had decided to stamp his imprimatur on Indian cricket in 50 overs as well.

Other than Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, MSD plumped for youth again, knowing fully well that they brought in a new energy required for the kinetic intensity of white ball cricket.

The nucleus was the same as the T20 winning team — Uthappa, Karthik, Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, while Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel were added; and Praveen Kumar replaced Joginder Sharma. This team then became the fulcrum of the 2011 and 2013 MSD-helmed ICC Trophy-winning teams. This period saw India’s emergence as a white ball Godzilla.

FADE TO BLACK

Shikar Dhawan is 37, Rohit Sharma is 35 going on 36, Virat Kohli is 34, Ravi Ashwin 36, Dinesh Karthik a much-vaunted finisher at 38, Shardul Thakur is 31, Mohd Shami is 32, K.L. Rahul is 32 — all great servants of Indian cricket, but they cannot remain a part of the white ball set-up anymore. The next two years have two more World Cups — one each over 20 and 50 overs. These players need to call time.

Now, let us examine the support staff, Rahul Dravid, unarguably one of the greatest batsmen India has produced, may have done an admirable job as a talent-spotter and nurturing the tyros in NCA, but he needs a compass in white ball cricket.

Batting coach Vikram Rathore was a novice as a player and I don’t understand why he continues. What is the input that he provides to the batting unit?

Look at India’s recent record kayoed and on the canvas in the T20 WC in UAE, thrashed in the Asia Cup, huffed and puffed in the T20 WC in Oz, and wiped out in a beat down by England in the semis to have Michael Vaughn to say, “If I ran Indian cricket, I would swallow my pride … India are playing a white ball game that is dated and have done for years.” These words sting and yet they ring true.

By July this year, India had used 40 players in 30 matches since the 2021 WC, 27 players in 16 T20s, 21 each in six ODIs and eight Tests. This is an excessive amount of churning. It leads to insecurity and few and far opportunities for youngsters who are in the prime of youth, straining at the leash. Cases in point are Shubman Gill and Sanju Samson.

For the savant it is the manner of losing that causes despair — merciless demolitions across all formats: against Pakistan in the T20 match up in UAE, drubbing at the hands of the Saffers in Tests and white ball cricket, bashing against England in the one-off Test and then finally the subjugation by England in the World Cup semi-final. And if that didnt hurt, the latest bout of cluelessness against Bangladesh has found India plumbing new depths.

Strategic thinking and tactics have been given the go-by as the support staff sit vacuously. I go back to Vaughn to buttress my point: Every player in the world who goes to the Indian Premier League says how it improves their game, but what have India ever delivered? Since winning the 50-over World Cup on home soil in 2011, what have they done? Nothing. India are playing a white-ball game that is dated and have done for years.

Not using a wrist spinner when just about everyone in the world is using one, not optimising an out and out tearaway fast bowler despite having one in the team, repeatedly tinkering with the batting order and finally not giving opportunities to Ishan Kishan, Prithvi Shaw, Rajesh Patidar and a whole host of batters.

And then of course there an even bigger conundrum — Rishabh Pant. Wonder what they are doing about him. Finally the nail came down with Rahul Dravid doing a Dravid on the Indian set-up — asking K.L. Rahul to don the gloves. All this when there are two other wicket keepers in the mix — Ishan Kishan and Samson.

Look at the recent playlist — India’s King Kong cricket board is busy flying teams all over the world. Lucre, after all, s the lubricant. So, Samson was in the squad for the New Zealand tour, but not in the squad that went to Bangladesh thereafter. The opposite was true for Kishan and Mohammadd Siraj. Among the batters, Shubman Gill, Deepak Hooda and Suryakumar Yadav were going to New Zealand, but not Bangladesh; Rajat Patidar and Rahul Tripathi were going to Bangladesh but not to New Zealand.

Confused at the sheer bizarre nature of the thought process? Wait, there is more. Two wristspinners — Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav — in New Zealand, and none in Bangladesh. And as far as the fast bowlers go — Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik went to New Zealand, and Yash Dayal, who was injured and replaced by Kuldeep Sen, to Bangladesh. Sen lost you the first ODI against Bangladesh. This litany of woes has been piling up since the UAE T20 WC.

This churning is costing India. The Board, meanwhile, is deep in the arms of Morpheus since it prised out the Kohli-Ravi Shastri duo last November. In the 12 months since Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid, aided and abetted by a somnambulist board, has sent Indian cricket into a death spiral. Dravid needed a break, so V.V.S. Laxman, Hrishikesh Kanithkar and Sairaj Bahutule replacing Vikram Rathore and Paras Mhambrey. Leaving all of us who love the beautiful game wondering who is in charge?

Indian cricket needs to be repurposed, refashioned. it needs to stop hiding in the long grass, it needs to shed its Zen Koan upbringing and approach. Wishful thinking and Pollyannaish daydreaming has to be consigned to the rubbish heap of history. Look at once dowdy and boring England who have transitioned into an exciting revolutionary team that is taking the game by the scruff of the neck.

Bazball is the new nomenclature in international cricket and Indian cricket needs to pick itself from the bootstrap and show character.

From what was once heard in a deafening echo chamber of best batting and even better bowling lineup, we have been reduced to tatters; egregious and dull as ditchwater. A new team, a new skipper with a new coaching set-up for white ball cricket is a priority. Is anyone listening in the secret society called BCCI?

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