It’s time our cricketers stopped travelling outside the subcontinent. The pathetic display of the IPL teams in the Champions League Twenty20 shows that nothing has changed since our drubbing in England and Australia. Our batsmen look all at sea as soon as the ball starts seaming about as it is doing on these South African pitches. And the redoubtable Sachin Tendulkar has a new nemesis in a left-arm spinner from Garankuwa who wasn’t even born when the ‘maestro’ made his Test debut — Aaron Mpho Phangiso hasn’t stopped grinning ever since he castled the Mumbai Indians star for 16.
Three IPL teams have yet to register a victory and are virtually out of the tournament already. The fourth one, Delhi Daredevils, are the only one to manage a win, and that was against fellow IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders. It doesn’t get any worse than this.
It’s not just the batting. Bowlers like L Balaji are dishing out hitting practice at the pace they are able to muster. On Indian pitches, where the ball does not come on to the bat, they get away with it sometimes, but here they are sadly exposed.
It’s not even as though they are playing against the best players from Australia and South Africa. The IPL teams are studded with Test players, both Indian and their foreign imports. In comparison, the champions from other leagues look bereft of stars. That they are still prevailing over the IPL teams shows just how out of touch our players have got with playing on pitches with a bit of grass and moisture. At the same time, they will play like champions as soon as they return to the subcontinent. We really should do something about this bipolar disorder. But what?
The easy solution would be to simply stop sending our cricketers abroad. We can take a leaf out of the American book. They play almost all their baseball, basketball and football on their own soil, and feel no embarrassment over calling them world championships.
Everyone knows by now that it’s Indian cricket that draws the eyeballs and therefore the moolah. So there’s no danger of us being isolated. Teams and players from all over will be queuing up to play in India. We can easily promote a series of India-Centric Championships for all formats of the game and call it ICC to boot.
The harder solution is to pick horses for courses. This is very hard to do because selection would have to be based on subjective criteria and not on domestic performances. Will the new chairman of selectors, Sandeep Patil, have the gumption to tell a batsman who gets zillions of runs on Indian pitches that his technique does not cut it abroad? But if you think about it, the logical thing to do is in fact to pick different sides, and maybe captains too, for games played in India and overseas. The conditions are so different that it’s almost a different ball-game. You wouldn’t pick a baseball team to play cricket, would you? So why blindly choose players who do well in India to make fools of themselves in England, Australia and South Africa?
The other rubicon that Mr Patil will have to cross is to tell Mr Tendulkar that enough is enough. One reason we are struggling abroad is because in the last few years we haven’t been grooming new talent in Tests. It’s only now that Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have made way for Cheteshwar Pujara and hopefully Ajinkya Rahane soon.
It’s ironical that MS Dhoni can’t seem to be able to win a game in the land where he burst on the international scene, winning the inaugural World Twenty20 with a bunch of youngsters, minus the Big Four. Perhaps, he was an instinctive captain then, who knew his limitations and therefore kept things simple (except of course that last over to Joginder Sharma in the World Cup final which I still believe he just got lucky with). These days you get the feeling he fancies himself as a thinking captain, and keeps getting things horribly wrong, as with his team selection and other decisions in the recent World Twenty20. And now from his handling of Chennai Super Kings, it looks as if our lucky captain has lost his mojo. What will Mr Patil do about that, I wonder.