Ask any player anywhere in the world and he will say Test cricket is the ultimate. But today – though he may not openly admit it – he knows in his heart that his Twenty20 performance is far more important. It may sound nonsensical yet the aspiring cricketer has started believing that the easiest way to get into the limelight is through the shortest format of the game.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and most of his teammates may not accept that Twenty20 cricket has started hurting their Test status. People will still hail Dhoni as the captain who won the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup, the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy besides manipulating India to the No.1 position in Test cricket.
India’s Test players look like the youngsters who got hooked on junk food, not knowing the real taste of the spread of a festival feast. They have mostly been brought up on Twenty20 stuff and they are struggling to come to grips with the delicacies of Test cricket. Any diplomatic explanation for India’s abysmal performance will not serve the purpose. We have to accept that this is their strength now and it is not good enough to consistently perform at least overseas. See the disparity between tough sides and the weak.
England lost their first Test against India on their last tour here and bounced back to take the series 2-1 whereas India took a 1-0 lead and then disintegrated to allow England to come back with a vengeance to make it a no-contest winning 3-1. There is a message for India in the steamrolling, play your Test cricket mostly on your cart-tracks back home and be happy mauling the opposition. There was a time when Sri Lanka used to be their favourite whipping boys, arranging tours at short notice, and now they found the West Indies.
The Caribbean team was here last October to celebrate Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement and they will be here again in two months, this time to soothe Indian feelings and to help them forget their England nightmare and tell the world that they have recovered well enough to take on Australia.
How the Indian players wish they could change their game as quickly as some of us, the media, could in hindsight with 20-20 vision. How easy it is to roll out adjectives, epithets and pour scorn at a team that shows little stomach for a fight. Victory is always historic and great and defeat is shameful.
Even if one has to show some sympathy, how can the Indian think-tank explain Sri Lanka beating England on the strength of their spin just before India got there. India took two spinners whose batting credentials may have weighed in their favour and yet they didn’t play their best spinner.
Also how could you drop Shikhar Dhawan at Old Trafford just when he was finding his feet though scoring 31 out of an opening stand of 40 and 37 at Southampton unless for sentimental reasons to play a senior colleague Gautam Gambhir for having brought him on the tour? How can a team that depends on its bowlers to get runs and also bowl the opposition out twice prosper?
Every time India visit England, Australia and South Africa hopes are raised and if the team doesn’t measure up to expectations the players are panned mercilessly, perhaps, in some cases justifiably. Don’t forget cricket is a team game and can’t be depending on one or two batsmen to score runs and a couple of bowlers to deliver.
On this tour you didn’t have a Rahul Dravid to give heart to the teammates like he tried to do four years ago scoring three hundreds to give some respectability to the totals. All that we got to hear is the deficiencies in front-foot and back-foot play with temperament thrown in. Yes, you can’t be experimenting with your slip catchers in England. Again in Twenty20 you have no use for slip-catchers so how do you find specialists in Tests.
One thing is for sure, Gambhir’s intensity is best left for Kolkata Knight Riders and Rohit Sharma continues to be exasperating. After spending almost an hour-and-half at the wicket and scoring 28 he can’t be getting out the way he did, that too to Moeen Ali, England’s spinning find. The sad truth is he will score so heavily on India pitches he will force his way back in. Someone should drill into him that he should go in with uncluttered mind and iron out technical glitches. That is if the selectors still have time for him.
Likewise, someone should also find out what’s wrong with Mohammad Shami who left the Indian shores as the leader of the Indian attack and returning anything but that. India made one point clear — that they are a side for the shorter versions. They did not bat 50 overs in four innings and they were in such a tearing hurry to catch up with Twenty20 Champions League that they played nine overs more than 20 in their last Test innings.
What is the way forward? Convert most of the players from the present Test side into India A and send them to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and pick players who have done well on the recent India A tour of Down Under for the winter tour of Australia. Some players need to be protected for the World Cup, too. As for Dhoni, he protected himself as a batsman but not as a wicketkeeper. Once his keeping is questionable, his place as captain becomes untenable.