Once compulsory viewing, India’s cricket team is increasingly driving its fans back home to hit the off button, as defeat follows defeat on its overseas tours.
A year ago, India was on top of the world rankings for five-day tests; it has now lost seven consecutive on the road. It was swept, 4-0, by England in the middle of 2011. Now Australia has a chance to sweep India, too, having won the first three tests in their series, with the fourth beginning Tuesday in Adelaide.
“I cannot remember any Indian team going through such a dreadful run overseas in for such a long time,” wrote Saurav Ganguly, a former India captain, in The Sydney Morning Herald.
India is historically a poor team on the road, but expectations are higher now that the team has spent time as No. 1 and was also the sole opponent to consistently trouble Australia during its period of domination between the mid-1990s and late 2000s.
None of India’s seven matches have been close. Four, including the last two against Australia, have been by a margin of an innings — with the winners scoring more runs in a single innings than India amassed in two.
India’s passion for cricket is unrivaled, so this miserable run has inspired fevered debate back home, but it is worth noting that India’s opponents did their part, too, in the lopsided results.
England played with a remorseless, ruthless efficiency that raised it to No.1 in the rankings, while Australia — which has a clutch of new bowlers — shows serious signs of a revival under the leadership of Michael Clarke.
“The kind of batting we have done, we’ve let the entire nation down,” said Gambhir, who replied to critics calling for Laxman to be dropped by saying “the top seven should be criticized. We have all failed as a unit.”
Even Dravid, brilliant in England, where he played three innings of 100 or more in four matches, has looked vulnerable in Australia, consistently getting bowled for low scores. Since he turned 39 earlier this month, critics have been asking whether he has crossed the line where “experienced” becomes “old.”
“At least three senior Indian batsmen were simply too tired to move feet and tackle a moving ball after fielding for almost two days,” wrote the former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram after India lost by an innings at Perth, adding that players like Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman “have been legends, but past laurels won’t win you matches.”
Some critics argue that overconcentration on the shorter forms of the game, — like the one-day format used in the World Cup, which India won, and the quickfire Twenty20 popularized in the last few years by the Indian Premier League — has undermined player technique in the longer five-day tests. But David Warner of Australia has developed from a Twenty20 specialist into a serious test batsman. If he can, why not India’s young stars?
Captains of losing teams invariably come under scrutiny. The former Australian skipper Ian Chappell has argued that M.S. Dhoni — a national icon after leading India to victory in the World Cup last year — no longer merits his place on the team as either a player or the captain. Akram said that “players are looking like individuals and not gelling as a unit.”
Even with that rest, India might have struggled. The World Cup triumph was the culmination of years of effort, but what happens to achievers, once they have achieved?
Starting again, as any number of teams who have won memorable victories can confirm, is tough. It was no fluke that Dravid, who did not play in the World Cup, was the exception to a dismal rule in England.
Failure rarely has a single cause. Most of the above has contributed. What is not in doubt is Ganguly’s contention that “tough decisions and honest ones” will be needed to pull cricket’s largest and richest nation out of its tailspin in the most prestigious form of the game.