What’s Ailing Indian Cricket?

To say that Indian cricket is in a transition phase would be a gross understatement. The situation has been like this since one can remember. Questions about players’ place in the eleven emerge much more often than they should. The batting order sees more changes than dresses in a fashion show. How and why have we reached at a point when we must question the captain’s place in the side and rightly so?

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The answer lies deep within the structural composition of the team. The decline began soon after the 2011 World Cup victory. India’s away record became dismal, to say the least. Series after series, losses mounted with no ray of hope. The time had come for the seniors to hang their boots or were they booted out? Next thing you know young guys who had taken the IPL by storm composed the eleven, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu and Mohit Sharma to name a few. One would have thought that the team was finally ready. However, the key to any transition is the slow phasing out of the older players and the arrival of younger ones one at a time as they fight to make their mark. However, in the Indian team, the motley of players like Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Zaheer didn’t stick around for reasons ranging from ego, poor performances and injuries. The side lacked and still lacks a bowling spearhead. The pace department is hardly fixed as our pacers are usually unfit.

If one concentrates solely on the performance of Dhoni, based on his batting, he has left a lot to be desired. His role as a finisher is repeatedly being called into question and his batting at the death has been characterized by more hits and misses than boundaries. His tactics of playing it slow and taking the game to the last over have had modest impact, to use a euphemism. No wonder his batting and captaincy is being questioned. Perhaps somewhere in between Dhoni wanted to act more as a comprehensive batsman and less as a finisher. He was probably in two minds and ended up choosing the path which may not have been the best for the team. Realizing this now, he is trying to make amends, however, time has passed and Virat Kohli is knocking on the doors of captaincy. Dhoni must face the same fate that he subjected others to. For far too long he enjoyed the patronage of his godfather, N. Srinivasan.  Now that there is a change in the BCCI leadership, Dhoni’s freedom and autonomy along with a gross lack of oversight are at a risk. The no questions asked approach will no longer hold good.

The batting department has deteriorated to mind-boggling extent. While Rohit Sharma may be in a fantastic touch at the moment, he hasn’t been like this nor can he be like this for long. Sharma’s run-ins with inconsistency are hardly a surprise anymore. He has always had the strong backing of the captain and one can argue perhaps that it is bearing fruit now but at the cost of several losses earlier and the deprivation of an equal opportunity to players of the caliber of Cheteshwar Pujara. Shikhar Dhawan has time and again shown that he lacks any sort of consistency along with Suresh Raina. Under Dhoni, players are being extended a very long rope and a single good series or performance from a player is used as an excuse to include him while ignoring a slew of bad performances. The old adage comes to mind, “Form is temporary, class is permanent.” Perhaps the lack of proper team management and evaluation of performances has allowed mediocrity to permeate the highest echelons of Indian cricket. One can only hope that under the next captain, players are included in the team solely on the basis of their merit and not on them being in the captain’s good books or IPL franchise.

If one looks at the bowling department, barring Ashwin there has been no single player who has managed to retain his place. The pacers are injury prone and in their quest for speed sacrifice on line and length. One must remember a great loss to Indian spin community has been in the form of Pragyan Ojha who has been sidelined for quite some time and has always been overlooked in favour of second-rate spinners like Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel by terming them as all-rounders. If the definition of all-rounder was being a mediocre bowler and a pathetic batsman, they surely do fit the bill.

As we criticize the bowlers, why should we forget the coach? After Gary Kirsten, arguably one of the finest coaches India has had in recent times, we saw the arrival of Duncan Fletcher. He spoke little, did little and achieved little. His mild-mannered attitude was never really taken seriously by the players and one cannot imagine how he could have had any say in the team among the Dhoni-Srinivasan nexus. Perhaps he was the accidental coach and his position is widely similar to that of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister.

Why should we forget the BCCI then? The most corrupt and mismanaged cricket board whose greed surpasses imagination. Srinivasan was the biggest cockroach that Indian cricket has dealt with. So much so, that the Supreme Court had to intervene to ensure his removal. Conflict of interest is something that the BCCI knows not. Its cash-cow, IPL has been marred by so many controversies that Pepsi ended its sponsorship contract so as to disassociate itself with something so corrupt. IPL has provided us with players that for some reason we think are fit to play test cricket.

At the end of the day, one can only hope for a revival in the team’s fortunes. While the BCCI leadership has changed, Dhoni’s position is yet secure despite being untenable. Somehow, one good score when the world criticizes him is enough to overlook a string of poor performances. As long as you do your job once in a while, you are allowed the liberty to indulge in poor performances as long as you like! The transition must now be hurried along and Kohli must be allowed to form his own team as soon as possible. Until then, Indian cricket is going to remain stagnant.

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Commercialization of Sports: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Nowadays, cricket is no longer a game. It has become a business or a profession of sort for Indians. No longer do cricketers have to search for alternate sources of income like they used to in the old days. The same shall become true for hockey and football in India if the current trend continues. The commercialization of sport is a newer phenomenon for Indians. Gone are the days when sports was only about international rivalries, nowadays club culture dominates cricket as well football (to some extent) in India.

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One can attribute all this to the Indian Premier League (IPL). It started as a spectacle. It began pitting players of the same nation against each other and establishing mouth-watering permutations and combinations to allow players of different nationalities to play together. From the outside, it promoted the entry of youth into this much-revered sport. From the inside, it turned out to be money-churner. Its lure was too much to ignore for the cricket bigwigs. Revenue flowed like the Ganges to the BCCI and the cricketers. Controversies continued unabated. It has been blamed for deterioration of test cricket and turning the game into a mere money-machine. The recent controversies surrounding former BCCI chairman and India Cements owner, N Srinivasan doesn’t help the tournament’s image either.

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While this was the ugly aspect of sports commercialization, it didn’t turn out like this for the Pro Kabaddi League. Kabaddi, a rural sport with little international relevance and even lesser audience took off like a fever. As stars descended on the kabaddi scene, Indians found the link to their roots. Little known kabaddi stars became household names overnight. He game got a huge fillip. It was a shot in the arm for a dying game. So far, kabaddi has represented the most successful transformation into a commercial event with the least number of controversies and the greatest success for the game itself.

A study in contrast to both IPL and Pro Kabaddi League is the Indian Super League (ISL) which started this year as an exquisite football competition. It managed to attract a few aging international stars and along with vast celebrity visibility, it became another money-churner. ISL has been criticized for doing little work at the grassroots level which matters for a dormant footballing nation like India. Exposure of local Indian players to stars like Nicholas Anelka and Alessandro Del Piero can do unimaginable wonders for the game. Although it is at a nascent stage, it has attracted crowds like football never before did in India. ISL must make sure that it doesn’t end up the IPL way and instead promotes the game to Indians like it never before did.

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Little known leagues include the Hockey India League, which failed to draw a lot of interest in the national game. Although it attracted international talent, Indians still remain oblivious to this league whose commercial success may be bleak. Also falling in the same category is the Indian Badminton League which also is the new kid but has had its fair share of controversies thanks to Jwala Gutta. The newcomers have been International Premier Tennis League and the Champions Tennis League. The success of both shall be seen as time progresses.

Overall, what we are seeing is the pumping of money into sports other than cricket in India. While Pro Kabaddi League and ISL show promising signs, they must not go the IPL way and remain strictly professional games. IPL has tarnished the image of BCCI and cricket for people all around and its focus on money leaves out the critical aspect of the game, which is to promote new talent. With commercial leagues in hockey, kabaddi and football, for the first time we can say that Indian sports stars are being given their due. No longer do we have to read about their glories in obscure corners of the sports editions. They have made their mark and are here to stay. If they can promote viewer interest without increasing focus on commercialization and revenue generation, they are here to stay for the long-haul as far as the common Indian is concerned. With more than 1.2 billion people, India can become the next sports powerhouse if it manage to give fillip to such leagues without making them mere revenue machines.