Sunday, January 15, 2012

In defence of Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS….

Our response to the defeat in Australia is pathetic to say the least. Typically over the top. Agreed 2011 has hardly been the year of glory for India – except of course the ODI world cup win in April. We got beaten black and blue in England (a complete whitewash) and now the same appears to be happening in Australia. There is nothing wrong in being disappointed; even angry. Cricket is a game of passion in India. A drubbing of this order is bound to take the mood in the country down a few notches. And yet our vociferous demand – mostly led by a news-starved and immature media – is typically driven by a need to sensationalize than to analyze carefully.

The biggest demand made in India is that all the “oldies” should be thrown out. VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni are no good. They’ve outlived their time. And how long can we wait for Tendulkar’s 100th hundred – as if once that event happens we can also conveniently dump him. And while we are at the cleaning up stage, let’s also dump the “relatively” old guys Gambhir and Sehwag. I am reminded of that old ad “saare ghar ke badal daalo” (change each piece in the house)! So who should we get in place of these oldies? Doesn’t matter really as long as we throw out the entire present team. That’s how angry we are right now. We are able to see nothing except this very bullet-point objective. We are driven by our heart; not by our mind.

But then that’s usually true of us Indians. We are usually driven by our hearts; almost never by our minds. We appreciate the cold thinking that the Australians do to build their team; yet we fault our selectors when they do the same (I will prove this later). Why do we do this? Because we cannot handle failures. We are poor losers. And our media prefers to be a reflector of the mood of the people – if only it did some analysis instead, the truth would emerge and the conclusions drawn would be very different.

Because here’s what the analysis would have revealed. When the team for the Australia tour was being chosen, the selectors would have looked at the performance of the eligible players in the full year of 2011. Guess who the players with the best average were? Rahul Dravid had an average of 57.25. The war horse made 1145 runs including 5 centuries and 4 half centuries. Next was Sachin Tendulkar with an average of 47.3 including one century and 5 half centuries. Yes, Tendu has had a dry spell with respect to centuries, but there is no drop in his average (his life time average is some 54). The third in the pecking order was our now-much-reviled VVS Laxman with an average of 40.7 including one century and 6 half centuries. All these best performers were the “oldies” – who we want sacked at the earliest. In fact, there were only seven other cricketers who made more runs than Tendulkar in 2011 and two of these seven are our lads (VVS and Dravid). Dravid was the best of the best – top scoring with 1145 runs – and also making the maximum number of centuries (5) and half centuries (4). Let’s look at the performance of some of the younger lads. Kohli (22.4), Raina (25.9), Murali Vijay (12 but from only 3 tests) and Yuvi (27.2 but from just 3 tests) are all at the lower end of the performance ratings. So who do we sack – the youngsters or the oldies??? Our selectors were right – they chose the best players available…..let’s not blame them just because we aren’t doing well.

What about the Aussies who we are all raving about right now? Not even one top order batsman of theirs matches up to Dravid. Warner had an average of 48.75, but from only 3 tests – strictly not comparable. The next highest was Hussey with 42.5 and Clarke with 38.6. What about the oldies that Australia stuck with? The oldest of them all – Ponting – had an average of only 31.9 and not a single century in all of 2011. But Australia didn’t react the way we are reacting. They didn’t go and throw out all their proven and experienced batsmen. Their media didn’t demand their scalps inspite of having had a bad year. They preferred to be driven by their minds…..

There is no doubt in my mind that we must demand accountability from our cricketers. They must perform. They cannot expect to be included in the team simply because of their past performances. Just like film stars, they are valued only as long as they perform. But any decision we take on them should be based on cold logic and not on hot emotions. Agreed India has many young and talented nuggets waiting to get the break – and they must be given a chance – but that decision must be made strategically. At all point, a certain balance must be maintained between youth and experience. That’s why I am with Dhoni when he has advised caution against removing senior players randomly.

What we need to do now is analyze the reason we do so badly when we go to countries like Australia and England. We’ll perhaps do poorly in South Africa and NZ also. The reason is not difficult to find. Our batsmen cannot handle the short pitched and fast rising deliveries. We get no training in those when playing in our own country. Our young batsmen – who we are counting on now – don’t get any training either. When exposed to the pitches in these countries, they are literally caught off-guard. It’s different in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies where the pitches are more like we have in our country. So we do well in those countries. If we are serious about winning internationally, we must develop pitches that help us rehearse adequately right here in our own country.

A similar reason had led to the debacle of Indian hockey when we failed to install astro turfs in our country. The astro turfs were much faster compared to the natural grounds on which we used to play. No wonder then that the Australians and Europeans took hockey away from us. It wasn’t about the capability of our players then; it isn’t about it now.

There is a reason why our first reaction is always to “throw them out”. We are an immature country driven by our emotions. When someone does well, we revere the person; even building temples in their names. We pay them like no one else does; award them with national honors like Padmi Shris and Padma Bhushans; give them huge advertising contracts. But somewhere in our minds, we grudge them the money they make. We feel jeolous of them. We don’t mind them their fame, but in a country where hundreds of millions of people still can’t eat two good meals a day, we feel that so much money is bad. We believe that money “spoils” the cricketers. We believe that they stop working hard once they have made their bucks. That’s why they went go-karting right? We forget that psychologists often advise people before a big event to relax – do something that is different from the main thing. In many ways, the moment these guys start earning lots of money, we start plotting their downfall. We want them to fail, so we can say “he deserved it”. We are unforgiving even towards those who have performed consistently for so long – the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar. In the past, we were similarly unfair to Ganguly and in the future, we will be to Dhoni.

So what do we do now? Well…..we analyze our problems and fix those. The problem is not our batsmen. The problem like I have mentioned earlier is the quality of pitches in our own country. The problem is the attitude of our fans and our media. The problem of our current underperformance cannot be addressed by pandering to media demands of sacking one and all. The solution lies in going into a huddle and addressing the problem from the roots.

The real truth is that we must learn to be a little more mature in our conduct. No country can perform in this manner. This yoyo like behavior will have devastating consequences. For all we know, Dravid and Tendulkar may still have it in them to give us a few more years of great performance. Let’s not act against them just because we are angry. Let’s demand more – but let’s be fair please. And my strong word of advice to media – please refrain from sensationalizing things. You sensationalized politics, Anna and you are now sensationalizing our poor performance in Australia….it’s time you became a little mature too.


  1. You couldn't be more right. Well said.

  2. When we were unfair to Ganguly, why were you quite? Then everyone was rooting for youngsters. It is wrong to throw out the senior players. I feel it should be performance driven, and going by the records our seniors have performed better.