India Struggling

India’s test cricket defeat in Adelaide was arguably the very worst of the eight they have now lost in a row while playing away from home.  Melbourne was a poor effort, Sydney worse then Perth was always going to be hard.  Adelaide, though, is a batting track as the Australians demonstrated and as the Indians might have been expected to show.  They capitulated, though.  Their bowling attack was always going to struggle, and that was added to by the reluctance to bring in more spin.  The batsmen were woeful, even if in a terrible showing Sachin Tendulkar had a reasonable enough series given everyone else’s performance.

Predictably, the Indian media is now in full cry with former players of all types (and varying success rates themselves) calling for wholesale change.  As cricket writer and historian Boria Majumdar said in Melbourne before the series started, India takes this very seriously, and a 4-0 humbling will bring national wrath upon the team.  That is because the dominance of cricket has been a sort of avatar for India’s increasing awareness of its rising place more generally in the world.  Every country has used sport like this: New Zealand and rugby, Australia and cricket, Brazil and football are just some obvious examples.  It is always difficult to pin down the nexus between sport and national profile, but there is a sussurus of sentiment that gives people pride in a victory, sadness running to anger in a defeat, especially in a streak of the kind Indian cricket is now in.

There is a curiously stronger than normal analogy between the cricketers and India more generally that is worth contemplation.

It starts with leadership.  The Indian cricket team is led by M.S. Dhoni, widely regarded as “Captain Cool” if mainly for his vast income and television presence rather than outstanding captaincy.  In truth, Dhoni has been  a terrible captain in Australia, and from day one in Melbourne failed to apply pressure when he had the opportunity.  India lost strategic and tactical advantage consistently.  When Dhoni was banned from playing in Adelaide as punishment for allowing a slow over rate in Perth, that thrust Virender Sehwag into the job.  Viru “BamBam” is a great batsman but a constrained leader who then had to deal with losing the toss, watching Australia prosper before his own stars failed yet again.  Rahul “The Wall” Dravid has been bowled more in this series perhaps than in any other, a true measure of just how bad it has been.

The comparison for Dhoni is with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  The architect of India’s economic “opening” was also a “Captain Cool” when he gained the top job, one of the most difficult in the world, surely.  Since then, though, he has been like Dhoni, the coolness and adulation dimming rapidly as the extent of the success became questionable.  Like Dhoni there have been times in the past year or two when the Prime Minister has not applied the pressure when he might well have done profitably.  There are times when his strategy and tactics are close to unfathomable.  His versions of the batting order and the bowling sequence have been as odd as Dhoni’s.

Of course, in either case it has to be said that any leader is often only as good as the team available (although another saying has it that the really great skippers are those who win with an inferior side).  The key to Dhoni’s problem has been non-performance by the star names like Dravid and Laxman in the middle order, Tendulkar to a lesser degree, Viru at the top and Dhoni himself.  For Manmohan Singh the obvious parallel is with Ministers like P. Chidambaram and more egregious figures like Sharad Pawar who, of course, as President of the International Cricket Council stalks both these worlds.  The non-performance has come in the form of the Commonwealth Games scam and the even more astonishing 2G one.  Manmohan Singh’s middle order, in the form of Congress’ alliance partners have definitley let him down

The Prime Minister will be desperately seeking the fresher talent equivalents of Virat Kohli and Umesh Yadav who both had good learning curve tours in Australia.  Perhaps Manmohan Singh sees one in Sports Minister Maken who, no doubt, will be fielding plenty of suggestions as to how India cricket might come back.

In a sense the question here for both cricket and cabinet is about India’s image and standing overseas.  That is, it is now too easy for the uninformed to see the country playing well at home but abysmally overseas.  England, South Africa and Australia are the cricket problems.  On the international front the current brouhaha over the effectiveness or otherwise of India’s stance on China is one case in point, the race for UN status another, and the ability to build strongly on the current key interest from the USA just one more.

Those doubts in turn raise external queries about the robustness or otherwise of the Indian “revolution” internally.  The President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India has a clear commercial conflict of interest in that he owns the Chennai Super Kings and makes decisions about the IPL as well as regular cricket.  The 2G scam as well as the Commonwelath Games one both raise external speculation about the strengths of corporate governance and business ethics in India, at the very time when Indians of all kinds are making huge impact across the world and Indian business is keen to be regarded as a world player.  In short, despite all the apparent success for many overseas the question still remains about the transparency and robustness of the “new” India as distinct from the (often unfair)  reputation of the “old” one.

As India absorbs the lessons of cricket defeat and fashions a response over the next few weeks, it will be fascinating to compare that with events in the political world as similar travails are dealt with.

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  1. […] published here on 28 January […]

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