The last thing India’s struggling cricket team needed was a heavyweight controversy. Their task of saving the series has become more confronting now, but cricket has seen amazing turnarounds and the steel in battle-hardened men cannot be reckoned without.
The leader’s crown of thorns has never been so deeply pierced; the coach has very little success to feel good about; the most experienced pace bowler is out in the cold and the most celebrated batsman in the history of the game is averaging 22.00 in the series.
‘We’re back’ feeling
Upheavals notwithstanding, India can emerge tangier in the Orange City Test starting today. Like Sourav Ganguly’s outfit, this team too is capable of coming out of rotten situations. And in the main, the history of the game is rich with instances of teams experiencing the ‘we’re back’ feeling.
Amidst all the drama over the 1-2 scoreline situation and former selector Mohinder Amarnath saying Dhoni got an extended run thanks to the backing of BCCI president N Srinivasan, there is a Test match to be won; a series to be saved. India may be on the brink of disaster, but as long as that hasn’t happened, there is hope.
Even if India cannot win the series by faring well in Nagpur, this Test could be a turning point in some ways.
It has happened to another team. Australia. Forty years ago.
The 1972 team which Ian Chappell took to England was rated as one of the weakest teams to leave Australian shores. When England under Ray Illingworth won the first Test at Manchester, the critics had that I-told-you-so look on their faces. The second Test at Lord’s was won by Australia through Greg Chappell’s finest hundred and superlative swing bowling which helped debutant Bob Massie claim 16 wickets in the Test. After the draw in Nottingham, the Australians felt they were done in at Leeds with a doctored pitch (yes, this happens outside India too).
So both teams went into the fifth Test at the Oval with England leading 2-1. Ian Chappell told his team that he was convinced Australia were a better team than Illingworth’s men, but he couldn’t tell the media that if his team ended up losing. There was a major decision to take. His close mate Doug Walters had managed only 54 runs in the series. Chappell dropped him, and for the first time in Australia’s 95-year Test history, a New South Wales man failed to make the playing XI. On the other hand, the XI included six Western Australians. When some of the touring Aussie journalists learnt about Walters’ axing, they expressed their surprise to the captain, whose response was something like, “then you don’t know me well enough.”
Walters took the decision well, but said, “Thank God I don’t have to get up early and go to practice.”
According to Chappell, the Oval Test was all about intense cricket spread over six days. What he didn’t elaborate too much on was he led from the front with a fine hundred. When Greg Chappell scored his, they became the only brothers to score Test centuries in the same innings. Australia won the Test by five wickets. The result couldn’t prevent England from retaining the Ashes, but Australian cricket changed for the better. No wonder Chappell remembers Oval 1972 as one of the best Test matches he has been involved in. And it contributed a lot to Chappell ending his five-year captaincy stint without a Test series defeat.
Dhoni must lead from the front. For starters he could do so by getting his playing XI right and set a batting order which will bring about the best result. Only then, Nagpur 2012 will rank as one of his finest Tests.