What's wrong with Indian cricket?

Jan 20, 2012, 15:40 IST | Michael Jeh

India coach Duncan Fletcher has mislaid his document which plotted England's 2005 success over Australia

India coach Duncan Fletcher has mislaid his document which plotted England's 2005 success over Australia

I have long held the view that when India became No 1, nobody else would ever catch them again.  That may yet prove to be prophetic but on the basis of current evidence, they'll have to wait some considerable while before they become top dog again, let alone hold on to that position for any meaningful period.

The sheer passion for cricket in the Indian sub-continent, married to large populations for whom cricket has no genuine competitor, led me to my bullish estimation of the region's imminent invincibility.  It now appears that any hopes of an Asian cricketing tsunami sweeping all before it was indeed a premature assertion. 

What we've seen in Perth puts Indian cricket in perspective.  Sri Lanka's recent efforts against South Africa, the Durban shock notwithstanding, suggests that their problems go much deeper than mere bankruptcy.  For a region that should be producing young cricketers of rare talent, both countries seem to be relying unduly on grand old men who are clearly on the wane.  Where is the youth?  Where is the legacy of all these development programs and academies that have been springing up all over the place with precious little gold to show for all the mining?

Duncan Fletcher. Pic/Getty Images

The great irony is that despite T20 cricket being India's ruin, they might actually need to play in that sort of fashion to start competing with Australia.  David Warner has shown us that T20 can be a launching pad for a viable Test career if you stick to your strengths.  Instead, India have gone back into a defensive mindset when attack was their only hope of salvation.

As much as I admire Rahul Dravid, he continues to get stuck at No 3 and this just gets the bowling attack on top, stifling the rest of the lower order, inadequate though their techniques have proven to be.  I never thought Dravid's technique could ever come under scrutiny, but for a No 3 to keep getting bowled as often as he does, especially on bouncy Australian pitches must be a concern. 

VVS Laxman keeps getting out in the same way, caught on the crease, poking limply, a far cry from the flowing, wristy artist that we love so much in Australia.  As for MS Dhoni, I realise that it is almost heresy to question anything he does for India, but let me be the first to ask the question; is his place in the Test team under threat?  Australian audiences simply don't understand why he is revered at home.  Blaze away MS -- live by the sword, survive by the sword!

Okay, let's give the Australian bowlers some credit.  Instead of serving up the short barrage that India expected, they have cleverly bowled a fuller length, at pace, and caught the Indians flat-footed.  The peerless Tendulkar apart, the others have just poked around and waited for the inevitable.  The only way to beat Australia is to score quickly and play them at their own game. 

India have done that successfully in the past, England did it with great success last year.  Duncan Fletcher himself came up with the blueprint in 2005 when he coached England to an Ashes triumph, but he has mislaid the manuscript this time around.

The bowlers too look short of the sort of raw power that the modern game now depends.  No longer can India rely on the excuses of old; smaller physiques and a rich spin bowling heritage. 

I think back to the Bedi, Prasanna, Venkat era and then look at someone like Ashwin and shake my head.  Is that the legacy of what T20 cricket has done for India's spin bowling stocks?  Clearly Ashwin is effective in a limited overs context, but if he is the best Test spinner in the whole of India, what does that say about the system? 

Perhaps the proliferation of T20 cricket has led to a generation of spinners bowling flatter and less imaginatively than their predeccesors, focusing more on beating batsmen off the pitch with the doosra than through the air.  I suppose you can't blame them.  Shorter boundaries and heavier bats make it so much easier to mishit a six even when you've beaten in flight. 

So a new generation of Indian spinner has evolved to cope with this power game but they've lost their art in the process. The quicks are just pretenders. Ishant Sharma spends far too much energy trying to niggle batsmen instead of bowling fast and straight.  He may be able to bully West Indians and lower order Kiwis, but his aggro looks pathetic without the wickets to match the trash talk.  Dare I say it -- to some cultures, the whole sledging thing just doesn't come naturally and it tends to distract them from their game. 

I don't like watching Aussie fast bowlers swearing and snarling but they seem to be able to use it to unsettle the batsmen or raise their own intensity levels.  Sharma just looks foolish - don't confuse bad sledging with good bowling. Zaheer is clever with the new ball but his pace drops dramatically as the day wears on.  Vinay Kumar would struggle to hold down a Sheffield Shield spot on the evidence of that first afternoon in Perth, on the same pitch that India's vaunted batting line up could only manage 161. 

So where's the phalanx of fast bowlers who should now be coming out of all the academies dotted around India?  India has some big lads now so that's no excuse any more. India will probably improve dramatically in the ODI series and the current crisis will soon be forgotten. 

It seems that ODI cricket is what appeases the masses.  On flatter pitches, with fewer slips and more outfielders, India play with more aggression.  If they did this in Test cricket, perhaps, just perhaps, they might just take the attack back to Australia.  They're in no-man's land now and that's not good enough from a country with so much talent. Watching them bat now, it's almost a curious case of "hurry up and wait".

Sri Lanka-born Michael Jeh is a former MCC and Oxford player, who has also played senior club cricket in Australia.

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