Needed: A little perspective and some patience

July 15, 2011 – September 16, 2011: 64 days of hell for fans of Indian cricket team. This tour to England saw the Indian team win a grand total of zero internationals (9-0-1), win three tour games and draw two. All in all, miserable doesn’t even begin to explain the returns from this tour.  Almost as pathetic as the tour to Australia in ’99-’00 where India managed to lose the test series three-nil, win a lone ODI vs. Pakistan in the triangular series and lose 2 of the three tour matches as well, or the ’96-’97 tour to South Africa where India won just one international match (against Zimbabwe).  There however is a significant difference between those pasting than the more recent one at the hands of England: Expectations. India were coming off the match-fixing scandal in ’99 and even had the BCCI secretary predicting they would be white-washed down under and well, who really believed India had much of a chance against Allan Donald and Co. in ’96-’97?

The last fifteen years have given the Indian fans plenty to cheer and cherish. This relentless hammering India received in England is as good a time as any to look back at the several moments of tremendous joy this Indian team has provided its fans, as Rohit Naimpally wrote in his blog, “Victory cannot mean as much without defeat, for highs are most accurately measured against the lows.”

There have been remarkable turnarounds (’01 Kolkata), improbable wins (Mohali ’10), work-man like effort (England ’07), World cups (’07 and ’11), bloody mindedness (’06 Jamaica), domination (Pakistan ’04), comebacks (’11 South Africa), winning streaks, series wins abroad, number one ranking, almost three years of no lost test series and much more, keyed by different players of varying abilities and skills at different times. It also saw the rise of the Indian middle order might – some of the finest craftsmen with the bat the game has ever seen, and a few who can be called as true match winners with the ball. There is plenty to lean back on the day after the biggest let down in recent memory when the food doesn’t taste so good.

The Indian team had been transformed from home bullies and lousy travelers in to a unit that had the self-belief it can compete and win across different conditions against any opposition. Sure, they may not have been the juggernaut that the West Indians of 70’s and ‘80s were, but they provided the stiffest competition of any to the all-conquering Aussies of the same era.

I am sure it is as tough a time to the Indian players as it is to their fans. Sharda Ugra wrote after the Oval test (reporting from MS Dhoni’s press conference), “It must have hurt. It better have.” Of course it must have hurt. How could it not have? This team has shown remarkable resilience and pride in its ability to bounce back from confidence crushing defeats. For them to be at the receiving end of such a thrashing in the series must surely have rankled. Just because they haven’t been emotional about it does not mean it did not affect them.

The biggest positives going India’s way are the men at the helm – MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher, neither of whom are prone to any public display of emotions. Every reaction is muted and every response is measured. No frills about them. It is quite obvious that the era of the giants is drawing to a close and a new adventure with fledglings is about to commence. No one better suited to command this ship than Dhoni. To paraphrase R Ashwin from a TV interview, “To this day, he [Dhoni] is one guy I haven’t figured out. I would bowl and look at him for a response. There would be no reaction. I’d take a wicket and look at him for a response; it would stay the same. I crumpled over after bowling a super over and lost the game for us. He walked by and smiled and did not say a thing.”

The Indian team of the not too a distant future will feature players trying to make a name for themselves in the international game, although it is obvious that they have the talent (Pujara, Sharma, Kohli, Rahane and Raina to name a few). They are going to need the time to grow into their roles and space to fail – and learn – and become the next generation’s equivalent of the middle order that saw Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman own it for nearly 15 years.

It is plainly obvious that the BCCI has a tremendous responsibility (and it is their duty) to protect its assets – the players. Without the Indian players being healthy and fit, the product on the field is going to suffer. The BCCI has to get its act together on many fronts: from talent scouting to injury rehabilitation programs; from having a deeper bench that is ready for international cricket to the workload of the players.

This is also going to be the responsibility of the India fans just as much. It may be too much to ask of them but it is in each of the Indian fan’s interest to temper their expectations for a little while till the newbies find their feet. It is not overnight that the Indian team became number one in the world. If we are going to “outrage” over every defeat and celebrate “over the top” every win, and basically be bi-polar with nothing in between, it actually is going to be counterproductive to the cause of the team.

It is easy being a fan when your favorite team is doing well. In fact, all sorts of fans come out of the woodwork when the team is winning everything in its sights. You can tell whom the real fans are by how they rally around the team even when everything goes wrong. If Murphy were around to watch this series, with the injuries and even rain interrupting to make consolatory wins elusive, he would have quite happily agreed to change the law named after him to something sounding more Indian.

We have stood on the shoulders of the giants and we have seen things that previous generations of India fans never have. We had covered ourselves in glory derived from broken jaws and bruised bodies. It is time we pay them back during this lean period with a sense of moderation and not drag them through the mud. As in the Guns N’ Roses song:

“It’ll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience”

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