South Africa, Final Frontier or Graveyard of Fallen Heroes?
Victory came with some help from Indian quarters
One of the trends on social media as India found themselves caught on the wrong foot by the rampantly relentless South African hosts was #BCCIpolitics. As India capitulated in the one day internationals much like that did in the Test series, the Indian crickets fans believe a former captain and his compatriot have led the way to the destruction of Indian cricket. The final results would not lie.
There is no doubt that away series tend to take a more emotional toll on the players in terms of attrition. However, when compounded with an uncertain dressing room brought on by board politics that peg the Indian captain front and center and leave a vacuum of leadership as well as worthy talent to find its spot, the result is often just as disastrous as it looks. This, notwithstanding stand-in ODI captain KL Rahul’s assessment at the end of the tour that the matches were closer than they looked.
The fact remains that India, as much as they would like to believe, could not get out of the stranglehold that always kept South Africa at their heels. This, in many ways, can only be attributed to the overshadowing board politics that was already looking to sink the ship before it reached South African shores compounded with the fact that there was little attention, perhaps as a result of it, to choosing the right people for the job at hand.
How does a low spirited, far less talented South African cricket team, turn the tables as they did, that too after losing the first Test in such predictable fashion that even local cricket fraternities had already begun writing epitaphs of their team? How do a small vulnerable group, with little by way of reputation or resources behind them, and caught up in wave after wave of corruption and anecdotes of past and present racism take on the mettle of the mighty Indian cricket team that has developed quite the reputation over the past couple of years of doing rather well on overseas tours and still come out triumphantly on top?
It was a great vindication that despite recent matters, South Africa do have the belly for a fight after all and people to fight their wars for them, even if they are not quite in the superstar status league as some of their Indian counterparts.
But it came with some help from Indian quarters.
This is not to discredit the South African cricket for bringing hope to their continent in the manner in which they chose to literally rise like Phoenix out of the ashes to present two defiant fightbacks to win the Test series and then stamp themselves belligerently with bat and ball – even beating India at their own game of spin – in the one day internationals. This is also not to say a more focussed Indian team would not have allowed it.
The score line says it all. Nothing could be more consistent than the fact that South Africa won the two Tests by an identical seven wickets margin. They do again in the one day series, suggesting that when they have had the better of the visitors, they have been resolute in finishing off the task, something India will rue could not be said about them because they could not keep their eye on the ball.
India would have still fallen short of expectations, given that the team composition has neither felt settled nor right. With the constant swirl of criticism and languid performances in the midst of a dressing room in flux, it is hardly the calm atmosphere that fashions great results.
The change of leadership for the one day internationals is arduous in a squad that is clearly divided between players whose time, it appears, has come and gone, and those who are simply raring to go but are being given rare chances as they were on tour. Funnily enough, BCCI’s fancied captain, Rohit Sharma, is yet to formally take charge which only adds to the confusion and mayhem about the dressing room occupants and concern amongst fans and stakeholders about how the future of Indian cricket is to managed.
Truth be told, India did not take the bull by the horns at any stage and did not look like it. There were moments in the Test series and the one day internationals when India could have run away with the match. But they flattered to deceive. In stark contrast, ever since the stinging first Test loss in Centurion, the South Africans have been dogged in their trail, whether in defense or in putting up scores to keep India just out of reach. India never felt comfortable enough and South Africa needed just that bit of an open window to bring all of their determination forth. That they did get under the skins of the visitors was evident by some of the behaviour that came across.
While the majority of fans have chosen to lay the blame for India’s abject performance at the feet of Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI President, and Jay Shah, secretary, it is a factor that cannot be denied, given how the Test captain, Virat Kohli, after having cemented his place as India’s best captain, suddenly decided to lay down the final leadership role in his kitty, particularly when it did not seem like India’s Test cricket was in immediate crisis.
It had to have come under duress. But given how Kohli has thrown everything but the kitchen sink in the pursuit of team goals, particularly in the arena of Test cricket, it seems less likely that it was the prospect of not being able to break the jinx of India not having won in South Africa in 30 years that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Rather the events dating up to that moment which began towards the end of the England tour lay the groundwork for his exit, a planning that was conspicuous as it was conceited. This is not a sense of privilege and entitlement for Kohli because at the end of the day, the captain is only as good as his team and the results. Indian Test cricket, it can be argued, was not in need of a major overhaul but a couple of tweaks across department. Blunting of egos could have well allowed India to escape this awkward and unnecessary fiasco that the Test team finds itself in.
If ever there was a case of being able to prolong the inevitable, it could have been applied here, with a little better governance and man management from the BCCI. But then it is not what the BCCI is reputed for and finding Ganguly at the centre only makes it pitiable and also, flashback worthy to the ugly side of even some of the greatest players who have played the game. Unfortunately it has also brought into focus two key factors: that Ganguly is both, the same person as player and board president and also, conversely and in rather contradicting fashion, a different player when he dons the administrator’s hat. Secondly, the whole deterioration of matters has strengthened the lobby that has often claimed that great sportspersons do not necessarily make for good administrators when it comes to working in the interest of the game over and above petty politics.
It was clearly one man against too many in the battle of the boardroom. Twice, Kohli has shocked the average Indian fan but neither of his decisions – to quite the white ball cricket first and thereafter, to decide to announce his relinquishment of Test captaincy – unknown to the BCCI prior to the open announcement.
If anything, the daggers in the captain’s back had been long drawn by the new board set up and without the backing of his usual coach, and the appointment first of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as mentor during the ICC Twenty20 World Cup and then Rahul Dravid as the team’s head coach sent signals that Kohli, while a free batsman, was a cornered man. Few captains can operate from such caged quarters.
Interestingly enough, Dhoni was a brief appointment and Dravid’s appointment was a shock only from the perspective that he had groomed the under-19 and India A level teams rather well to echo the conjecture that the Wall was better at that position where young impressionable minds could still be moulded before egos hardened their ability to listen to sage advice.
The BCCI and Ganguly have no place to hide, even as the former Indian captain has widely denied reports that he had to be stopped by his colleagues in the board room from issuing a show cause notice to Kohli for holding a press conference and exposing the BCCI’s double speak. If blame was shifted on Kohli for taking a rash decision with to regard to the Twenty20 captaincy, this time there is no cry wolf in the story or rather denying the presence of the wolf at the door. After the press conference which has not allowed Kohli to escape some of the scathing criticsm of throwing a fit over not getting what he wants and harbouring a sense of entitlement, that the general Indian public is not in two minds about what caused this calamitous, completely avoidable crash at the top.
Kohli might have been a marked man. Still one expects top teams to perform at a level that still keeps them at a certain benchmark. It was obvious from the tour of South Africa that India had lost the wherewithal to not only play the patient game but also, had lost its ability, even briefly, to choose horses for courses and then play their cards at the right time.
As some of the former Indian cricketers have pointed out, the malady does not just stop at the captaincy or the dangers of plotting to topple a settled captain before picking out his successor – someone young in heart and age, agile and ready, a long term, healthy prospect, someone who is going to be consistency around to shape and mould the team to the next level.
That Ganguly even spoke about the captaincy decision, as he tried to wash his hands off the first time rather unconvincingly and again the second time, these former cricketers have pointed out rightly that Ganguly has already overstepped his boundaries as the BCCI President. The announcement of decisions of team compositions and captains is the prerogative of the national selection panel and therefore, the only man who should have been doing the talking, if at all, was Chetan Sharma.
But the two most vocal voices playing chess with Indian cricket – namely, Ganguly and Shah, have even contradicted each other with the latter almost betraying the former’s attempts at a cover up by suggesting that captaincy discussions has been run for the better part of six months leading up to Kohli’s first decision.
Meanwhile the Indian team selection has left a lot to be desired. As with all things cricket, the next round of home series will cover up some of these obvious flaws. Given that the much lowly ranked West Indies and Sri Lanka are India’s next opponents, the carpet cleaning will have to wait. The Indian Premier League will make that easy, particularly with two more teams in the mix this year and the addition of more matches to brainwash Indian cricket’s memory.
Not a few cricketers will bow an unceremonious exit as a result of this tour, and it will only partly be their fault because if the board and the selectors had gone about their business, these players would not even have the plane ticket in their hand to begin with.
Only Indian cricket knows the weight of the lost opportunity that has been this tour of South Africa. Indian cricket fans are not naïve enough to believe Ganguly and Jay Shah threw the match for the team. But they are not subservient enough not to realize that the marbles on the floor did not land there on their own.