The collective wet-dream of the blue billion (that of winning the World Cup) fuelled by carbonated empty calories, Mandira Bedi’s cleavage and the “breaking news” hype-driven media ended pre-maturely today as wet dreams usually do: with frustration, an absence of a satisfying climax and a lingering feeling of overwhelming futility.
When the final Indian wicket fell, and like many others whose rational mind tells them not to believe in the Men in the Blue and yet whose heart hopes, against all hope, that the moments of drama we see acted out in cellphone commercials realize themselves for once in real life, I was engulfed with grief. But the grief, as intense as it was, soon gave way to tear-drenched clarity.
Sad to say, it’s not a bad thing that we got eliminated in the first round itself. We are just not good enough to play in the Super 8. If we had somehow gone through, we would just have had to endure more moments of heartbreak and aggravated more ulcers because our body parts would have been handed to us on a platter by the Australias and the South Africas and the New Zealands.
The best batting line-up on paper—in the light of recent performances make that toilet paper—came unstuck on a perfect batting track against an attack, nothing more than lively, with not even one batsman being able to carry through for a big score and with not a single batsman being able to dominate the opposition for any noticeable length of time, something vital for pressure games (remember India-Pakistan World Cup 2003). Finding villains for this abject performance would have us mention Mahendrilock’s two successive zeros against Test-playing nations, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar’s spectacular failures against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and Sourav and Dravid’s inability against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively to take it home.
But that kind of exercise in guilt appropriation, though emotionally satisfying, is ultimately futile. That is because the problems are more systemic. For one thing, fitness and fielding. One of the biggest myths that have been sold to us has been that India is slow in the field because we have many “over thirty”s on our roster. A look at Murali and Jayasuriya burning the turf as they sprinted about is a slap in the face of that assertion: today’s game as well as the Bangladesh game were largely lost in the field —both in running between wickets and ground fielding. (It is not insignificant that the two worst fielding teams in the world are out of the Cup, before Bangladesh and Ireland have packed their bags). While Dravid’s missed catch in the Bangladesh match and Sourav’s lethargic running between the wickets were bad no doubt, what was unforgivable was seeing young Robin Uthappa, who in my opinion has put on noticeable weight, moving gingerly, Zaheer Khan (who is slowly regaining his bulk) let go a four when a one was on the cards and Munaf Patel being well… Munaf Patel. Their shambolic fitness and leaden exertions were brought into even harsher focus by the electric Dilshan and the amazingly mobile Dilhara Fernando.
And the other thing, leadership and strategy. From the bizarre decision to bat against Bangladesh on winning the toss, to the inability to lead from the front and unite the team, Rahul Dravid was found wanting. But then what about the man hiding behind the glass pane, the process-meister Greg Chappell? While his opposite number Tom Moody sat outside in the sun with the team, India’s super-coach stayed inside, perhaps to shield himself from possible sniper shots. Where was the strategy, the De Bono hats dear sir? Where were the inspired game-altering moves? While Chaminda Vaas bowled to a plan against Uthappa with the keeper up (because Uthappa is predominantly a front foot slogger), there was not a single instance of batsman-specific field positioning from India’s side that I can remember.
I can go on but I will let greater experts take over to do the post-mortems that will inundate the media in the next few days: Kiran More will verbally fart on Rediff, Rajsingh “Dung”saheb and Aftab Shivdasani (called in to be a guest expert at CNN-IBN in a pre-World Cup program) will handle CNN-IBN, Yashpal Sharma will tackle the rest and a certain cricketing website will start spinning like a top. There will be SMS polls, some effigy burning, questions raised in Parliament and Pappe of ‘Oye Pappe‘ (Tata Sky) fame (“Isko laga dala, to life jhingalala) will join Apple Singh in the gallery of dead cricket mascots.
All as predictable as Bhaji’s doosras.
But amidst all the anger and disappointment, we should not forget the people whom this defeat has hurt the most: the players. Once we can look beyond their corporate-propped-up mega-personas as “saviours of the country”, we have to remember they are all after human beings, many of them in the twilight of their great careers, who have provided a nation, so bereft of sporting heroes, some of the finest days of glory over the years. Not that this consideration should influence their future fate as players (and it is time some hard decisions are taken with respect to a few of them) but it should temper the sense of disappointment that a lot of us no doubt feel at our exit and enable us to empathize with people whom we love and respect, people who are now passing through the worst hours of their lives.
Goodbye Team India. Time to get new bedsheets.
[Picture courtesy Cricinfo]