NEW DELHI (Reuters) - For a month, a nation of 1.2 billion cricket crazy fans woke up at an ungodly hour, crawled out of the blanket’s warmth and switched on their televisions hoping to watch India’s favourite sons winning their first test series in Australia.
With captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his Indian team hurtling from one humiliation to another in Australia, most have stopped this self-flagellation.
Instead, they are wondering what happened to the bunch that promised to rule cricket much like West Indies and Australia have done in the past.
A myopic board, an indifferent captain and the transition crisis that both have been trying to run away from have largely led to the spectacular decline of the team.
First the board.
Being the world’s richest cricketing entity, the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) rude financial health remains a role model for other Indian sports federations surviving solely on government largesse.
Not its short-sightedness.
Last of the top boards to embrace Twenty20, BCCI sniffed easy money in cricket’s shortest format and launched the Indian Premier League in 2008 which now has an estimated $3.67 billion brand value.
While it secured many a career, IPL also effected an aspirational change which resulted in an IPL slot being more coveted than an India test cap.
For many budding cricketers, the very thought of whacking every ball out of the park, a Twenty20 demand, appears much more exciting than mastering the painstaking craft of grafting.
This in a country notorious for producing batsmen vulnerable against seam and bounce which England and Australia have so ruthlessly exposed over the last six months.
Punjab Cricket Association have already banned their under-21 players from all Twenty20 tournaments, including IPL, to make sure the brevity of the crash-bang format is not allowed to paper over the cracks of their technical inadequacies.
BCCI, however, remains blind to reality and immune to demands for better promotion of four-day cricket and the need for lively pitches to help batsmen improve their technique.
The board also chose to ignore the transition crisis that looms large over the team.
Ageing stalwarts Sachin Tendulkar (38), Rahul Dravid (39) and VVS Laxman (37) are well past their prime but a lack of succession plan means there would be intimidating big boots to fill when BCCI eventually musters the will to phase out the seniors.
“We can’t always think short-term. We need to start building a team as well,” former India opener Anshuman Gaekwad told Reuters earlier this month.
Building a team for future was the theme of Dhoni’s media interaction as well minutes after he guided India to the 50-over World Cup victory in Mumbai last year.
Ten months since and Dhoni himself appears to have lost interest in the longer version of the game, hinting in Perth he might quit test cricket to focus on the 2015 World Cup.
“I definitely feel that Dhoni does not enjoy test cricket,” former India skipper Sourav Ganguly told Aaj Tak channel.
“His performance in test and ODI cricket are poles apart and by making such a statement, he has also perhaps explained his complete disinterest in the longer format of the game,” Ganguly added.
Dhoni’s leadership has lacked the usual edge in Australia and ‘Captain Cool’ was ridiculed by a cricket expert who likened him to an Indian bank clerk - with no real passion or anger.
Be it opting for a baffling all-pace attack in Perth, poor handling of his bowlers and fielders or his own prolonged bad patch with the bat, Dhoni hardly looked like the captain of the team that won the World Cup and topped the test rankings last year.
Since then, it has been a steady decline under Dhoni as India got whitewashed in England last year and face another in Australia now, triggering a media backlash and prompting an Indian model to call them “faithful husbands” who “perform only at home”.
Introspection has never been BCCI’s strong point but the rout in Australia merits a thorough soul-searching and the earlier they realises it, the better it is for Indian cricket.
Editing by Patrick Johnston