Somewhere on this earth, a young cricket fan with an intense hatred for Team India holds a collection voodoo dolls in his closet. He brings it out at crucial moments for the team — say, away tours against prestigious teams — and he pokes the fabric with glee when he wants the most effect.
How else to explain the bizarre dip in form from Gambhir, Sehwag, Laxman, No. 6 (be it Yuvraj, Raina, Kohli or — inevitably? — Rohit Sharma) and Tendulkar? During the lunch break today, Dean Jones told an almost incredulous Ravi Shastri that he still believed the Indian line-up could pull it off. Less than an hour later, Dravid, Laxman, Gambhir and Kohli were all back in the pavilion.
Clearly, Jones hadn’t been keeping up with this team. Yes, it’s a great line-up; yes, it’s scored many runs and has much experience. But for the past decade, a prosecutor could easily point to evidence of brittleness — innings when batting collapses meant this line-up couldn’t even last 50 overs (Sydney 2007/8 would be a chilling Exhibit A, umpire errors or no). These guys have crafted great moments, it’s true, but hungry enough oppositions have learned to snake through.
So what ails them? Nobody really knows. Gambhir enjoyed a couple of great years, now he’s hit a dip and looks like he’s in need of his fix at the start of each innings. Sehwag’s method relies chiefly on confidence and bravura, and as long as the runs are scored, his self-belief becomes self-fulfilling. String enough low scores, however, and soon enough commentators will start talking about “rashness,” a terrible technique, “look at those feet!” Dravid and Tendulkar are the only pillars left, but Dravid’s cracking under the weight and Tendulkar never wins games for India anyhow. Meanwhile, Laxman — so good at soaking pressure and leading counter-charges — well, I really have no idea what’s wrong with Laxman.
The tragedy of Melbourne was that India was really this close to victory. A couple of tailender wickets, or maybe just a few more lucky boundaries in the first innings, and it was theirs to be had. But they need to learn that if none of the Golden 4 can perform, they all need to pitch in (a la R. Ashwin). We’re all getting an early look at what the future holds for India: less genius, more hard graft and modesty. Not unlike, er, Australia.