By Yajurvindra Singh
The uncertainties of cricket played a cruel joke on the Indian team in the first Test match against Australia in Adelaide. Indian supporters and fans were aghast when India posted their lowest ever total of 36 runs in their second innings. The super stars of modern India, considered to be the best cricket team that India has ever produced, looked amateurish. They now need to resurrect and forget the appalling performance.
Cricket, as one says, is a great leveller. The highs and lows are unpredictable; therefore, the game is a way of life. It teaches one to be humble in victory and resilient after one faces defeat. The Indian team will need to bring about that quality when they get into the second Test match starting on Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Melbourne.
What happened to the Indian batting will remain a topic of discussion. There were shades of such performance even when India toured South Africa, England, and New Zealand earlier. This was not a unique incident in the way that the Indian side succumbed to good, consistent swing bowling. However, the paltry total is the bone of contention.
One was amused to hear one of the elite commentators mentioning as to whether India will surpass their lowest total of 42 runs which was another shocking performance at Lord’s in 1974. This was the least of one’s worries when the Indian batters were falling like ninepins. The Australian bowlers did bowl wonderfully well and, with their tails-up, looked unplayable at times. The performance of the Indian team had experts and critics analysing their faulty batting technique and lack of footwork. Many had never played the game at that level and some of the senior cricketers were the ones who had also succumbed to such a disaster in their playing days.
For me, however, rather than India’s batting ability, which was quite acceptable in the first innings, it was the mental weakness that was highlighted when the chips were down. India has had such batting debacles in the past and the reason given was always that Indians lacked the mental toughness to perform under pressure. India of the 21st century boast how Indians have got over their inferiority complex and have the strength and belief now to shine in every possible way against the best in the world.
These were also the sort of statements made and impressions created which were conveyed to the cricketing world. This, therefore, naturally created a huge expectation from the Indian cricket fans and followers. The last two years have shown that when the team is faced with an adverse situation, as it happened in the World Cup and on their overseas tours, the players seem to collapse mentally.
The social media is an area of pressure that was never experienced before in a cricketer’s life. It is a wonderful tool that is a boon when one does well as most of the Indian cricket stars having millions of followers, but it becomes the medium that mocks and criticises one when one fails. The young Prithvi Shaw, a very talented Indian batting prodigy, who was hailed as one who could follow in the footsteps of the great Sachin Tendulkar, with a Test century on debut and a healthy average of 48 in Test cricket, became a prime example of it.
His failure in both the innings in the first Test match has been analysed and assessed to death. He definitely will not be playing in any of the matches to follow but will be a complete mental mess on his return. His technique will be tampered with and one wonders in time, whether he will become a victim to being one who finally lost his natural flare and stroke-play for which he was renowned.
Shaw’s replacement in the Indian team will be K.L. Rahul, who went through exactly the same predicament and lost his place in the Indian Test side. A good run in the limited-overs format has Rahul back in contention, with a belief that form and confidence will get him past his earlier faults. One hopes he does well or else he would be the next in-line to come home defeated.
The present Australian side is not a great batting unit if Steve Smith fails. India were in the driving seat with a lead of 53 runs in the first innings of the Test match even after dropping five catches. The Australian batting also failed pathetically, having scored less than 200 runs. The Indian bowling did really well. However, it was the Australian bowling in that one session that broke the back of the Indian batting in the second innings of the match. It takes 10 good deliveries to get a team out in cricket. Normally, lady luck shines on a team as well as on the players who encounter it. Unfortunately for India, December 19, 2020, was not one of those days.
The Indian team must be mentally defeated. They have a coach in Ravi Shastri who has experienced failures such as this in his career and has been mentally tough to get over it. He has a major task in getting his boys back in the fray, mentally, physically and technically. In this pandemic bio-secure bubble that the players are subjected to, a mental coach would have been an essential person to assist him.
The Boxing Day Test match in Melbourne at the scenic MCG is considered to be an event which brings the curtains down on the years sporting activities. India will need to showcase sheer determination and resilience in order to achieve success. Let’s hope they are as strong as their coach to mentally do so.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)