Playing for themselves
VR Srinivasan - 28 February 2002
After "trying" to watch the Test match between Zimbabwe and India in Nagpur recently, a question cropped up in my mind. What is international cricket played for? Is it for providing entertainment to cricket lovers, or is it just to establish the superiority of one country over another?
The ideal answer to this question should be "Both," and that is what the top teams in international cricket today have done - make Test cricket an enthralling sport. The two series being played simultaneously, one between Australia and South Africa and the other between India and Zimbabwe, provide such sharp contrasts. Australia were playing away from home and were eager to prove that their home clean-sweep was no fluke. All their players proved that in style by exuding palpable aggression when they were batting or bowling.
Contrast this with what some Indian players did while batting. Against a weak bowling battery offered by Zimbabwe, some of our batsmen never really tried to attack or even rotate the strike. Playing in front of thousands of people, they should have realised that they were batting not just for themselves but for the team and should therefore have rotated the strike and perhaps tried to score a little faster. Instead, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly batted as if it was our duty to watch them get back into form and not their duty to entertain us with good cricket.
When Ganguly came out to bat, Sachin Tendulkar was well-settled and was stroking the ball quite freely. One expected the experienced captain to regain his long-lost Test form by merely rotating the strike and giving Tendulkar more freedom to score. Yet Ganguly did the exact opposite by garnering the lion's share of the strike and making batting look a drab affair. Of course, Zimbabwe, being a weak team, never capitalised fully on this, but again, if Ganguly had done the same against a better team, the situation would have changed dramatically.
Ditto with Laxman, who batted as if he had forgotten that he had once scored a scintillating 281 not too long ago. Clearly Laxman was under pressure for being careless in his approach in the recent past, but one felt he overdid his concentration a tad too much. He never played those wristy strokes that he did so comfortably against Shane Warne and never tried to attack the bowlers, making viewing extremely uninteresting.
The prevalence of such selfishness needs to be curbed in the Indian team if higher honours are sought. Players must realise that they are out to play and entertain and in the same process, trying to win games for the country and not cementing and furthering their reputations alone.
The media is also to blame for the excruciating pressure built up on the players, making them almost forget their natural game when batting or bowling. Agreed that Laxman may never reach those dizzying 281 heights again, but he did bat with purpose in Chennai, in a few innings in South Africa and also in the series against England. And whenever he was at the crease, he was a picture of confidence and elegance. It was only his lack of concentration that did him in, but again the media should not have panned him so derisively.
Ganguly, on the other hand, has been struggling for a long time as a Test batsman, averaging a measly 26-odd in the past two-and-a-half years, resulting in the reduction of his former average of over 53 to just over 40. The attempts by Ganguly to regain his form have largely been exercises in futility and has also been detrimental to the team because of the lack of strike to his partners.
The Indian players should always consider the team above themselves and should desist from such activities henceforth, or the paying public will sooner or later lose interest and faith in them. Team-work, dedication and covalence are the essentials that define a great team, but our side, being a loosely bound outfit with few stellar individuals, can hardly be termed a world-beater.
If the Indian batsmen change their attitude of playing for themselves to playing for each other, it will do a world of good not only to the team but also to themselves, for they will surely experience a reduction in the overwhelming pressure built up on them by the might of public expectations and media activism.
The views expressed above are solely those of the guest contributor and are carried as written, with only minor editing for grammar, to preserve the original voice. These contributed columns are solely personal opinion pieces and reflect only the feelings of the guest contributor. Their being published on CricInfo.com does not amount to an endorsement by CricInfo's editorial staff of the opinions expressed.