Gaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
In an inquest the first victim is often sanity. And since rabble rousing is a blood sport these days, the borderline between today's Kasab and tomorrow's Dhoni has thinned so much it can barely be spotted. Losing a cricket match is a crime punishable by abuse, accusation and if we could so have it, a public lynching. And heaven forbid, if you happen to concede a tournament tamely, even the gods above dare not come to your rescue. TV studios are the perfect setting for mob justice. And the executioner has the ultimate weapon: the vituperative sound-byte.
While we seek answers from young men who have fallen in our estimation, answers we rightfully deserve, must we badger them as mercilessly as this? Is our emotional investment in cricket a canard because within us rests the unspoken desire to see our boys crumble. So we may indulge in our favourite bloodsport. Much like feeding a pig to make the meat juicier, we nurture and indulge them only so one day we can all tuck into the feast?
The questions we must ask are the questions that inherently plague our game. Why did India's young batsmen look like students of political science who've been handed a Quantum Physics paper to solve in the Caribbean? Was it so because on a few evenings during the IPL they drank a tipple too many, grooved to one song too many and snogged one willing girl too many? Or is it because the bucketfuls of cash that sits in their bank accounts has limited their will and desire to play for India? That argument being merrily branded about is both irresponsible and facile. The team that wore the India blue in the West Indies hadn't tired itself out by partying or indeed playing too much. It was simply found inadequate when confronted with an unexpected challenge and asked to step out of its comfortable cocoon of flat pitches, fast outfields and short boundaries.
We must focus now on questions that will take longer to find solutions to; but solutions we must attempt to find. I suspect the hype surrounding our cricket has spawned a generation of 'soft' players, taken in by the allure, yet unable to grasp the devotion it demands. The chiselling of their craft is no longer a priority. Because while the ball will bounce menacingly one day in Barbados and make the tyro look vulnerable, it won't on the next day in Harare so he can push the average right back up. Wasn't it less than a year ago that the bouncing ball snarled at the same troops in England? In the interim, we all forgot its menace till it suddenly returned in Barbados in the hands of Tait, Nannes and Johnson.
Being dumped out of T20 World Cup is damaging, yet what must worry us is fallout on the jewel in our cricket crown: Our Test team. One day in the very near future our top seven could very well read: Gambhir, Sehwag, Vijay, Raina, Yuvraj, Rohit and Dhoni. Can this lot knuckle down to the challenge of facing a Bollinger spell in Perth? Or Steyn roaring in at Wanderers? Or Jerome Taylor at Barbados? Somehow, that number one Test ranking (yes we still own it lest you forget!) seems harder to protect under their watch. As infact with the ball in the hands of a withering Zaheer who isn't sure who his new ball partner will be when India don the whites next. Ishant Sharma? Sreesanth? Vinay Kumar? Ashish Nehra? Abhimanyu Mithun? Ouch....
So condemn them to the gallows of obscurity and feed on the carcass? Fulfilling as that may appear for a day or two, our insatiable appetite for cricket will ensure the next time an Indian team enters an arena, we will cheer again and reignite our desire for the right result on the scorecard. So could perhaps in this crisis an opportunity be lurking?
Fleeting as it may have been, even in the West Indies we witnessed sparks of special skill. Raina's ton against South Africa and Rohit Sharma's back-to-the-wall belligerence against the Windies gave us little saplings of hope. We must urge and pressure our administrators to find ways to help that talent flower. Must they be sent away for a couple of months to overcome the kinks in their technique? Could we pick up the phone and ask Jimmy Amarnath or Sunny Gavaskar to take them away for a couple of weeks and train them in the art of facing up to the short ball? Must we as fans offer support not blindfolded adulation? Passion not rhetoric? Warmth not ribald name calling? Patience not abuse?
An answer will be found only when the right question is asked.
We must not indulge in bloodsport every time defeat, one of sport's constant accomplices, comes calling. Remember, at the end of the day this is just a game. These are just young men. They try; but sometimes find themselves inadequate to the task. But when they fail no one dies. They aren't enemies of the state or looters of our wealth. They are batsmen, bowlers and fielders. Some of whom will rise from the ashes of this bitter nightmare. Others will fade away. Such is the nature of sport.