Vandana Kohli is an acclaimed filmmaker, musician and photographer. She has recently researched, produced and directed the award-winning international documentary ‘The Subtext Of Anger’. Vandana has scripted, directed and edited projects for clients that include The National Geographic Channel, The History Channel, Doordarshan, various agencies of the United Nations and the Government of India. You can find out more about her at www.vandanakohli.com.
My first real experience of Test Cricket was at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in the early 80s. I was about ten. India was playing England, and the stadium was packed. I can't remember the outcome of the match (I think we lost!), but after that, my dad could count on me to root for cricket on TV, much to my mum's angst, whenever he sat to watch a match being telecast.
Later, even while preparing for examinations, my carefully scheduled breaks of 15 minutes between chapters would go watching TV if cricket was on. And while I didn't remember all series and all scores, I was hooked, even though I didn't know it then.
How consistent is our team?
Over the years, however, my enthusiasm has waned. If there is one thing that the Indian team in any format is consistent about, it is their inconsistency. Their graph would perhaps read like this - lose, lose, win, lose win, win, lose, lose, lose, win, win, lose, win, win, lose, lose, lose, lose...you get the picture.
Why, even while a match is being played out, this is what it often looks like - good batting, great start, fantastic knock by someone in the top order, one man scores a brilliant 112 in quick time, middle order collapses, we lose 5 wickets for the next 30 runs, tail-enders struggle. Or, the opponents' top batting order has been destroyed, they are 47 for 4; then, they end the day with 269 for 5.
No consistency and no effort to hold onto a position of dominance. No wonder, people are hedging bets all the time!
What we lack:
On a more serious note, despite the abundance of talent we have, the Indian cricket team's performance is given to chance, because talent is not enough. A consistent performance needs fitness, discipline, dedicated training, and skill that are honed constantly in the nets. And then, Test cricket especially, is about patience and stamina.
Look at our team. We have very talented players, but how many match up in fitness and disciplined training to our competitors?
Our fielding barely passes; our quick bowlers push themselves in spurts of intensity and often end up injured (primarily because they are not consistently fit).
Too much pressure comes on the batsmen to perform - on the field, and off it. (Once you've made the team, so much time goes endorsing products, and in events related to endorsing products). Team members become stars, and then they're beyond the reach of training personnel to discipline. Often enough, the team seems to become a bunch of (not so) big, arrogant and swaggering boys, who desperately need the whip they've now been spared in this cricket crazy country.
We don't give them a chance to know what it takes to really be great. We hail them so quickly as stars and heroes, that before they know it, they are swept away by the glare and attention and money that follows too quickly, and then believe that they are invincible.
That's the reason why we need to support some plain speaking. Like what Kapil Dev said on a prime time show, after we won the Under 19 World Cup in Australia. Unmukt Chand, the captain of this young victorious team, was on the panel as well. Kapil Dev wasted little time in asking Chand what he was doing on the show. The boy was taken aback. "Why are you here?" Dev asked him, bluntly. "You should be in the nets!"
What else has changed?
It isn't just money and media power that is distracting players from becoming good Test cricket players. Test cricket is about endurance, and our need for constant and speedy stimulation is taking us away from anything that requires the cultivation of endurance.
T-20 for instance. Great entertainment, quick and intense, over just four hours. So players can go on the field, prepared to play in one supreme burst of intensity, like bombs ticking to explode. That's what the format demands. A bowler must do what he can in four overs.
In a Test match, a bowler would be expected to bowl 20-25 overs in a day and spend 6 hours on the field. If the bowlers are not good enough, they may have to do the same thing again on the following day. Similarly, a batsman could be expected to adapt his natural playing style and play quickly or defensively as the situation demands. If a team is trying to save a match, the batsman may be required to bat through a day and more!
Between T-20, (which is fast becoming the popular format of the game), and Test cricket, we're clearly talking two different worlds - in effort, focus, training and technique.
Unfortunately for India, the five pillars of Indian Test Cricket since the year 2000 (Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar) have retired, or are on their way out. We have talent, but the young ones still don't know what to do with the bouncers coming their way.
From now on we will increasingly have to contend with a breed of players who have grown to maturity in the age of T-20. If that is setting the standard even by default, the future of Indian Test cricket isn't exactly bright.
It would take very serious minded, dedicated and disciplined players, driven not by the sudden surge of cash and fame around cricket, but rather by the greatness of the game in its pure form, to give us another team to reckon with.
It would take an equally interested and dedicated following of fans with resources both in media and marketing to support the making of such a team.
In the meanwhile, I'm going to stay with my strategy of watching India play in any format. I usually back the other team. That way, one is free to enjoy all the good cricket in the match - the fabulous fielding and bowling effort put up by the opposing team, and good knocks our batsmen display on occasion when in form.
If India wins, it's a bonus! If it doesn't, no foot stomping energy is wasted in so wanting and expecting them to.
The writer is a filmmaker, photographer and musician, and is married to a cricket enthusiast. Several morning tea conversations have thus centered on the sport!