August 03, 2007

Time for India to guard against ‘down syndrome’

By H Natarajan

India’s win in the second Test at Trent Bridge was well deserved and decisive. Most importantly, it was a team effort. There is enough reason to be proud of an away win acquired in such an emphatic manner. But there are also enough reasons to suggest that India need to be on guard when they are winning.

It’s said that winning is a habit, but India’s cricketing history has re-written that truism in an unambiguous way. If one reflects back on India’s Test history spanning 75 years, it’s a tale of missed chances.

Indian teams have not had a good record as good travelers. India registered her first away Test win in 1967-68 – 36 years after her Test debut - and till date has a mere 29 overseas wins. And a handsome percentage of that has come in this very decade against teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Historically, India have not been good at holding on to their lead on overseas soil, allowing the opposition come back to either draw or win the series. Since there is a disappointing pattern to it, there has to be some logical explanation to this trend. I guess it has largely to do with our typical psyche to get overly excited. International sporting successes does not come India’s way like, say, it does for superpowers like the United States and China. So when it does, the nation goes into as unreasonable extreme as it by going to the other extreme when it loses. The tendency of the media and the masses to go into unreasonable exuberance takes away the focus of the players.

And this pattern of losing the grip after winning a Test runs right through India’s odyssey in Tests. In 1967-68, India won the first against New Zealand but immediately frittered away the advantage by losing the second Test. But Tiger Pataudi’s men won the third and fourth Tests to register India’s first-ever overseas series victory.

India’s next series victories came in that watershed year of 1971 when Ajit Wadekar’s men registered back-to-back 1-0 rubber wins in the West Indies and England. But if one were to honestly reflect back, it has to be said that India could well have lost that series in West Indies. Even in that series against England, India was fortunate to draw the earlier Tests.

But coming back to India’s tendency of losing its grip: In 1976, India won the first Test against New Zealand and then lost the third to end the series on level terms. The team then flew into the Caribbean, where India won the third Test to draw level but then lost the fourth to concede the series.

In 1977-78, Kerry Packer flexed his financial muscle to lasso in the best players for his breakaway World Series Cricket. Australia was the hardest hit; it did not just lose the team but along with them went many talented players waiting in the wings.

The Australian selectors exhumed Bobby Simpson from his cricketing grave. Simpson had retired from international cricket nine years ago and was 41 when he got what must be the most bizarre SOS in cricketing history. Simmo’s task was tough – both, as a captain and a batsman. He was up against a formidable Indian team that had the famous spin trio of EAS Prasanna, BS Bedi and BS Chandrasekhar and a batting line-up that included the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Gundappa Viswanath and Mohinder Amarnath among others. Pitted against such a force for the opening Test was an Australian team led by an ageing Simpson and six debutants! Yet, quite incredibly, India were down 0-2 after the first two Tests. Though the Indians fought back to level the series at 2-2, they could not sustain the winning momentum and lost the final Test and series.

It took almost another decade, before India registered a convincing overseas series win – against England, taking the rubber 2-0. It remains, since then, India’s best showing on overseas soil.

In the two decades that have gone by, the tale of missed chances overseas has seen India fritter away a 1-0 lead against West Indies in 2001-02 to lose the series 1-2, concede a 1-0 lead against Australia in 2003-04 to end the four-match series 1-1. Later that season in Pakistan, India was at it again when it lost the second Test after winning the first. Only this time they bucked the trend to win the third Test and series. But they were in the all too familiar situation when they won the first Test of the 2006-07 series in South Africa only to lose the series 1-2.

True there have been convincing wins over Lanka in 1993 and, later, against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but it’s apparent India has struggled for consistency against the big teams.

It’s time for India to guard against ‘down syndrome’

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