Like the society it reflects, sport offered us many different emotions in the past few days. And no, I am not talking about the madness that spread in our country when Chelsea won the English Premiership. Nor am I talking about the emotions that Tiger Woods has ignited with his faltering comeback, missing a cut and pulling out with a neck injury.
My focus is on the unadulterated joy caused by that genius answering to the name of V Anand whene he retained the World Chess Championship title with a fine victory over Veselin Topalov with black pieces in the 12th game in Sofia. For someone who endured a four day road trip to get to the match venue, he was simply the master.
I speak of the unbridled optimism when the Indian badminton men and women’s teams made it to the quarterfinals of the Thomas and Uber Cups in Kuala Lumpur. The fact that P Kashyap took a game off the legendary Taufiq Hidayat and that Saina Nehwal held her own in the face of the Korean onslaught on her team augured well for Indian badminton.
I speak of the hope that was sparked in our hearts that the hockey team had begun its arduous walk back to the top half of world rankings when it beat Australia in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Ipoh. It was a rare victory over a side from Down Under but that did not send me into a tizzy of ecstasy since the Australian squad was at best an experimental outfit.
Yet, there was a huge sense of disappointment that the Indian cricket team – which has the largest television viewership – caused by its inability to make it to the semifinals of the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies. For a side that was expected to be among the front-runners in the tournament, India stunned its followers with an early exit
A number of reasons have been put forth for India’s successive defeats to Australia, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. The biggest was the failure of the batsmen to come to grips with the challenge of playing on a bouncy track in Bridgetown against Australia and the West Indies or accelerate in the second half of its innings against Sri Lanka on a more comfortable pitch.
The selectors must take a large part of the blame for not giving the team management any choice as far as batting is concerned – Dinesh Karthik was the only one available and let us not forget he was on the squad mainly as a reserve wicket-keeper and not as a specialist batsman. It forced the team to play both Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan as bits and pieces players.
It is not just with hindsight that I believe Piyush Chawla’s presence in the tour party was a luxury that the side could not afford. And then to have carried Vinay Kumar – and flown in Umesh Yadav as a replacement for the injured Praveen Kumar – without showing much faith in them suggested that the team management was not aligned with the thinking of the selectors,
Of course, the team erred in playing just two seam bowlers in Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra even on the bouncier tracks in Bridgetown. The ploy worked like magic against South Africa in the Beausejour Stadium at Gros Islet in St. Kitts. Mahendra Singh Dhoni challenged the South Africans with plenty of spin and reaped dividends.
Sadly, even after the defeat by Australia in the opening Group F game in Bridgetown, India persisted with the same plan instead of playing Vinay Kumar ahead of an extra spin bowling option. On a track that offered pace and bounce to the quicker bowler ready to bend his back, India did not have anyone with that quality.
But more than anything else, it was the much vaunted Indian batting line-up’s inability to cope with chin music in Bridgetown that let the team down. For all that, it is critical that we do not allow that one emotion called anger to surface. It is one thing to be disappointed with and critical of the batting performances but another thing to be angry with the side,
Perhaps the fact the matchless Anand won his fourth world title and gave the nation so much cheer about will temper some of the anger; may be the ‘revival’ of Indian hockey (and let me reiterate that I am not convinced that it is) will shift some of the negative focus from the Indian cricketers. Yes, at least, some of us did not go berserk because some team won the Premiership.