Missing intensity: effect of end-season fatigue

Did the Indians miss intensity more than they missed Duncan Fletcher's presence around them?

Did the Indians miss intensity more than they missed Duncan Fletcher’s presence around them?

They must be getting ready to send out search parties to look for intensity that went missing from the Indian team’s countenance in the two one-day internationals at Mirpur against Bangladesh last week. But until they discover that ingredient, fans of Indian cricket will have to come to terms with lacklustre performances by Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side.

The massive defeats have, not surprisingly, raised questions.

Was this the same squad that stunned not a few by turning up its intensity and run to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 semifinal against Australia earlier this season? Why was it unable to crank up its passion and competitive instinct in the ODIs? Does the absence of a Chief Coach make such a difference to the preparation and performance of a team?

It will be interesting to see how the new Cricket Advisory Committee responds to the series defeat. Will it agree that the absence of a coach and the inadequate preparation for the tour of Bangladesh as well as the split captaincy that the Indian Test and limited-over teams are currently experiencing have contributed to the lack of intensity during the two ODI games?

Obviously, CAC is expected to establish long-term vision and draw up a practical roadmap to achieve that rather than conduct post-mortems into every defeat. Yet, now that Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman have been drafted in ostensibly to pilot Indian cricket, their views on the absence of intensity from the Indian team in Mirpur can be crucial.

It is possible that the vastly experienced former India cricketers will point to the lack of cricket intelligence shown by the Indian team in the two ODI games. The inability of the Indian batsmen to counter Mustafizur Rehman’s accuracy and the slower delivery as well as the inability of the Indian bowlers, with R Ashwin being an exception, to match that was telling.

Given that only Ashwin asked serious questions of the Bangladesh batsmen, the time may be at hand for the selectors – and the team management – to look for a different set of bowlers to operate in slow, sub-continental conditions. Until that happens, the bowlers, especially Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel will have to reinvent themselves and add to their repertoire.

Yet, to my mind, the biggest reason for India’s dismal turnout in Mirpur – a stronghold of the Bangladesh team – is the emotional fatigue that most of the players are dealing with. While the physical fitness of the Indian players cannot be questioned, it must be granted that they had little left in the tank from an emotional perspective.

Barring David Warner, most Australians who turned up in the Indian Premier League 2015 after winning the World Cup at home were not quite high-strung. Unfortunately for the Indian cricketers, they could not afford to switch off during IPL immediately after the World Cup that was played in the wake of a tough tour of Australia that included Tests and a triseries, too.

It can be quite a challenge for the best of cricketers to turn up at the park at the end of a season that has stretched so long and be competitive.

I reckon the Cricket Advisory Committee’s real test will be to ensure that there is no overkill of the lucrative commodity called the Indian cricket team. They will have to find ways to ensure that an off-season is built into India’s cricket programme so that there is a balance among matches, travel and rest.

If Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman can somehow convince the power-that-be to factor in an off-season – in the real sense of the term – they will be doing the contemporary cricketers and perhaps even the coming generation of players a huge favour, giving them a fair chance to recharge their emotional batteries and be battle ready each time they wear India colours.