Time for a reality check, India

Winning is everything in the modern era of international sport. To come second, regardless of the closeness of defeat, is never anything like as good. India won the inaugural hit and giggle Twenty20 Championship in South Africa and well done to them for doing so. Looking back on that exciting game of baseball at the Wanderers, it could so easily have gone the other way.

Here in India, that victory is still being celebrated in euphoric fashion. You would think that after the six hour float parade through 30 kilometres of Mumbai streets it was time to focus exclusively on the near impossible task of winning the current seven match ODI series. Not to take anything away from that fantastic team performance, but it is not as if they whitewashed Australia in a five Test series down under.

The Australians are an extremely professional unit and are on a serious business trip without the distraction of this never-ending party. It is guaranteed hangover material for Dhoni’s men. Every time I turn on the sensational 24-hour cricket news channel here, I see pictures of Australians at fielding practice and Indians being paraded up and down red carpets. A cricket tour in India is something like a celebrity road show for its stars. The Indians, a good cricket team, were comprehensively beaten by the best cricket team in Kochi on Tuesday. The same result is likely again tomorrow. But while the Australians were practising hard at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium last night, the men in blue were making money.

The Twenty20 squad was being handsomely rewarded with plots of property at a smart hotel, Sachin Tendulkar lunched a website and then presented a car to the Indian women’s cricket captain, while Dravid promoted motor oil for the second night in a row. Then Pathan, Uthappa, Gambhir, Harbhajan, R.P Singh and Sharma modelled footwear at an apparel showroom. After all of this, the Indian team attended a dinner hosted by the son of panchayat raj minister. It is no wonder Sresanth was so hot headed in the Kochi ODI – the youngster has probably been disillusioned by this instant stardom.

The first time I visited the Australian team in their Bangalore hotel I found them a bit serious. I thought they were being spoilsports the way they treated their dinner table as a boardroom. They didn’t even want to come out for a drink! But they are in India to win and not to holiday and that is what they will continue to do.

Modern professional sports teams spend countless hours analysing video footage, meeting with team dieticians and even psychologists and planning strategic moves. How can India find time to do this if there isn’t enough time for a daily net session?

Ponting didn’t show any signs of his hamstring injury at practice yesterday and I imagine he will take the field for the toss at 8:30am tomorrow. This is ominous for India, who failed to make the winning of a big toss count in Kochi. After an impressive start on a wicket that provided adequate assistance for the bowlers, the Indian attack continued to bowl the wrong line and length and it was all too easy for the Australian middle order as Andrew Symonds taught them a few lessons. He really is about the best there is at the 50-over game.

I cannot see Australia being bowled out by this weak Indian bowling attack. As it was with their recent tour of England, India’s best chance of winning a match is to score lots of runs. In order to do this, two of the experienced campaigners, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly need to make runs in any given innings. Unlike many of the other Indian batsmen, they have level heads and understand that 50-over games are won by keeping wickets in hand, not by playing rash shots a la Twenty20.

However, it appears that the Indian selectors plan to rest one of the three big guns in every game so as to give the youngsters a chance, another decision they will surely rue.

This article appeared on Cricket365 in October 2007, during Australia’s one-day tour of India.

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