Category Archives: India

‘The terrorist has got another wicket’

Dean Jones is one of those many former Australian cricketers who now earns big bucks as a commentator on the sport. Like many others, he has little of import to say, but takes up 700 or 800 words to do so.

Jones was sacked by Ten Sports in 2006 for making a racist comment about South Africa’s Hashim Amla. But he has slowly crept back, with the Melbourne newspaper The Age helping in his rehabilitation by giving him a weekly column.

One would think that a man who goes around referring to Muslim players as terrorists would be shunned by publications that claim to have standards.

But racism is part of the Australian national fabric and The Age is part of that fabric. Not the overt type of racism, no, the covert type that operates undercover and helps keep white people in positions of authority.

Jones most recent column is typical; he meanders all over the place. It looks like the whole piece is suffering from multiple attacks of schizophrenia. But he fills the space and The Age also gets a “name” to write. That he has nothing of any value to say does not seem to strike the owners of The Age, Fairfax Media. Perhaps this is one reason why The Age is rapidly going downhill.

Back in 2006, Jones was heard live on air calling South Africa’s Hashim Amla, one of the better batsmen in the world, a terrorist, during a Test between Sri Lanka and South Africa in Colombo. Amla took a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara only to provoke this comment from Jones: “The terrorist has got another wicket.”

Jones was sacked by Ten Sports. But he has wheedled his way back.

This kind of racial vilification by Australian cricketers is not unusual. Darren Lehmann, now the coach of the national team, called the Sri Lankan team “Cunts, cunts, fucking black cunts,” when he was run out during a one-day match in Brisbane in 2003.

Exactly what Lehmann thinks of Sri Lankans these days is unknown.

And David Warner, now the vice-captain, played the colonial to the hilt in 2015 during a one-day match against India, when he confronted Rohit Sharma and demanded that the Indian batsman “speak English”.

Not that Warner’s English is top-grade. He is your average Bogan, who is crude, rude and lacks any refinement. But still he feels he can lay down the law to the non-whites.

Exactly why media organisations take in retired cricketers as commentators and writers is unknown. It is an entirely different skill to be able to write or talk in an intelligible and educative manner about any sport. But then many journalists, themselves, are fairly crippled in this regard.

Take the case of Aakash Chopra who was crapping on during the ongoing Test series between India and Australia. Chopra suffers from verbal diarrhoea. Yet, he is there to provide expert comment for Australian listeners. The Indian commentator Prakash Wakankar is, by contrast, very good at his job.

And then there is Simon Katich, a man who has a very limited vocabulary and seems stuck in cliches all the time.

Add to that Adam Collinson, who must surely be the most biased of callers, and Gerard Whateley, no slouch in the patriotism stakes, and you have all the makings of another Botany Bay invasion all over again.

Does Steve Smith believe that spin can win matches?

As Australia mentally prepares for a gruelling tour of India, one curious characteristic of captain Stephen Smith is being ignored. This is Smith’s attitude towards spin and spinners when it comes to any form of cricket.

In India, any international team that wants to win a Test series must have a decent spin attack. This has become the case in recent years; the last time a team won in India was when England did so in 2012. They had Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann in their ranks.

During the three-Test series against Pakistan that concluded recently, Smith showed a curious reluctance to give the side’s only spinner, Nathan Lyon, a lengthy stint. He mostly depended on the medium-pacers and since Australia won all three Tests there were no questions raised.

His attitude towards spin was underlined in the second one-day game against Pakistan — in which the visitors registered a win at the MCG after 32 years — where he allowed Travis Head, one of two players who was expected to comprise the spin contingent, just three overs, one of them being the last of the match.

Pakistan bowled first, and 24 of the 50 overs were sent down by spinners. Some of these spin bowlers were part-timers: Mohammad Hafeez, the captain, is also the opening batsman, and Shoaib Malik bats at number five. They managed to contain Australia to 220, on a wicket that had uncertain bounce, but no great degree of turn.

Thus, Smith’s refusal to use spin is rather perplexing, even more so when one considers the fact that Head had bowled 10 overs against Pakistan in the first one-day game and given away just 28 runs.

Head’s first over went for 11 and after that he was kept away from the bowling crease until the 46th over, when it was all over bar the shouting. Pakistan’s winning run came from a wide bowled by Head.

So how will Smith adjust to the reality of spin in India? The Australian squad named for the tour has four spinners in its ranks: Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Mitchell Swepson and Ashton Agar. How will Smith utilise these resources? He has only three recognised medium-pacers in the team: Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird.

The last time Australia toured India in 2013, it was an unmitigated disaster ending in a 4-0 brownwash. But Lyon did take seven wickets in the final Test in Delhi in a relatively low-scoring game. Glenn Maxwell had 4-127 in the second Test which Australia lost by an innings. Xavier Doherty, the other spinner in the ranks, did nothing to set the Yarra on fire.

Will Smith treat the spinners the same way that he has so far in his career? Will he display the same reluctance to bowl Lyon and the others? This is his first tour of India as captain and while he did play in two Tests on the losing 2013 tour, his experience of the country is very limited.

One aspect of the squad which defies explanation is the selection of a leg-spinner. No leggie, not even Shane Warne, has done well in Indian conditions. (Indeed, Warne has never done well against Indian batsmen, no matter the venue.) Then why take a leggie along, especially an uncapped one? Will he be thrown into the cauldron (and in India the use of the word cauldron is apt) and asked to take five wickets in order to keep his place in the side? Will it be another case of a youngster going along for one tour and then being discarded?

We should have answers to these questions by the end of March.

The time has arrived for a literary fraud to resurface

One of the many big-noters in India has announced her return to the literary scene with a novel about the uprising in Kashmir. Coming 20 years after her only other effort, Arundhati Roy’s 2017 publication has already received enough hype to make one puke.

Since her book The God of Small Things was surprisingly awarded the Man Booker Prize in 1997, Roy has been involved in activism, written essays and numerous articles. One has to be grateful that she did not attempt a second novel. Her first effort was terrible; author Carmen Callil, chair of the 1996 Booker jury, pronounced Roy’s work “execrable”, and said it should never have reached the shortlist.

I’m willing to bet that the second book will be an even greater success than the first; in this day and age frauds succeed much better than they did in 1997.

Below is the review I wrote at the time; it is no longer on the Internet as the site hosting it died an unnatural death.

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An Indian writer has received an advance of half a million pounds for her first novel, The God of Small Things. Great stuff, one would say, it proves there is talent in the country. The hype that has necessarily accompanied this has obscured the novel to a large extent. There are reviews floating all over the Web, some of them written by people who have not even read the book. The very fact that an Indian author has received a six-figure advance for a first novel necessarily means that the book must be good – thus runs the logic. It makes for even better copy when the writer is a woman.

A number of Indian publications have gloated over the novel. The customary interviews have taken place with the writer and the usual pithy sayings have emerged. It is time to look a bit more closely at this publishing “feat”, the circumstances of the writer and the actual content of the book. One must remember first of all that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Indian independence; indeed, it is a nice time for a British publishing house to give an Indian author such an honour. Good timing to expiate some of the guilt surrounding the act of partition of the subcontinent.

The author, Arundhati Roy, is the daughter of one Mary Roy, a women who gained her own measure of notoriety by challenging the Christian inheritance law some years ago in Kerala. Mary won her case and thus became an icon for feminists in India. Mary Roy, however, was not the best of mothers; she kicked her daughter out at the age of 18 and the girl thus had to fend for herself. It is not, therefore, surprising that Arundhati has constantly tried to gain her mother’s attention by various means and show her parent that she can succeed on her own as well. A large number of so-called great works have come about because a man feels he has something to prove to his parents.

Arundhati has lived on the edge of the so-called intellectual circuit in Delhi, a city which is a ball of hot air. Her first marriage to an architect ended in divorce and she is now married to a photographer by whom she has two children. She has tried her own attention-getting tactics — berating Shekhar Kapoor over his film Bandit Queen was the latest gimmick — and has, to some extent, gained a fair measure of publicity. Now comes this novel, which, if we are to believe the writer, did not require a single correction (there is a silly line which she has used to explain this: “one does not re-breathe a breath”) and in the space of five years. In other words, this spontaneous creation took a fairly long period of time. Does sound a bit like constipated genius.

Now to the novel itself. It is the story of a family who hail from a village in Kerala, one which Roy chose to call Ayemenem. The story is told within an uncertain time-frame which winds itself back and forth and anyone searching for structure within this book will be disappointed; the writer has an excuse – it is like a work of architecture, she says, and the form develops in any direction. There is plenty of detail in the 350-odd pages; the English is stuffed stupid with a surfeit of similes, most of them very poor ones. There is a bid to copy Salman Rushdie but it does not work; the use of language is stilted and and some words are so obviously contrived that they are out of place when used. Roy would have one believe that this work is spontaneous but the truth is that it is contrived and rather badly at that. It is so obviously wrung out of herself that any claim that this novel was lying dormant within herself just waiting to be written must be taken with loads of salt.

The God of Small Things is seen from the perspective of seven-year-old Rahel. She and her twin brother, Estha, live with their mother, Ammu, who was married to a Bengali from whom she is divorced. Ammu and the twins live in the Ayemenem house with their grandmother, uncle and grand-aunt Baby. The family owns a pickle factory that comes into conflict with the Communists. The family is awaiting the arrival of Sophie Mol, the twins’ half-English cousin and the book drifts back and forth to the arrival and the aftermath of the death by drowning of Sophie Mol and an ill-fated love affair between Ammu and the untouchable Velutha. Rahel returns to Ayemenem as an an adult to a decimated household, a dysfunctional twin and a decaying house.

Were a Keralite to read this book, he or she would obviously understand the setting and a lot of social surroundings. An outsider may find it exotic but that is all. In this sense, the book is insular in the extreme; there are splashes of Malayalam here and there and despite the feeble attempt at translation, the real meaning of the phrase is often hidden. Roy obviously has a huge narcissistic streak and ensures that the reader will identify her as the girl Rahel; whether this is intended to tell the reader that everything, including the incestuous relationship Rahel has with her twin, was also part of Roy’s life is unclear. This is a totally unnecessary twist to the book.

The story line is quite predictable; the death of a child and the love affair between a woman of the higher caste and an untouchable are standard fare in many an Indian novel. The only difference here is that this affair is suddenly sprung on the reader and it cannot be logically deduced; indeed, logic is a major casualty in this novel. There is a process of development in any book but there seems to be none in this book and, in my opinion, it is highly over-rated. One thing which puzzles me no end is the fact that Penguin India did not publish it; David Davidar has been the face of Indian publishing in English and his laconical explanation, “it wasn’t offered to us,” does not answer the question. Davidar is one who has chased after any writer whom he feels has the slightest chance of being a success. Why he did not choose to do so with Roy is a mystery.

Kohli wants the captaincy, of that there’s no doubt

When India won the fifth one-day international against Australia on January 23, the first man to run out on to the field and congratulate the two batsmen at the crease — Manish Pandey and Gurkeerat Singh Mann crease — was Virat Kohli. One would have expected the Indian captain, M.S. Dhoni, to be doing this.

This is but the latest bit of gamesmanship by Kohli to indicate to Dhoni that his time is up and that he (Kohli) should be leading India instead.

Earlier in the same game, one could see Kohli often going up to the bowlers and offering advice as though he was in charge. And there were other occasions when he spoke to Dhoni, clearly suggesting a field change, which, in most cases, was made.

Dhoni is only a shadow of his former self and this was evident in the painful innings he played on the night. The man who is often touted as the best one-day finished in world cricket did not stay for the finish, holing out after making 34 off 42 balls. At that stage India still needed six runs off four balls.

By contrast, young Pandey made 104 off 81 balls. He put Dhoni to shame, as did Rohit Sharma (99 off 108) and Shikhar Dhawan (78 off 56).

Dhoni has always been conservative out on the field. He never tries to make things go his way, he always waits for them to take their course. To be a little more succinct, he tends to dawdle. What he does, he does four or five overs too late.

Kohli, on the other hand, is an aggressive person by nature, always looking to engineer a dismissal and taking the fight to the opposition. No better illustration was given than in the third one-day match when James Faulkner attempted to rile up Kohli. What Faulkner said was not picked up by the stump microphone, but Kohli’s reply was heard clearly: “You’re wasting your energy. There’s no point, I’ve smashed you enough in my life. Just go and bowl.”

Dhoni would probably have looked the other way if Faulkner had tried to get under his skin.

Two positives for India in final one-day match

There were two positives for India to take away from the final one-day international against Australia, apart from the unexpected win: the bowling of Jasprit Bumrah and the batting of Manish Pandey.

Pandey will probably figure in more media reports as he was the man of the match for making an unbeaten 104 off 81 balls to see the tourists home. But Bumrah’s performance is more significant for India, given that its bowling stocks are not upto the mark.

Bumrah is not unduly tall but he seems to follow the traditional approach of the fast bowler of yore. He has an unusual action, with his right arm coming down from its maximum height just before delivery. He also is not afraid to attack the stumps and slip in the occasional yorker and does not look to merely contain the batsman.

Bumrah also seems to use the bouncer more intelligently than most of the others in the Indian team, occasionally getting the ball to rear up to an uncomfortable height.

Indeed so good was Bumrah’s debut performance that he was called on bowl overs 45 and 49; in the latter, he bowled James Faulkner with the first ball and conceded only three runs in toto. He ended with the excellent analysis of 2 for 40, the other wicket being that of Australian skipper Steve Smith whom he had caught at mid-wicket by Rohit Sharma.

Pandey’s batting can best be described as being uncomplicated. His hitting was clean and calculated. He did not seem unduly ruffled by the situation as his captain, M.S. Dhoni, dawdled at the other end, letting the run-rate climb. India needed 35 in the last three overs, before getting 13 in the 48th and nine in the 49th.

The final over bowled by Mitchell Marsh began with a wide before Dhoni clouted a six off the first legal delivery. The Indian captain was caught off the second but Pandey edged the third ball down to third man for a boundary and then lofted the fourth over the infield to take India home. Dhoni’s innings was painful, with his 34 coming off 42 balls. He is clearly only a shadow of the player he once was and the sooner he hands over the captaincy to Virat Kohli, the better.

Australia fell a little short of a better total than the 330 they put up as they got just seven runs in the last two overs. Mitch Marsh was on 98 at the end of over 48. Bumrah conceded three runs in over 49 and with Marsh intent on his hundred, runs were not the priority. The fact that Ishant Sharma hit Marsh a glancing blow in the groin region in the last over did not help Australia’s cause either.

India has given hints that it is more focused on the T20 games that follow by bringing in Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh into the squad.

Dhoni, don’t outstay your welcome, please go

India’s shock loss in the fourth one-day match against Australia was one way that the players had of sending a message: members of the team don’t want Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain because he has lost that magic touch he once had.

Dhoni is more of a zombie and several members of the team are loath to play to their full potential and win games anymore because the captain will be able to bask in reflected glory.

The series against South Africa last year gave an indication of this: the one-day series and the Twenty20 series were both won by South Africa. Dhoni captained India in both these series. But when it came to the Test matches under Virat Kohli, India thrashed South Africa 3-0 and would have won the one drawn Test too had it not been for rain washing out most of the game.

Dhoni quit Test cricket when the Indian team was in Australia in 2014-15. He did not play in the first Test due to an injury and India lost this under Kohli but they went down fighting. Dhoni captained in the second Test which was lost rather badly and he quit Test cricket after that. Kohli took over and both the remaining Tests were drawn.

The fourth one-day match of the current seris, played on January 20, saw India lose from a winning position; chasing 349, they were 1-277 with both Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli having reached three figures. Dhawan then fell to a lazy stroke. Dhoni came in and was out for a duck; soon after, Kohli gave a catch to mid-off similar to those one gives during net practice.

Towards the latter part of the Indian innings, Ravindra Jadeja, an extremely competent batsman, was around but strangely refused to take a leadership role.

Jadeja came in at number six in the 40th over, with India needing 71 to win. He did not make any attempt to farm the strike, did not speak to the batsmen at the other end, and kept taking singles and exposing players much less able than him to face up.

Jadeja’s behaviour was passing strange, more so in the context of the Indian team manager Ravi Shastri having said on the eve of the fourth game: “Jaddu showed in the Test series (against South Africa) that he has matured a lot.

“Whenever he batted he played crucial innings. Why not in Australia? When he gets the opportunity… you have to get the opportunity first. We have batted so well at the top that the opportunity hasn’t been there. If and when there is a situation, like Australia were (in Melbourne, where the third one-day game was played), six down or seven down with another 60 to get. That will be his test.”

Yet Jadeja was placed in precisely this situation in Canberra and chose to protect his wicket and not bother about the team’s fate. What other reason could one apportion than his desire to see the team lose so that Dhoni would not be able to take the credit?

Dhoni must quit at the end of this tour, if not earlier, else India will be disgraced in the upcoming World Twenty20 tournament as well.

Why India will not win a single match in Australia

Indian supporters who have been barracking for their country in the five-match one-day series against Australia assume that their team wants to win.

In that they are sadly mistaken.

The series was effectively over yesterday with Australia’s third straight win; the remaining games in Canberra and Sydney are now meaningless. For India, this is all part of a financial arrangement between the cricket boards of the two countries, and the players are not really interested. Their one interest is money.

The five one-day matches and the three Twenty20 games will bring in more money for the Australian board than the six Tests of the summer, three between Australia and New Zealand and three between Australia and the West Indies. And that is what matters.

After the advent of the Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament in 2008, Indian players, no matter whether they are in the national teams or not, have been playing solely for themselves. Their only concern is to keep themselves fit enough and perform so that they can earn another contract with one of the teams in the IPL and continue earning stupendous sums of money.

Though India is said to be a poor country, the IPL has no shortage of funds because the black money in India – and for every legit rupee there are 100 in the black economy — is being brought out by businessmen to fund the tournament. Else, there is no way such huge sums would be available to pay players and to stage the spectacle. The government is happy to stay quiet because more and more black money is becoming legal tender.

You can see the lack of motivation in the manner the Indian team plays. In both games one and two, India could easily have scored more than the 309 and 308 they did, after winning the toss in both cases and batting. But they fiddled around, and ended up at least 20 or 30 runs short of a competitive total.

Their tactics are old world; while the rest of the world shows a sense of urgency from the word go, India likes to dawdle, play beautiful cricket shots that go to a fielder nine times out of 10, and make a big rush at the end to try and boost the total.

A total of 300 was some years ago psychologically important in one-day cricket; it theoretically meant that one’s opponent would have to score at a run a ball in order to win. But after Twenty20 came into vogue, the rate of scoring has grown by leaps and bounds. These days, anything short of 350 will not bother even the weakest of teams.

Australia always hurries up at the start because the fielding restrictions are more and the team that is batting is at an advantage. Players use their heads a lot more than the Indians do.

Nobody would call Steve Smith’s batting an aesthetically pleasing spectacle but the man knows how to beat the field even with awkward strokes. He gets on with the job and scores fast. Rarely does he fail. On the other hand, Virat Kohli would delight the purist with his style. But he takes many more strokes to get the same score as Smith.

For Smith, the fact that he is the captain means something.

His Indian counterpart, M.S. Dhoni, stands like a cow behind the wickets and, even at a stage of his cricket career when he should be wiser, often makes the most elementary tactical mistakes. Dhoni retired from Tests last year but is still sticking around for the money that is available to those who are part of the national one-day and Twenty20 teams.

But then he is not alone. Every Indian player is driven by that one motive.

In the third game, the Indian opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan consumed 91 balls — nearly a third of the total overs available to the team — to make 68. It was looking a bit embarrassing for him after two bad failures in the first two games. So he stuck around and scored; the team’s interests would have been better served had he gone for the runs and even got out.

But Dhawan’s sole interest is to keep his place in the team.

Expect more of the same in games four and five and three T20 matches that follow.

T20 takes pride of place in Australian summer

The Australian cricket season has just started flourishing with its Twenty20 tournament getting underway. Crowds are there, so too television audiences.

This year the Big Bash League is the main story, not the Test cricket that has traditionally been the centrepiece.

Two nondescript teams have been booked for the summer, with neither New Zealand nor the West Indies the kind that would challenge Australia.

And the better team of the two was booked for the earlier part of the summer. New Zealand lost two of three Tests and drew one. The West Indies have lost one and nobody gives them a chance in hell of even making a contest of the remaining two Tests.

Only India or England would pull the crowds: England because the traditional rivalry with Australia goes back more than a century and India because the team is a feisty lot who will nowadays give as good as they get. Last time out, they drew two of the four Tests and gave up winning positions in the two they lost.

South Africa will not visit at this time of the year any more; they have their own season to look after and it is the biggest time of the cricketing year for them too. They are slated to play England in a Test series that starts on Boxing Day.

So is the T20 the new medicine for Australian cricket? It depends a lot on who is here to play Test cricket.

These are the kind of questions the International Cricket Conference should be considering. But it appears it has more important things to do than nurturing the game from which it earns its daily bread.

One-sided cricket matches are here to stay. Why would you attend?

World cricket is in a parlous state, not in terms of the money it makes, but in terms of the contests it provides. The games are one-sided to the extent that patrons at the grounds are few and far-between.

There is no better illustration of this than in the ongoing Australian games, where the home team is playing New Zealand and the West Indies in three Tests apiece. The first Test against New Zealand was won convincingly, and the second looks like going the same route. As to the West Indies, they are not expected to last beyond four days in each of the three Tests.

The man who is responsible for this farcical outcome, where Tests are mostly one-sided, died recently. Jagmohan Dalmiya was the one who set in motion these unending Test matches, where cricket goes on round the year, and the same bunch of players have to play, and play and play. Dalmiya’s so-called Test championship was set in motion after he became head of the ICC with the help of Australia and England. His first attempt to become the chief of the ICC in 1996 failed, thwarted by England and Australia with support from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. England and Australia insisted that candidates needed the support of at least two thirds of the ICC’s full members, the nine Test-playing countries. Dalmiya was backed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and also 19 of the 22 associate members. Test-playing countries have two votes against one for associate members.

In the 1996 poll, Dalmiya obtained 25 votes against 13 for Australia’s Malcolm Grey in the first ballot. A third candidate Krish Mackerdhuj from South Africa withdrew. But at the second ballot, five of the Test-playing nations supported Grey and with South Africa abstaining, Dalmiya was shut out. The ICC then decided that incumbent chairman Sir Clyde Walcott would continue for another year until July 1997.

But in 1997, Dalmiya cut a deal with Grey that he would be the next ICC head if Dalmiya was given the reins, and he ascended to the throne. Dalmiya is from the Marwari community which is known for its business acumen. He is also a Bengali.

Thus it was not surprising that he managed to give Bangladesh full Test status soon after he became ICC chief. At that time, Kenya had a much better team. Bangladesh is the eastern part of the Indian state of West Bengal, which became a part of Pakistan at partition in 1947 due to its majority Muslim population, and finally a separate nation in 1971 after a war.

Dalmiya’s other interest was to make money for the ICC. Hence the future Test tours programme where every nation had to play every other nation at least once in a certain cycle. Points were awarded and rankings created.

But the standard of the game, apart from contests between a few countries, dropped like a stone. Players are human beings and get tired, in body, mind and spirit by playing too often. Apart from the Tests there have been countless one-day series and also Twenty20 games. Each country has been interested in organising games that result in more income; India and Pakistan, for example, still capitalise on the age-old enmity between their countries and try to play whenever possible. Due to political tensions, that has not been possible in recent times.

Dalmiya was later embroiled in a TV rights controversy and had to leave his ICC post in 2000. But he has hovered around, being in the Indian cricket board or the Calcutta cricket board and was head of the Indian board when he died.

Nobody has done a thing to try and rectify the abnormal amount of cricket being played. Money is the sole criterion and while countries have to adhere to the ICC-mandated timetable, they organise other games which will bring in money as and when they like. The players could complain, but the money keeps them from doing so. But then they cannot perform like trained monkeys and the quality of the games is very low.

Australians normally turn out in large numbers for cricket in summer. This year, the crowds are poor, very poor. New Zealand played before 1373 spectators on the final day of the first Test and 6608 on day four, when the contest was still open, though the target set favoured Australia. It does not look very good at the second Test either with 13,593 attending on day one and 10,047 on day two.

Let’s be clear about one thing: national cricket bodies do not need crowds to make money. That is already done through TV deals. Not a single spectator needs to come through the gates for the books to be in the black.

But is that all the game is about? It is on life support now, with few, if any, Tests going to the fifth day, and big wins for one team all the time. People are losing interest and that is a dangerous sign.

Myths about Dhoni shown to be just that

As the Indian cricket team was slowly moving towards defeat against Australia in the World Cup semi-final, many commentators, the normally erudite Allan Border among them, were still convinced that Indian captain M.S. Dhoni would explode at some point and carry India to victory.

It looks like Border and all the others of his ilk were dreaming earlier in the summer when Dhoni called time on his Test career, indicating that he was unable to handle that job any more. He did not step down from the captaincy, he quit Tests altogether.

Quite simply, Dhoni has lost it. He is past it and his sticking on for the World Cup was a typical reaction from a cricketer in a country where the selectors do not pick people on form alone. The same applies to Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi. All are past it, yet were allowed to play on by their respective countries’ selectors, for so-called sentimental reasons.

Dhoni may have been the best finisher in one-day cricket for a long time. But that ability has gone. He cannot do it any more. The myth persists and that’s all it is — a myth.

Dhoni’s hanging on is not unusual in India; Kapil Dev, the captain under whom India won its first World Cup title, hung on and on, just so he could break Ian Botham’s record for most Test wickets. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid all continued playing beyond the point when it was painfully obvious that they were no longer being picked on form. A lot of other good prospects were dudded of their chance of playing for the national team as a result.

In Australia, at times, that kind of sentimentality does not come into play. Ian Healy was denied a last Test in Brisbane in 1999, after he had shown that his talents were on the wane by dropping Brian Lara during a tense run chase in the third Test in the Caribbean. Adam Gilchrist made his debut when Pakistan arrived for the first Test of the Australian summer. But at times, Australia also looks the other way, a classic case being that of Matthew Hayden.

So the fact that Dhoni could not do anything except run himself out later on in the Indian innings did not come as a surprise. He gave an indication that he is no longer capable of captaining the team by letting things drift during the Australian innings: after David Warner had been dismissed early, Dhoni just sat back and let Steve Smith and Aaron Finch settle in. By the time he realised that the two spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, were being picked off for singles without showing any indication that they would take a wicket, it was too late. Finch, not in the greatest form, and Smith added 180-odd and ensured that Australia would cross 300.

Taking wickets later in the innings did ensure that Australia did not go on to 350-plus but the 328 that they got was at least 40 too much for any team to chase at the SCG. History teaches us many things, and one look at the totals chased successfully at the SCG in one-day matches would have told Dhoni that.

Whether the word foolish is politically correct or not, it is the one which fits the dismissals of both Indian openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. At a time when India was cruising and scoring at six an over, Dhawan hit the ball straight to a fielder — just after he taken 16 runs off a James Faulkner over. Rohit did something equally stupid, attempting an aggressive stroke off Mitchell Johnson just after he had clobbered that bowler into the stands.

And all the commentators did not consider one thing — only Dhawan and Rohit had scored consistently for India in the tournament. Every one of the other batsman had got just one decent score. It was not surprising that every one of them failed.

In the end, India failed when it had to step up. That is not surprising, it has happened on innumerable occasions in the past. And it will happen again unless selection policies change.