To paraphrase a famous Dickens line; this is the best of times, this is indeed the worst of times. Eyebrows will be raised if one tries to count the positives from this unholy mess. Corruption is running deep in our noble and ancient sport of cricket. But as former International Cricket Council and Board for Control of Cricket in India president Jagmohan Dalmiya has said, this is also an opportunity to clean up the game top-down.
The focus has become a little too individualistic over the last couple of weeks. It seems the removal of BCCI president N Srinivasan will fix the entire problem. By no means this column is trying to defend the beleaguered BCCI president. As the head of our cricket institution and also the Chennai Super Kings, he must own up to his moral responsibility. But in the fight against Srinivasan, the main objective appears to be getting lost. Three cricketers are in police custody for their alleged involvement in spot-fixing in the just-concluded Indian Premier League (IPL). One former IPL team principal is under arrest. The reputation of Indian cricket has been hit almost beyond redemption. Negativity has become the order of the day. Unfortunately, very few top cricketers have spoken up to reassure fans. And very few administrators have come up with definite suggestions about how to make cricket free of corruption.
As the leader of the Indian cricket team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was expected to speak his mind without fear. He must have had his reasons for maintaining a stoic silence. Two weeks into the biggest controversy in Indian cricket, he is still waiting for the right time. But then more than his words, Indian cricket needs action at the moment and Dhoni and his men have a huge responsibility to perform on the field as they are about to start their campaign in the ICC Champions Trophy. Action can say more than a million words. Only a strong performance in the Champions Trophy can usher in positive vibes that have been completely missing at the moment. Anything less than a place in the final will be considered a failure.
Indian cricket had gone through a similar crisis in the wake of the Cronje-gate. The allegations and controversies related to Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Sharma, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Jadeja and former team physio Ali Irani and their subsequent bans had rocked the very foundation of Indian cricket. But a group of supremely talented cricketers, led by a young and aggressive leader answering to the name of Sourav Ganguly helped the side rise from the ashes. The Champions Trophy in Nairobi in 2000 was their first major tournament. They finished runners-up. Then they tamed Steve Waughs mighty Aussies in the Test series with VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid playing the innings of their lives and setting up one of the most dramatic comebacks in the history of the game. That happened on a sultry March afternoon in 2001 at the Eden Gardens. That was the redemption. India went on from strength to strength. They played the World Cup final, drew a Test series in Australia, won a Test series in Pakistan and became a real force to reckon with in world cricket. More importantly, that fabulous brigade brought back respect to
Hopefully, Dhonis lot will draw inspiration from them when they play their first match against South Africa on June 6. Circumstances have forced them to lie low and now they only have the bat and ball to express themselves.
The Indian cricket team has reached England undercooked, having played their last ODI series in January. Just two warm-up matches in completely different conditions cannot be the right preparation for such an important tournament. Moreover, a team short of the experience of Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh will have to rely on their young talents. The likes of Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja have been excellent in home conditions (in the Test series against Australia).
In England, the ball will move in the air and off the pitch. A specialist batsman would be needed at No 6. The flat-track bullies have to stand up to the challenge. It has been all IPL for the last two months and now the players need to get out of the T20 mode and get into the groove for the longer and tougher format.
Dhoni believes his boys can do that. If you look at the positives, you can say that the players who were playing the IPL, had good exposure to international bowlers. That means they are in touch, he said on his arrival in Birmingham. Time will tell if his faith in his team-mates is justified. India has had a poor record in the Champions Trophy. They were the co-champions of this tournament with Sri Lanka in 2002 and it still remains their tenuous link to success at this event. They failed to make the knockout stages in the last two editions. They can ill afford to fail this time.
This is for the last time that this tournament is going to be held. But for India, its not about the records or statistics, or memories. They have to play for pride. They have to play for the fans. Only a strong performance can put smiles back on one billion faces. They are on a tour of duty.