England have admitted that defeat against Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi opened their eyes to how much further they needed to go and contributed in no small part to success here in India. And during IPL-1 when the Rajasthan Royals had just had a winning streak broken Shane Warne suggested the kick up the backside was needed to get the team focussed on winning again. And that is why I think defeat in this series may not be the worst thing to happen to Indian cricket-that it will force introspection that, for whatever reason, might have been overlooked.
Hardly any introspection
Teams rarely introspect when they are winning; there is camarederie, mateship is at its peak, celebrations are around and no one is really keen to see why the team won. Sometimes defeat can be met with denial, a refusal to accept that there is a problem, or the feeling that it will tide over when circumstances change. I suspect India allowed themselves to go through that phase in 2011-12. There was the world no 1 tag, a World Cup glittering in the office and on bio-datas and so any suggestion of a weakness, like not crushing the West Indies 2-0 in June, was cast aside, no one probably wanted to hear about it.
When India lost in England and won 2-0 at home against the West Indies (it is not always remembered that there was a win between the two 0-4 results!) it reinforced the fact that India were champions at home even though there was a scare in Mumbai and that is what probably led to the feeling, even post Australia, that all India needed to do was to play at home and happy times would be here again. The one-sided series against New Zealand confirmed that and with England due in November, and let's be honest everyone thought they would be run over, an analysis was postponed again, if indeed it was contemplated.
Now India have been driven to the brink, there is no choice but to realise that the weaknesses displayed in England and Australia were indicative of deeper fissures, that the illness had spread to home conditions. If India had won a one-sided series on rank turners it would have covered up fundamental weaknesses for a little longer and with 14-15 away tests on the trot, India could have been further exposed.
And so we must have a review of every aspect of Indian cricket; a review that asks uncomfortable questions because otherwise it will be like solving only the problems you know, rather than tackling the ones you don't, in preparation for a mathematics exam. The questions you ask determine the answers you get and any review must consist of people who will ask uncomfortable questions. Is domestic cricket producing the players India needs? Or is there a problem with domestic cricket? Is the IPL influencing the way youngsters are playing domestic cricket? Why are there no spinners anywhere on the horizon? Why have we been outspun on our pitches by, of all people, English spinners? What have they done right therefore? Do we have the right coaches at grassroot level? Have we had the right people running our academies? There will be many more, these took a minute to generate.
Influenced by IPL
Some of the answers to these questions are staring us in the face. The Ranji Trophy has been poor for a long time, it is the highest form of India's domestic game and playing it must be an accomplishment. If players on the ground are saying that fast bowlers are being influenced by the IPL to think in terms of only four overs, that is an issue to be addressed immediately. We could go on and I would in fact advocate a public review, a communication to the fans who are responsible for the power of Indian cricket, for dissent and acceptance of dissent are signs of mature organisations.
A review must also go beyond structures and into addressing player issues. Currently the stance is that a player is free to opt out of a series if he is tired or jaded. That option must be taken away and given to someone who has responsibility for the team. It seems to be working with England and while systems cannot always be duplicated it is worth analysing why something is working. England, Australia and South Africa all seem to think that having the same captain in all three formats can be draining and so there must be some truth in it. And yet having different captains playing under each other in different formats is doomed to failure, leadership cannot be worn and discarded like clothes. A solution must be found, maybe the captain gives up a format.
None of us, much as we would like to claim otherwise, can have all the answers. But answers are what Indian cricket needs very quickly for, irrespective of what happens in Nagpur, the time for major decision making is here. A lot of good can come out of this series if we are willing to listen to what it is telling us about Indian cricket.