News by Anoop Vijaykumar 23/11/03
Winning isn't everything...it's the only thing! (Vince Lombardi - legendary football coach)
Jan 26th 2002 - NFL SuperBowl XXXVII - San Diego, California
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers blow away the Oakland Raiders (48 - 21) in four gruelling quarters of masterful football. Oakland stood no chance against the incisive offence and the rocksolid yet lightning-fast defense of the 'Bucs'. An integral component of the Bucs' offense was top-draft pick in 1996, 2 time pro-bowl selection, Keyshawn Johnson. In his 5th year in the NFL, Keyshawn is considered to be one of the most feared wide receivers to have played the game by opposition defenses and has shown why the Bucs signed him on an 8 year, 56 MUSD contract.
Flashforward to Nov 19th 2003 - 'A Buc Place - Training facility' Tampa Bay, Florida
A press-conference by the Bucs management to announce that Keyshawn Johnson will be inactivated for the rest of the reason after the defending champions have a dismal record of W4-L6 more than halfway through the season. The reason, their star wide-receiver had not been performing.
Pan to Eden Gardens, Calcutta. The final of the recently completed Tri Series.
Reigning world champions Australia, playing at what is perhaps the most intimidating venue in international cricket, Eden Gardens in Kolkata, brush the home team's challenge aside as they cap a perfect series. Yes,the Aussies were awesome, easily the only team in world-cricket to go in as favorites in a game supposed to be the most difficult for an international team - to play India IN India.
The dust has settled as the same two teams now head downunder for a 4 test match series. But, even before the first ball has been bowled, excuses are being thought of. The Indian skipper says that the squad 'hopes' to put up a good performance in the country where India has managed to win only once in 40 years of cricket. Let alone the fact, that the man captaining a group of sportsmen whose combined fan following easliy exceeds anything Michael Jordan has ever enjoyed, hopes not to win, but to put up some resistance, should be a sign of how little the Indians hope to achieve. Theoretically, the 2nd best team in the world does not even expect to beat the Aussies. Maybe it highlights the deteriorating quality of international cricket, the fact that the ICC has not invested itlself in maintaining or improving the standard of the game, instead pumping large amounts of time and effort into staging ridiculously lopsided affairs involving Bangladesh....wish it was that simple.
The reason the Indian team does not perform, is simply because it is not expected to! Yes, there are a 100,000 chanting supporters in the stands and millions at home who ooh and aah at each delivery. They are there to watch Tendulkar stroke a breezy ton, or a Sehwag cameo, or a Dravid vigil at the crease...not necessarily in that order, but, not to see India win. Sure, it's great when it's one of those days where everything goes right and the openers dominate the game from ball one, but is it really shocking when we end up on the losing side at the end? Not really. Sure, I've heard the phrase 'It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game' , when you did ever hear a winner say that?
India, as a people and as a team, do not push themselves enough to win. Before the Ind/Aus series in 2001, opener Mathew Hayden practiced for hours on end against spinners bowling to him on dust tracks, in order to prepare for the competition ahead. It was not too surprising that he was the top scorer for the Aussies and easily the best batsman in the series.
When have we heard of an Indian batsman making the extra effort to acclimatise himself to foreign conditions, given that we have time and again been embarassed on foreign soil by 2nd class bowling sides, let alone the national teams? Why is it, that no Indian batsman loses sleep over series batting averages of less than 15?! Why is it the handsomely compensated Indian team that has the best in training and practice facilities, in physical trainers, is not expected to win overseas? Because, it knows all that is needed is another home series with tracks from which the last bit of bounce and seam have been removed by curators at the behest of the board. The batsmen can yet again fill their shoes with another hundred or two and get back to selling anything from hair-shampoo to automobiles. And that's all that is needed to have a permanent ticket on the Indian National Cricket team. All this, because the richest cricket board in the world needs to show some wins under its belt, no matter how contrived.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the emerging pattern. As India continues to look amateur and spineless in foreign conditions, other teams are making more concerted efforts to beat India in it's own backyard. South Africa have done it, New Zealand almost did it and we can rest assured that when the Aussie juggernaut visits India the next time, the mission will be not just to win, but to anihilate the competition.
As the team heads down under, the team consists of both experience and newcomers to the side. Apart from a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid to an extent, none of the other batsmen have shown any degree of comfort when the ball bounces above knee height. A factor which will be very important under Aussie conditions. This has been the case for the last decade. And so yet again, the expectations set appear to only provide the semblance of a fight, not to win. So, unless Virender Sehwag and co are made to realise that performing overseas is expected of them and not just hoped, that when you don the national colors, you better be playing to win, we can expect more of the humiliation and disappointment that we are only too familiar with when the Indian team travels overseas for a series.