Being a fan of the Indian cricket team is like being a Boston Red Sox fan – times a billion. The pain and cruelty that comes from being an Indian supporter can only be felt by one of us.

Cricket has a special place in the hearts of most Indians. By far the most popular sport in the region, cricket is followed religiously by the majority of the billion plus people.

For far too long, the Indian cricket team has been reliant on the greatness of one or two superstars.

Whether it is Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar, India has always been a one-man show. While India has done well in developing and nourishing such great talent, they have done little toward putting together a winning team.

But that all changed about four years ago when then-newly appointed captain Sourav Ganguly teamed up with coach John Wright. With veteran players retiring and fresh blood replacing them, India became a formidable team under Ganguly’s leadership.

Elusive Test match wins in the West Indies, England and Australia were followed by India’s first “overseas victory” in over a decade, against Pakistan.

The team spirit was epitomized by India’s impressive run in the 2003 World Cup when India’s only losses came against the Australians – who have been untouchable since 1999.

In just four years, Ganguly has secured his place as India’s most successful captain ever. Being an Indian fan was finally worth all the suffering.

Then suddenly, something went awry. Maybe it was the three-month break from international cricket or just the law of averages kicking in, but the Indian team started losing more and winning less.

What was more worrying was the loss of team spirit. The fire in the bellies of most of the players was put out. The team didn’t seem interested in winning anymore.

This was symbolized recently in the latest match against Pakistan after which Ganguly was banned for six matches due to tardiness on the field.

While some players have batted their way out of this problem like Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid, most of the team is still hurting. While Ganguly has been singled out for his poor run with the bat, other veterans like Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif have not performed their best.

While this is worrying news for Indian supporters, it is not something to lose sleep over.

In 2001, Ganguly and Wright built a resilient team. They picked players seeing how they would fit in a good team. The players responded by playing their part.

Currently, that is the problem – they are not performing in their roles. The Indians need to rediscover the winning formula not by making major structural changes but by minor tweaking of the current system.

For starters, they still need to find and stick to a successful opening partnership. But more importantly, the Indians need to get their confidence back. The simplest and most common way of doing this is to practice harder and play more matches.

But the Indians should also concentrate on improving something that is usually taken for granted – their fielding.

Fielding is a crucial part of cricket and to some extent, is the one part of the game that players can really use to turn any game around.

Tight fielding not only restricts the run flow but also adds pressure on the batting team.

The fielding of a side is reflective of their passion to win. On a day when nothing else is going right, the players really only have their fielding to win a match. It isn’t a coincidence that the Australians are such great fielders.

Regardless of this though, Ganguly and Wright have formed a solid foundation for future generations to build on. With Sehwag and Dravid reaching their peaks and several promising young players like Mahendra Dhoni and Irfan Pathan, India seems to be in good condition. Something tells me that Ganguly’s right when he says that India is only a couple of wins away from glory.

Madhur can be reached at smadhur@campustimes.org.



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