Like countless other Indian cricket fans, I too was hugely disappointed when India lost to New Zealand last Sunday, following a crushing loss to Pakistan in their ICC T20 World Cup opener.
The Indian team is now virtually out of the T20 World Cup after two matches, and this hurts a lot, especially because many viewed them as the ‘home’ favourites on account of having been in the UAE for a month playing the IPL, being in the easier of the two Super 12 groups and because India have reached the knockouts of every ICC World Cup since the disastrous 2007 campaign in the West Indies. The same year, it must be said, that India won the first World T20 in South Africa.
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If I were to analyse like a critic, India clearly did not play like the champion team we all know they are. They were completely outplayed by two very good teams, and this can happen in sports. The first match was over hyped because of the 12-0 record India held against Pakistan in ICC World Cups since 1992. That is a phenomenal record to hold for 29 years, but let’s be realistic. It had to be broken one day and it happened in Dubai.
While we were expecting Team India to come back hard against New Zealand, they seemed very tentative (while batting) and how often do we see Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya holding out in the deep in the same innings? You could sense a fear of failure in the batting unit that led to the overcautious approach.
If this was a 50-over game, we may have seen a resurrection in the later half of the innings. Still, no excuses, India were outplayed by a well prepared New Zealand team. I won’t talk about the bowlers as they had a paltry total to defend with a wet ball, but the important question is what caused the fear of failure? Isn’t it because of the expectations we Indian cricket fans have with our team every single time they play? Do we even consider them as human beings ? If so, aren’t they expected to have bad days?
One very important point I want to call out in this article is: why do we always expect the Indian cricket team to make us happy? Don’t we’ve a responsibility towards them? This includes the BCCI as well. We are all experiencing the most difficult times during the pandemic since March 2020 wherein most of us are confined to our homes. Since October 2020, India’s cricketers and the OTT space have given us enough entertainment sitting at our homes by playing the IPL in the UAE, winning a Test series in Australia (one of the greatest away victory), playing the first leg of IPL 2021 in India despite the monstrous second wave gripping India, then going to England for the WTC Final followed by four Tests versus the hosts, returning to the UAE to complete the IPL and then playing the T20 World Cup.
While the BCCI is making good money and giving us fans enough entertainment, what is it doing to ensure the players are rejuvenated and mentally fresh to give their 100% every single time they step on the field? It is great that the BCCI has allowed families to travel with the players, but is that enough?
The Indian cricket board is the richest because of what the cricketers have done on the field over the past decade, so it is a symbiotic relationship. While Indian cricketers are paid really well, we need to remember that they are human beings and that they need rest. Like all of us, they want to meet their families and friends, spend time with them doing nothing, go on a holiday or just relax at home doing nothing. This will recharge their batteries and they will look forward to the next series with a fresh mind.
Instead, what is in store for Indian cricket team? A home series with New Zealand three days after the World Cup ends, followed by a long trip to South Africa a week from the conclusion of that engagement. Just to put this into perspective, most of the multi-format players like Rohit, Virat, Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Shardul Thakur have been moving from one bubble to another since May 2021. That’s six months of being in a bubble wherein the players only get to see each other and go from hotels to stadium sand back.
I can’t think of myself being in their shoes. How can the BCCI even agree to this schedule? Just because we lost out on cricket for six months in 2020, you cannot try and cover up the losses at the cost of players’ mental and physical health.
The latter can be taken care of with the best in class training facilities and physios but what about mental health? Isn’t that more important for the well being of a premier cricketer? We’ve seen the example of Ben Stokes and other England players who exited the IPL bubble early. Can a Rohit or Virat tell their franchises that they will take a break from the IPL this year so they can focus more on the World T20? Probably not, but the BCCI can. Think about the players. Think about their wellbeing, mentally and physically, otherwise me might see more failure in South Africa where the team is set to play all three formats.
At the very least, the BCCI can field some reserve players for the white-ball leg of the home series versus New Zealand to allow some rest to the main core of this setup. From a compassionate Indian cricket fan who loves cricket more than anything else, but not more than the cricketers’ well being, I request BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and board secretary Jay Shah to give our cricketers some deserved time off from the sport, to spend with their families and recharge mentally and physically before they again set off for South Africa. Our cricketers’ well-being cannot be compromised.