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The curse of being number one

It was bound to happen – Pakistan beating England – bound to happen. One team, hungry and lean and mean; getting fit on a diet of international cricket, national shame, national pride. The other, resting on laurels – well earned, no doubt – but resting and then arriving in a place almost hostile, neither here nor there. And then the first Test over in far less than five days – because Pakistan felt at home, because Pakistan was ready.

Does this mean that Pakistan is a better team? It was, in the first Test. The second Test is going to be a wonder – a true Test. England will regroup; re-fire but they must not start thinking too much; planning too much – that has always been their shortcoming overseas. They must just play confident cricket – attack, not wonder and worry too much, not strategise too much.

I remember watching the Test between England and India at Chandigarh three years ago, sitting with a bunch of English supporters – not quite the Barmy Army but close. And they analysed and criticised and mocked or praised each and every ball; each and every shot especially of KP, their target of that time. It was a nonstop tirade of half-baked cricket knowledge, and full-baked cricketing prejudice – even in the toilet at the breaks, the tirade continued.

And I imagined being an English player – a KP and putting up with this tirade night and day, on and off the pitch; imagined being a coach, and being subjected to this tirade – it is no wonder that England as a team always over-thinks, over-plans. The entire country seems to survive on analysis, self or otherwise – and it is also not wonder that the successful English player has been the outsider, the rebel – the Botham, or Gower, or Trueman, or Trescothick, or Trott, or KP. Those who are willing to play with heart and soul, rather than brain alone – Lamb, Robin Smith – that South African bravado, adding just enough pepper to the bland and over-thought English diet.

File picture of India's cricket team coach Duncan Fletcher. Reuters

File picture of India's cricket team coach Duncan Fletcher. Reuters

Which brings us to our Fletcher – as against our former Kirsten, Zimbabwe against South Africa, English coaching as against South African playing, dour thought as against exuberant spirit. Fletcher could deal with the English analysis, but it just does not work in India. We won and became number one because first John Wright, and then Gary Kirsten, allowed our players the inspired freedom to fly, to soar. And when Chappell, and now Fletcher, brought in either player politics or dour planning, it has been a disaster.
In the last two overseas tours, there has been no joy on or off the field, except for a little from Parveen Kumar in England, and Yadav in Australia – our player with greatest joy in his game, Sehwag, has been reduced – partly through his own failings, but also because of the lack of inspiration from the coaching staff, to a glum shadow of his shining self...

Can we get Kirsten back? Can we offer him enough money, enough incentive? Whatever we do, Fletcher has to go – he has to – he must take the blame, along with the BCCI and IPL; he must take the blame – if our players are to be blamed, as they must, then the coaching staff and cricket administration must also be blamed – to the hilt.

Because the major differences between our being number one and World Cup champions and what we are now are two – the coach, and the scheduling – players cannot age and collapse in form within eight to nine months.

And in Pakistan, what a jashn must be going one... wonderful... wonderful.