"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing": Vince Lombardi
Shortly after close of play on the fourth day (Saturday) of the World test Championship at the Oval when Shubman Gill's now infamous tweet over his dismissal to a contentious catch by Cameron Green arrived, opinion on social media platforms, especially Twitter, was morally righteous on his behalf.
With typical social media shrillness, many commentators suggested that yet again an Australian fielder had done in an unwary Indian batsman with a sly sleight of hand. Memories of Ricky Ponting gesticulating and feverishly arguing with the umpires at Mumbai and Sydney from the past gushed forth.
Gill was also termed gutsy and not afraid to push the envelope when it comes to standing up for what one thinks is right. A standing example of new and bold India.
As it happened, 24-hours later, the same Gill and the same Tweet copped a lot of criticism. The edgy tweet was now seen as being petulant and petty. The intrepid Gill was now classified an upstartish brat.
So what changed? Did new evidence emerge on the catch?
Nah. But India lost the Test by capitulating tamely on the final day morning, leaving the Aussies cocky winners of the World Test Championships.
On the fourth evening, with Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane looking solid, India seemed to have an outside chance of successfully chasing or drawing on the final day. In that afterglow of potential win, Gill's tweet did not seem all that problematic. But in the dark shadow of defeat, the young batsman's knee-jerk reaction looked impertinent.
No wonder the American gridiron football coach Vince Lombardi's quote about winning is a handy cliche among sports writers. For, it encapsulates not just sporting spirit but also human response to victories.
Two other major sporting achievements --- Manchester City's treble of Champions League triumph to go with its glory in the FA Cup and EPL, and Novak Djokovic's record 23rd Grand Slam title with his victory at the French Open --- also underscore the fact that wins have a way of blurring the surrounding problems.
Nobody was talking about Manchester City's financial scandals or Djoker's adamantine attitude towards vaccines and his political rhetoric around Kosovo and Serbia. To the victors, the crowing rights is an old truism.
Kohli, Rohit should not spread themselves thin
Losing, on the other hand, throws up plenty of villains. In the aftermath of India losing the World Test Championship final for the second time, IPL has emerged to be the chief whipping boy. But is IPL, which takes away two solid months in India's annual cricketing calendar, really to blame?
On the face of it, it may seem so. The highest run scorer in this Test match for India, and the only batsman who looked comfortable for the most part during his stay in the middle was Ajinkya Rahane, one of the most impressive players in the IPL this season. In fact, it is his change in form in the T20 league that kind of got him a re-entry into the Test team.
IPL may not be the issue, but T20 ethos seem to be affecting India's cricket. The manner of dismissals, especially that of Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in the second innings is a glaring case in point. But it can also be argued that it is the same brave spirit and approach that helped India breach the Gabba fort last year.
But when Rohit Sharma says, after losing, that more time is needed in the run-up to the Test, it sounds bogus and insincere.
"Event like this, final like this, you need a lot of time to prepare yourself and that is what we did the last time when we were here in England. We had a good 25-30 days to prepare ourselves. And you saw the result. We were 2-1 up until that game got called off, " he said. But why did he not say this to the Board prior to the finals? Getting wise after the event is not wisdom. It is just a lame excuse.
But what is clear is India can no longer get by with its silly fetish for multi-format players. It is an idea that belonged to the previous decade. The successful teams of recent times --- England and Australia --- have more or less different squads for different formats. But if there are multi-squad players they are told to take clear breaks. Pat Cummins and Michel Starc did not travel to India for the IPL, and not surprisingly they both started the Indian batting collapse on the late evening of the second-day that set the tone for the match.
Just contrast the Indian bowling line-up and the Aussie one for this Test. The Indian one was weary, the Aussies fresh and focused. (That the Indian think-tank is given to muddled thinking when it comes to personnel was also clear when it chose to go without Ravichandran Ashwin --- its most successful bowler over the last decade).
The most impressive captain in the IPL, aside from MS Dhoni, was Hardik Pandya. The man has done the wise thing --- He has uncluttered his mind by staying away from red-ball cricket. That has brought clarity to his cricketing approach. On the contrary, look at the likes of Rohit and Kohli, both look confused.
In IPL they were accused of playing like they were in Test, and in the Test they are facing the charge that their dismissal was more due to their desire to play in T20 mode. Even the man who many would have wagered to save a Test match --- Pujara --- fell to a shot that is ill-suited for Tests (the ramp shot over slips).
The point is IPL is not the elephant in the room. The surrounding player policy of the BCCI and the players themselves who seem to be eager to spread themselves across formats seems to be the issue. If Kohli feels that Test cricket is the real deal, he must walk the talk and priortise it accordingly. (To be wicked, in any case, RCB doesn't seem to be winning anything).
The allegation that the waft so outside the off-stump does not belong to a mind that takes Test cricket seriously is difficult to discount.
Also, Gill's tweet , in a sense, belongs to a mindset that the T20 ecosystem engenders.
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