Australian cricket coach Justin Langer was complimenting India for the stunning Test series win Down Under when he said that there are 1.5 billion Indians and if you make it to the playing eleven then you must be really tough.
Frankly, the comment is not as charitable as it seems at face value. It whittles away some sheen of victory from the Indian team. This wasn’t just another Test series win. This was a case of a bunch of benchwarmers comfortably beating the most powerful team in the world. Such a win cannot be reduced to just the size of India’s population.
Langer’s comment assumes that match-winning players are just lying by the roadside among the multitudes and the selectors have to simply play eeny meeny miny moe to select the best of the lot. It assumes no real effort must go into preparing a strong Test team given the wide range of players to choose from.
If this was the case – that India’s cricketing prowess came from the size of its demographics – then we should have been winning almost every other Test series that we played in the past 89 years. After all, we have always been the most populous country among Test playing countries. We should not have won just 159 of the 546 Tests that we have played from 1932 to the end of the Australian series. We should have won at least half of those if not more.
Australia, on the other hand, should have been the minnows of international cricket given that it has a population of around 25 million compared to India’s 1.5 billion. If we take Langer’s logic a step further, India should have won the World Cup five times, not Australia. India should have beaten Australia even in the 1970s when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson were making touring batsmen shudder with their thunderbolts and the West Indies should not have dominated world cricket in the 1970s and 1980s because its players came from a group of sparsely populated islands in the Caribbean.
Consider these numbers. India has a win percentage of just 29.1 overall, while for Australia it is 47.24%. Head-to-head with India too Australia is way ahead. The Kangaroos have won 42 of the 102 Tests they have played with India so far. India has won just 30, most of them on home turf.
What these numbers show is that excelling in sport has nothing to do with population. It has more to do with having the right infrastructure, the right managers and a domestic cricket scene that is competitive. Interestingly, since 1999-2000, India has played roughly about 75 Test series and won more than 40 of them. That is a strike rate of more than 50%. Obviously, our cricket managers have changed. So has the approach of the new breed of young cricketers.
Although Rahul Dravid has refused to take any of the credit for the performance of some of the youngsters, it was under his stewardship that the likes of Shubman Gill, Mohammed Siraj, Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar emerged. But most of all you have to give it to these young cricketers who have gone through a lot in these past few months and yet not lost their hunger to win in Australia’s tough conditions.
The boys had been in a Covid-19 induced bio bubble since August as they had to prepare for the IPL in the UAE. From the IPL, they left for Australia, where Siraj had to deal with the death of his father and T Natarajan had to miss the birth of his first child.
Then, the Indian team was dismissed for a monumentally embarrassing 36 in the first Test, which is bound to leave emotional scars on players who take great pride in representing the country. To make matters worse, some of India’s best players either broke down with injury or had to leave the team midway through the series for personal reasons. And if all this was not enough, the players faced racist jibes from some Australian spectators.
It is true that many of these cricketers come from humble backgrounds and have lived tough lives before becoming stars. They know how to fight through tough situations. But it would be deeply unfair to reduce their will to win to just India’s population.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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