ANYBODY who has been following the recent Indo-Pak series closely will have observed an air of cockiness around the Indian captain. In fact he seems to be flaunting his nonchalance quite blatantly. Azhar has radiated anything but a sense of purpose and leadership quality during his second dig at being the Indian skipper.
Statistics can, perhaps, be quoted to prove that Azhar has been a highly successful captain-but this success story (if it be called one), is at best confined to the more advantageous environs of the subcontinent. Take this-on paper unbeatable-side a shade away from home, and one reverts back to an old tale of defeats piled on top of ignominious defeats.
With the loss to Zimbabwe and New Zealand still lingering painfully in memory, the Indian skipper's career graph was at its nadir. To compound matters further, the toughest and most demanding series of them all-given that defeat on home turf today means nothing short of a national catastrophe-was coming up. The Pakistanis were touring India after a gap of twelve years. Akram had already proclaimed his intense yearning to emulate Imran Khan himself, and beat India in their own backyard. Perhaps with that end in mind, the Pakistanis managed to be the only team in the wide universe to find time for a preparatory camp in the middle of a season! While Akram and co. were no doubt fresh, what seemed to goad them more was 'bets, lies, and a determination to bury the truth... They were going to steel themselves and strive hard for a win. Akram's men displayed terrific tenacity, they were always game to go the extra mile. They must have, perhaps, been left wondering at the Indian habit of meekly surrendering. Little wonder then that Akram himself was asking, 'Why do Indians lack the will to win?
At Chennai only 12 runs separated the two sides, and Azhar contributed almost nothing. In Delhi, despite their victory, the much eulogised Indian superstars could not manage a joint effort. The Indians managed to draw the series purely due to Kumble's effort. Overnight Kumble was transported to another planet till the Calcutta gloom took over once again. The home team was looking like a rudderless ship. From 26 for 6, Pakistan were allowed to take the initiative and grab the opening game of the Asian Test championship.
I had noticed in all three Tests that, India's captain was more than 'pally' with the visitors. Nothing wrong with that, only the Indian leader didn't seem to have sufficient time for his own colleagues. One noticed a distinct lack of intensity and involvement from the 'think tank' of the Indians. By now most of us should be familiar with the way Azhar operates. But an international cricketer ought to know his duties and responsibilities, if a player seems totally unaware of what is required, then why have him as the captain at all? With Azhar in charge there seems to be an absolute lack of communication in the team, and that is the weakest link in the present side. Nothing whatsoever is being done on that front to make amends.
There is a possibility that this aloofness may have had something to do with a newly acquired lifestyle. Trust a flimsy dictate to have a bearing on Indian cricket! Right now, Azhar does not seem to have a rival for captaincy, which is not quite what the doctor ordered. As that is the case, I am afraid that the quality of Indian leadership is pretty much on the leaner side.
I am willing to take a lot of nonsense from any quarter in the side as long as 'poor form' does not become a consistent ally of the players. As for players articulating grievances: I remember when Azhar was first offered the Indian captaincy, he had compromised hugely on the art of not speaking, and allowed himself the luxury of drifting like a piece of wood. Of late we have been witnessing Azhar losing his cool in his weekly columns and spewing venom at the print media. This despite the invaluable experience at his disposal. What good, if I may ask, is all that experience if it is to be used solely for personal survival?