At top of the cricket league but corruption refuses to leave

This year has been wonderful for Indian cricket, never mind the disappointment of being bumped out by New Zealand in the semi-final of the World Cup. The win to loss ratio highlights the success of the team, not to mention outstanding individual performances that showcased the talent in the country. 

In Tests and in the limited overs formats, Virat Kohli’s team is now widely recognized as the best in the sport across formats currently. This is not necessarily corroborated by ICC rankings. For instance, in T20s, India is at No. 5 and No. 2 in ODIs. Yet there is no other country to match this versatility consistently. 

In Tests, beating Australia in Australia at the start of 2019 was epochal. India had never won a series Down Under and this established that India’s No. 1 ranking was not a statistical quirk. The position has since been consolidated with emphatic victories over South Africa and Bangladesh at home.

Skeptics may argue that the last two teams mentioned are currently weak and beating them does not reflect great strength in this format. But that is being peevish and petty. Over the last few years, India have triumphed over every side that has toured here. 

The record overseas is not as impressive. True. In South Africa (particularly) and in England in 2018, India had their chances that were unfortunately squandered. But winning in Australia was reflected that hard lessons had been learnt well. 

In ODIs, India is currently ranked No. 2, not far behind No. 1 England. In fact the top ranking has oscillated between these two countries. In T20s, however, the situation is not so hunky-dory. At No. 5, India enjoys middling ranking. 

This could be attributed to two reasons. One, that the format itself is very topsy-turvy. For instance, 2016 World Championship winners West Indies are currently bottom placed at 10! The second aspect, and which carries great significance, is that India have perhaps not been able to find the right combination to win consistently.

 This is an area of concern for Ravi Shastri, Virat Kohli and the selectors what with the next World Championship coming up in Australia in October 2020. India, remember, had won the inaugural tournament in 2007 ushering in great passion for the format. But since then, the title has been elusive. 

With the enormous success of the IPL, and given the talent pool available, it was thought that India would be among, if not the most successful side in T20. Clearly, it is not a problem of finding players with the requisite skills, rather getting the right combination. 

The recent 2-1 win over the West Indies, completed in rollicking style on Wednesday night at the Wankhede Stadium suggests that there is newfound zeal in the players to excel and win the highest accolades in this format, too. 

Despite the difference in rankings, West Indies were no pushovers. A great number of their players have benefitted from playing in the IPL and under Kieron Pollard, looked seriously competitive, forcing India to raise their game a couple of notches to win. 

Make no mistake, India were under serious pressure after losing the second game. The West Indies boasted of a bigger number of big-hitters, but were upstaged by the scintillating batting of Rohit Sharma, K L Rahul and particularly Kohli, whose power hitting was a revelation. 

More than the pyrotechnics of these batsmen and the fine, controlled bowling, it was the desire to win in the Indian team which was the most important aspect. This can be traced directly to Kohli’s unrelenting pursuit of excellence and success which is defining the culture of the dressing room.

In this wonderful scenario, however, there is one issue in Indian cricket that rankles. Corruption. This has been the bane of the sport globally, and has reared its ugly head again in Indian cricket, taking away some of the sheen of achievements listed above.

Twenty20 leagues in Tamil Nadu (TNPL) and Karnataka (KPL) reported events of match and spot fixing, showing that this menace has not been entirely eliminated from Indian cricket as had been imagined. In fact, considering that some team owners and senior players who have been around for several years - some even in contention for a place in the national team - have been charged, shows how grave the threat still is to the sport in India. 

There is no foolproof method to eradicate corruption in sport. Ultimately, it boils down to the integrity of the players. But given the frailties of human nature, it must be expected that these problems will not only exist, but also recur, unless enough safeguards are in place to minimise them. 

In my opinion, this is the big challenge in the coming year for the newly-formed BCCI under president Sourav Ganguly. The national team’s myriad successes must be celebrated, but to ignore the grisly underbelly that still exists would be travesty.

The writer is a senior journalist who has been writing on the sport for over 40 years.

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