x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Indian fans are in for a long haul

The side is already in transition and there are likely to be more exits before a silver lining is glimpsed.

As supporters of West Indies, the San Francisco 49ers and AC Milan could tell you, the halcyon years don't last forever.

The years of plenty give way to seasons of drought, with pain and disappointment replacing championships and glory.

Indian cricket fans, who experienced a golden phase between October 2008 and April 2011, are now settling in for a period of struggle.

The recriminations will be long and loud if India lose the Kolkata Test. The reality, though, is that the team is no longer good enough, not even in familiar home conditions.

The side is already in transition, with Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman retired and Harbhajan Singh dropped, and there are likely to be more exits before a silver lining is glimpsed.

As England romped to 216 for 1 by stumps on the second day - just 100 in arrears - it was hard not to think back to the Valentine's Day Test of 2010 against South Africa.

India had looked similarly listless in the field for most of the first two sessions, with Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla both scoring hundreds.

On the stroke of tea, with the scoreboard showing 218-1, Petersen edged Zaheer Khan behind. Then, four balls after tea, Amla's attempted pull also found MS Dhoni's gloves via a thin edge.

By stumps, South Africa had slumped to 266 for 9. India went on to win by an innings. In those days, with Dhoni's captaincy winning plaudits and Gary Kirsten a big influence behind the scenes, India were capable of such comebacks.

There was a resilience to the side that gave its followers hope even in the most hopeless situations. It was no coincidence that they started and ended the year ranked No 1.

That year was also Zaheer's best as a Test bowler.

He took 47 wickets at 21.97 from nine Tests, and broke through every 39.8 deliveries to reinforce his status as the leader of the bowling pack. India drew with South Africa and beat Australia at home, and went on to share the spoils when they journeyed to the southern Cape.

That was then. In 2012, Zaheer has played eight Tests and taken 14 wickets.

His strike-rate is 97.6. Given that Ishant Sharma, his new-ball partner, has needed more than 34 overs to get his Test wickets in 2012, it was no great surprise that England and Alastair Cook wrested control at Eden Gardens.

The innocuous bowling, coupled with a decline in batting productivity, has contributed to India's slide down the rankings, and fan frustration has grown with the realisation that there are no quick fixes.

R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha took advantage of England's wariness of the slow and low conditions in Ahmedabad, but have since been comprehensively outbowled by Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, who have 30 wickets between them.

Virat Kohli, widely seen as the future fulcrum of India's batting, has not gone past 20. Cheteshwar Pujara, after starting the series with a double-century and a hundred, has failed twice, and there has been no innings of substance from Yuvraj Singh since the 74 in Ahmedabad.

Some of the criticism has been pretty vicious, especially for Kohli, who miscued a full toss to cover in Mumbai.

But as with Colin Kaepernick, skewered for some questionable decisions in the 49ers' loss last weekend, fans will need to be patient with the likes of Kohli and Ashwin.

There will be mistakes and times of strife, but with the stalwarts of a generation past unquestionably on the wane, there is no option but to trust in youth.

'Wait until you come to our place' was the refrain when India were thumped in England last year.

No one is saying that now.

 

sports@thenational.ae