Any Indian would happily replay the moment in their minds, such a glorious and perfect moment it was, but I'll do my best to describe it anyway. Under the guidance of this formidable leader, the fear in Indian hearts was past; all that remained was to put a final seal on this wonderful occasion. He looked around one last time, as calm and collected as ever, wanting to round off his finest performance in style. A stray bead of sweat crossed his brow, a product of the heat rather than any nerves, and he wiped it away as he stooped to take guard.
The Sri Lankan bowler charged in, the ball pitched on just the right length, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni swung through the line for a perfect six. In addition to their number one ranking in tests, India were now world champions, and the celebrations in Mumbai lasted all night. Under coach Gary Kirsten and Dhoni as captain, they'd worked long and hard to reach the pinnacle of world cricket. Better yet, the team had an excellent balance of youth and experience that suggested a long reign for India over the coming years.
Unfortunately, the money-oriented nature of modern cricket dictated that India's euphoria would be short-lived. The World Cup, which should have left the nation on at least a month-long high, was followed a mere week later by the Indian Premier League – an upstart, a circus, surely unfit to challenge the international game's flagship event, and yet it took over our TV screens for longer than the World Cup had. With a Twitter scandal getting founder Lalit Modi out of the action (publicly at least), the way opened for seasoned politicians like Sharad Pawar and prominent industrialists like T Srinivasan to agglomerate their cricketing interests into the IPL, further streamlining it into a rolling juggernaut of cricket and crores.
It's hard to judge whether the IPL is the new emperor or merely a supreme distraction from the real thing, but it was followed by a bizarre tour by India of the West Indies. Several of India's top players – including Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Dhoni himself – were rested after their World Cup and IPL exploits, confirming that in certain cases at least, the IPL is bigger than the international game. The West Indians, meanwhile, were hardly at the top of their already sub-par game as players, with their saga of infighting building up to an extraordinary $20m lawsuit brought by the players against their own board. It wasn't a surprise when India won both the test and one-day series, but that they did so in a rough, unconvincing scramble rather than the expected march was cause for concern.
Then came the test series against England. Having reached the pinnacle of cricket, India had everything to lose – their status as the number one test team, their aura as a new generation of invincible one-day cricketers. With the test series complete, India's humiliation and fall from grace is half complete. India were very well beaten by an English team that could not be called superior on paper, but they were better balanced, mentally tougher and a lot hungrier for victory. The one-dayers have yet to be played but after such an abject performance in the tests, and with team and public confidence at a low level inconceivable a few months ago, a dramatic turnaround is hoped for but certainly not expected.
Businessmen are revolutionising the sport and bringing in billions via IPL franchises but at every level, and in nearly every country, the game is tainted by accusations of corruption and cronyism. The global game is effectively run by India nowadays; it would make sense that the national team should also be the best. However, if the game remains as broken and easily corruptible at the administrative level as it is at present, India's cricketers will merely find themselves at the centre of the dogfight as it degenerates further. In a superb article on Cricinfo, Peter Roebuck writes:
“[...] ultimately everything goes back to the quality of decisions taken and the calibre of the men involved. And the best way to guarantee that is to develop the sort of accountability and judgement that is expected of the boards of major companies.”
This lack of accountability, I feel, is linked to a severe attention deficit disorder suffered by nearly everyone involved with the game. Players look to securing one IPL contract as a measure of success, rather than in building a career at the highest level. Fans are directed from one cricketing circus to another, wild with delight when their team succeeds and sick with frustration when they fail. The administrators, meanwhile, are businessmen concerned chiefly with the bottom line – or, more accurately, with increasing that bottom line as quickly as possible.
The responsibility – and accountability – has to begin at the top. When the game's leaders start looking further into the future and thinking deeply about how they could improve cricket as a whole, rather than their own individual standing, everyone involved will benefit. If the system they were part of was more clearly fixed, instead of drastically switching focus every few weeks, India's national team would be less fragmented and more likely to build the dynasty that they should be building right now. Most importantly, cricket supporters might actually have a long-term sporting narrative to follow rather than a disjointed series of ever-more-bombastic money-making ventures for the powers that be.
Photo credit: Ally Colledge