The downslide of the Indian cricket team started with the unsavoury manner in which Sourav Ganguly was ousted. Excessive experimentation with our batting and inability of our players to come to grips with the contract system have further contributed to our dismal performance.
Still, there are no excuses for our poor display in South Africa. The Indian team should have prepared itself better knowing fully well what to expect there. Even a schoolboy knows they were not going to offer flat wickets on a platter for the Indian batsmen to flourish.
The groundwork was not done. The team should have either gone to South Africa much earlier than they did or at least put the gap between the matches during the ICC Champions Trophy to better use.
Nowadays information is available with the click of a mouse even if it is not forthcoming from the South African Board and there are search engines like Google to do the job for you!
They should have got acclimatised to the conditions by planning a few more warm-up games. But it now seems by the time they will do so, the tour will be over!
To put the entire performance in proper perspective, it should be said that our strength is batting and we have undermined it by the excess amount of experimentation that has been carried out.
A player like Rahul Dravid can cope up with the constant change in his batting order but not someone like Virender Sehwag who struggles when he is sent in the middle order.
And pray what are we doing with Irfan Pathan by sending him at number three when even a great all-rounder like Kapil Dev has not batted at this position!
These experiments have become too much of a hindrance to the team's progress. You need to be mentally strong to play at this level and these constant changes have made the players unsure about their roles in the team.
There are so many players padded up, it's a joke! No one knows who would go where! It's looking like a team of schoolboys and not the India team.
It is time to identify 14 or 16 players for the World Cup, which is the most important thing that's coming up. I do not think this has been done so far. By now the players must know their jobs, whether they are openers, middle order batsmen or what.
Our other traditional strength is spin bowling and we have not used it fully to our advantage. Because of the amount of one-day cricket that is played now wickets are slowing down and spinners will have a role to play. We have Anil Kumble back now which is a good sign. Though Harbhajan Singh has not been in form, I think he will get his act together soon.
Then there are people like Ramesh Powar and even Murali Kartik to do the job. But they need good support in the slips which is not happening now. For a bowler these missed catches are very disturbing.
We do have some good medium pacers now but spin should always be looked upon as our strength in bowling, even on bouncy wickets as batsmen the world over are not able to play spin well.
The same team was doing very well earlier but the downslide, I feel, started with the unsavoury manner in which Ganguly was ousted.
Coach Greg Chappell had no business to send the e-mail to the Board criticising Ganguly, resulting in the spat being made public. What happens in the dressing room should never go out of its four walls.
All these fitness regimens and commando training are not for us. We are unlike the Australians who are rough and tough from childhood. Our culture is different and we have to balance it properly.
We should concentrate on getting the players, who come from different regions and speak different languages, blend as a cohesive unit. Otherwise groupism may take place.
You leave it to the players to remain fit or else go out of the team. After all they will be losing not only allowances but also modelling assignments if they are chucked out!
I also feel the poor performance of the Indian team in South Africa and in recent times in one-day internationals show that the players are yet to come to grips with the contract system which is new to our cricket.
It seems the Indian players are yet to understand the implications of the system. They are happy to sit out when injured as they are assured of a fixed sum. I would advocate going back to the old system where players are only paid match fees and allowances.
Yes, the Indian Board is a very rich body now and lots of money has flown into its coffers. But it would make sense if the contract system is done away with and a new system, in fact the age-old format, is resorted to.
Give them big money as match fees and allowances, offer them bonuses for performing well. I feel that is the way we can go back to put the game on track.
As for Sachin Tendulkar, I think he will bounce back. He is still getting back into the groove after his injury lay-offs. But I'm sure he will come back stronger. He has two or three years of cricket left in him and hopefully his injuries are a thing of the past. But I feel he requires support from the other end which is not forthcoming.