London, Aug 15: After climbing to the number one Test ranking in December 2009, India were content on clinging to it instead of resetting new goals and paid the price as they were dethroned from the top spot by England after suffering a humiliating defeat at Edgbaston.
If India coach Duncan Fletcher is not expressing this in words, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men should listen to what England coach Andy Flower said after the Edgbaston Test: "It's dangerous to hold on to what you've got."
All Team India tried to do in the past 20 months that they were at the top of the Test heap was to hold on to their numero uno position.
Only last month, they clung on to a 1-0 lead in the West Indies and opted not to press for a win with 85 runs required from 15 overs with seven wickets in hand in the third Test.
They could do likewise to their new found status of World Cup-winning ODI side and pay the price.
India should have learnt from the past examples of other nations -- England tried the same after the 2005 Ashes win and hit the ground with a thud; South Africa won in Australia in 2006 and promptly lost a return series in their backyard. They all tried to hold on to their positions instead of resetting new goals.
India began their reign as world's best Test side on December 6, 2009. Over the next 20 months, India drew against South Africa, beat Australia and New Zealand at home; drew series in Sri Lanka and South Africa; won in Bangladesh and West Indies before losing to England.
India owed their hold in world cricket all this while to VVS Laxman and oodles of luck.
Laxman enabled India to draw in Sri Lanka and South Africa, while against Australia at Mohali, he ensured a win after forging a ninth wicket stand with Ishant Sharma.
Dhoni said it as much after Edgbaston: "Being a team sport, all departments need to click. If they don't, you would end up losing the series. May be one series in 10 or 15, you would have one brilliant show and end up drawing the series."
On their journey to being number one in the period from 2007-2009, India lost to Australia and Sri Lanka in 2007 and 2008 and beat New Zealand 1-0 on away tours.
At home, India drew with South Africa and beat Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Thus the stretch between 2007-2011 show one irrefutable fact: India had won just one worthy series abroad -- the 1-0 win against New Zealand in 2009.
A slew of individual performances and the luck of good draw, kept them at the top.
Talent aside, world's best Test sides through the ages have had one central quality --- the intensity. It allowed them to hunt like a pack of wolves. Australia and West Indies did it in the past. England is doing it now.
In planning, the very last detail and options were taken into account. This intensity has never been a collective part of Indian cricketers' mindset.
Intense individuals yes, but not an intense team. The intensity is forced to spread thin when every living day of your life is spent either playing matches or visiting airports.
You can't be honest with your planning, you can't do justice to your talent. No wonder, against a top team in difficult conditions, a tired and stale India was found wanting. Sure India would recover the lost ground.
Dhoni made a revealing comment when he said an Indian cricketer "80 per cent or may be 70 per cent" of time play at home.
"The away series is there to improve yourself as a cricketer...you want to enjoy the sport, not think too much about techniques and aspects of how you need to change your game when you go to different places."
These are not words of a leader whom nation has come to adore. These are words of a man who is resigned to the fact India can never win in Australia, England or South Africa.
These are realistic sentiments of a quality cricketer who knows packed schedules would still follow, planning ahead is a dirty word and administrators couldn't care less.
The pity is India really had begun to win matches abroad. The wins at Headingley, Perth, Durban, Jamaica were beginning to get regular.
Now that the slide has begun, it would be difficult to stop it. Especially once the senior players such as Rahul Dravid, Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar retires, it would be a case of lambs thrown to wolves.
There would be no one to uphold the legacy of Tendulkar and Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag, Kumble or Zaheer. All their work would then go to waste.
If India has to regain its lost glory, it has to be prepared to give next four years for recovery. Allow cricketers to retain the intensity. Give freedom to a sane voice to reset goals.
Otherwise success would be accidental and hardly well-earned. PTI