England v India, 2011 Learn the lessons of failure

Victory brings the warmest glows but the cold light of defeat can bring clarity. The great thing about success is that it is often self-perpetuating, but the trouble is, it can sometimes obscure flaws. If India aren't sick to their stomachs after being handed out a drubbing reminiscent of their dark ages, they don't possibly care enough; but not everything will have been lost if the pain of this defeat spurs the changes essential to prevent a free fall.

It was just as well that Sachin Tendulkar didn't go on to get his 100th hundred at The Oval. It denied India a distraction, a glimmer of feel-good in their hour of misery. Indian cricket doesn't need the blow to be softened at this moment; instead it needs to feel the full impact of this devastating loss, feel the pain, look within and ponder the future with a clear understanding of their failings.

Success highlights strengths but failure often offers better opportunities to learn, for it exposes weaknesses. Those who remain successful for long periods use lessons from failure to their advantage.

India didn't fluke their way to the top of the Test table, or to their World Cup win; indeed, they scrapped every inch, digging into their deepest reserves and drawing on the exceptional skills of a core group of cricketers. They won the World Cup despite the thinness of their bowling attack and despite being the most unathletic team in the tournament. They drew the Test series in South Africa despite not having played a practice game and despite losing the first Test by an innings and some. They managed to beat Australia in a Test by adding nearly 100 runs for the last two wickets in the final innings. In the series before that, they came back after a huge defeat against Sri Lanka. The rescue act was bound to go awry some day, and England were too good a team to let India come from behind.

The appraisal must begin with honesty. India will do themselves no favours by wishing this away as an aberration. A return to winning ways in one-day cricket or against West Indies at home should change nothing. There has been talk about them not respecting their No. 1 status. The truth, perhaps, is that they backed themselves to overcome the lack of preparation, bench strength and general fitness.

Zaheer Khan turned up with a paunch and without match practice; Tendulkar came off a holiday; Virender Sehwag chose to postpone his shoulder surgery until his team had been knocked out of the IPL, and landed in England after India were two-down; Gautam Gambhir, who played the IPL with an injury, chose to sit out the second Test because of a painful elbow. India delayed calling for an replacement for Zaheer until the second Test. Eventually RP Singh was summoned from Miami, and he arrived looking every inch a man who had been enjoying the good life.

It is one thing for a team to believe it can fight its way out of the worst adversity, another to repeatedly put itself in adversity. India ticked every box for how not to prepare for a big series.

Administrators and players must be honest about where they stand vis a vis Test cricket. The No. 1 spot in the format was attained not by design but through the burning ambition of a small group of Indian cricketers, for whom the Test version remained the pinnacle. The awakening among the administrators came only after the team became No. 1. Hastily a one-day series against Australia was rearranged to accommodate two Tests. Much in the same manner, an additional tour game is now being sought before the Test series in Australia.

Administrators bristle and players shy away when it is suggested that not everything about the IPL is good for Indian cricket. Of course, there is no denying it its place. Crowds love the entertainment, players love the financial security it provides, and administrators love the might the money brings. But the real challenge for India is to keep Test cricket attractive to players, and it won't be achieved by mere sloganeering.

The biggest problem with Twenty20, and particularly with the IPL, is that it provides disproportionate rewards for too little work and limited skills. Who would pass up the chance of earning in six weeks what might otherwise take a couple of years? There is no other reason why even those Indian players who had withdrawn from playing international Twenty20 even before the IPL began, would never consider missing an IPL season.