Covering a flu



It’s easy to ask people not to panic. Please don’t panic, if swine flu doesn’t get you, the next truck will. But it wasn’t easy for us to take that stand, not with the whole world going crazy.

How do you tell parents not to panic when their children’s school shuts down after a child was reported down with swine flu? It’s no longer a scare, but a fact. And it’s not happening in another country, or city. The channels hit the panic button the day Rida Shaikh died in Pune. They have been in overdrive since. The newspapers were a little careful going down that road, or conservative perhaps.

And the biggest question: how do you ask others not to panic when you can feel it yourself? Anytime anyone near me sneezed or coughed, I turned away my face, stupidly perhaps, to escape the shotgun burst of droplets. But we took a stand, largely driven by one of the senior editors. We opened our offensive with a list of those killed till then by swine flu and with the diagnosis by the doctors.

In five of the eights cases listed, we found, that H1N1 was only an accomplice, the killer diseases were hypertension, diabetes, asthma or kidney problem.

The picture was quite clear. And so was the way forward: while there was no denying that people were dying of swine flu or complications caused by, there was no reason to panic. And that is essential.

I don’t know how many of you will recall the plague outbreak of 1994. I was then a reporter with The Times of India, and was assigned to cover the plague as all other reporters in the team.

That was the biggest story of the day. All newspapers – there were no news channels back then, with the exception of Doordarshan, which didn’t seem to care much for such stories – put everyone they could on the plague story.

I was assigned the Infectious Diseases Hospital, which was Ground Zero for Delhi. Most plague cases – suspected or otherwise – landed up there. It was a place where you could catch any and every infectious disease.

But it was an assignment, and I had to be there every day. My Yezdi – a phenomenally untrustworthy motorcycle — never once gave me the excuse to stay home. It reached me there every day, unfailingly.

We had the same concerns then. I used to keep a strip of a drug said to cure plague in the back of my jeans and a surgical mask – they were nothing like the N 95s available now, and cost only Rs 30.

Returning home after work was like driving through a ghost town – not a soul in sight. It was very eerie – only time in my life when I missed the noisy, chaotic Delhi traffic.

And then, it disappeared, just as suddenly as it had appeared. Life returned to the usual office-work-office cycle, and, gradually, plague faded out becoming only a memory.

But plague was no flu like the swine flu. Doctors and epidemiologists are now saying this is just one more flu in town, get used to it. It will harass and trouble you just like the others, the common flu.

It will be a while before sanity returns. Till then, we need to fight this together, both the disease and the panic.

I would like to hear your views on this…

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  • vikram

    yesterday in our software sweathouse floor one of our collegues who was down sick for the past few days was confirmed to have the swine flu. there was panic and general anger all over for some time with people blaming everything from the uncleaned air ducts to ‘the most probably tap water’ – water fountains .. people stormed out telling the leads/ managers to go and f themselves … i wondered what would happen to our 24/7 support assignments and overseas customers …

    i came in today and lo behold we had 95% attendance :) life and work goes on . not because there were any special measures taken or commitments given by the managemeent to the worker bees .. but the commitment of the worker bees themselves to their work and to their customers … I am sure it will be the same story in all the IT companies .. rest assured folks ..we will not let down our customers; our industry and in effect our country ..

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    D10 Reply:

    I am firmly of the opinion that the media is very largely responsible for the panic around swine flu. Awareness does not require 24/7 obsessive coverage. I think it has been weeks since I have switched to a news channel and seen any other news. I once spotted Baba Ramdev (at least a change I thought!) on some channel, except he was on because he was talking about swine flu! East Asia was hit by a deadly typhoon last week and the coverage of that disaster has been reduced to 2 minute bits at the end of a news telecast and small columns in the papers, simply because no one dared to take swine flu off the breaking news radar!

    I agree that the media plays a very important role in spreading awareness which is especially important at a time when something so contagious is around us. However, I feel that this can be done in a calm fashion as well. Each and every news channel without exception seems to have lost all sense of proportion in this bid to create awareness. Callers are phoning in to ask whether they should take Tamiflu if they find themselves sniffing. Why has the media become the repository of all information? Why are people feeling the need to call up a news channel for a medical query? There is something inherently wrong in that! Information bulletins and advertisements are fine. Even one hour specials with doctors are fine. But if those one hour specials are followed by debates on schools being closed and another news bulletin on another death and another call-in doctor, then I’d say it’s clear where the panic comes from!

    And HT too has been in the same mould I’m sorry to say. A headline in gigantic letters calling upon people to ‘STOP THE PANIC’ does precious little! Shifting swine flu related news a few inches down or a few inches to the right might serve the purpose a hundred times better! Or perhaps the purpose is not to stop the panic, but merely to have an eye-grabbing headline!

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    you are judging us wrongly — the intention really is to stop the panic — that’s why the lead story with a bold headline — and if you read the story it explains why we must stop this panic — it was the biggest story of the day — the flu and the panic around it — we can’t underplay it — we must address the issues, and head on

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    great thought vikram

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  • http://www.swineflubritain.co.uk Swine Flu

    Experts continue to warn against giving anti-viral drugs to pregnant women & children suffering from swine flu

    Swine Flu

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    Atul Reply:

    Many of my kids friends study in Pune. They have all come back saying there is no pure swine flu death, they did not wear masks, and they are fine.

    Storm in a teacup.

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    Sana Reply:

    Yes there has been a lot of panic…my brother came with his mouth and nose covered with a cloth ane when he saw one of us sneezing he jus ran out, later onlu to be ridculed by all of us for being foolish. Somewhere I feel just bits and pieces of info from here and there is also causing problems, people have to get a control over themselves..panic wont stop the flu..precautions definately would. I totally agree with you..we need to fight this together!!

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    absolutely — need to deal with both

    yashwant raj Reply:

    that’s exactly what we are saying

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    isn’t that strange? how do you cure them then?

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  • Anil

    Was watching NDTV news was being shown hwo so and so hospital are helpign in swine flu with words like no poiticisation fo thsi crisis should happen and it;s nto congress’ fault.. And very next minute speculation of crisis in BJP was shwon how Vasundhara raje allegedly has refused to resign ..

    Media is doign its level best to shwo congress in good light..
    Even during 26/11 suddenly whole political class became guilty those whose responsibility was to protect country were not to blame..

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    can’t really blame politicians for swine flu, can you?

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  • http://HTTIMES P N SARAWGI

    Dear Sir,

    I stay in Mumbai and have recently come to UK.

    Here Indians find it strange that Indian media is making such a big deal about it.

    In UK it is probably 10-20 times more than India but the advice is very simple –

    Catch it, Kill it, Bin it –

    Cover your mouth with a tissue while sneezing/coughing.
    Put the tissue in the dust bin.

    And if you get SF, then just take the anti-virals and it should go away like normal flu.

    Net is, just avoid public places for kids, ask them to wash hands frequently, particularly before touching their face or eating.

    Here in UK a swine flu case does not even go to a GP Doctor. One is supposed to call a help line and get medicine prescription on phone if the symptoms suggest a swine flu. And all this is on phone unless one is in high risk category because of other complications along with SF.

    SF is going to increase in coming days. How are we going to manage that? What are we going to do in our villages where even the primary health service is non-existent leave aside quarantine and testing?

    UK is a developed country. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. It is high time that at least the politicians in power understand the reality and act in realistic manner. Stop the scare. Stop testing or quarantine for normal SF cases. Engage P R firms to educate the public; ask Indian Medical Association to guide medical fraternity.

    For first hand details have a look at this link:

    http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Pandemic-flu/Pages/Introduction.aspx

    I could not have agreed more with D10

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    that’s exactly what we are trying to tell our readers — there is no need to panic. and we need to say that several times over

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  • Navrooz

    All the media houses should be brought under the scanner of a strict regulatory body, so that they can’t just go-on and press the panic button,
    above that the media in our country is so profit and money minded that all the values, ethics have taken back seat, rather it would correct if i say that these have been simply thrown out!!!

    I regularly keep tuning into local news channels of many countries, beaming there local news…and its quite a surprise to find only 1 bad news in the 30 minutes news bulletin, and let me quote a news reader from “DW-tv” who yesterday was saying to a fellow reader that today they are having many bad news to read out, and after listening to there bulletin, it came out that they had only 3 bad news in total….our news channels have a lot to learn!

    And ya coming to the role of government, they have taken no precautions at all, at the international airports people are just given a few questions to fill out to “prove” that they are not infected!!!
    It should be that there be screening and isolation of people at the airport itself!

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    the situation in india is a little different, you will agree, from, say, europe. but what do you mean by “bad news”?

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    Navrooz Reply:

    Hmmmm…..by bad news i meant that, all the tragic news!

    At least the news channels should show some respect for the “invisible public”, they are taking to front pages!

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    Vasudha Reply:

    It was reassuring to read HT last week . The hysteria over swine flu was peaking, yet your message to readers was clear: dont panic. In fact, when folks at home started worrying about visiting crowded places, I just showed them all the front page headlines. And guess what, it worked!

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    absolutely, while you must not panic, but do please take all necessary precautions

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  • D10

    I appreciate your point and even your intention (got a bit carried away with sarcasm!) but it can’t be denied that the media is playing a role in creating the panic. I agree that the story which you carried had a lot of merit. In substance you are attempting to reduce the panic. But the form which your message takes often creates the panic itself. I don’t say underplay the issue, but the fact that swine flu is something we have to live with and that its mortality rates are not abnormal, is not a ’story’. It is something which has been known for days. To turn it into a bold headline, I felt was somewhat self-defeating.

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    Ishmart Alec Reply:

    I have a hunch that this is mostl pharma companies spending money to create the fear of the flu, which doctors have repeatedly said is as deadly as ordinary flu….

    nothing sells like fear. thats y the govt was bullied in to allowing private hospitals to test for swine flu… but the govt was smart.. they kept the tami glu tablets in regulated supply… our babus are not as dumb as they appear to be… or the pharma companies havent quoted the right price to the babus.. yet

    http://mywriterkeeda.wordpress.com

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    yes, this is one of the conspiracy theories going around — big bad pharma company behind the panic

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    correction: … big bad pharma companies …

    yashwant raj Reply:

    ok. we felt it needed to be said upfront

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  • Yasmin

    We have to stop the panic. Screening is another means to fight the disease & it will be highly appreciated if private hospitals join in with the government ones.
    The role of the media should be in creating awareness, which is being done, but stop making a story out of each death happening due to swine flu. Flu season is just beginning & the situation might worsen, but true enough swine flu is not a killer disease, we have to deal with it like any other infectious disease…just be watchful & careful, specially if you have cold or flu symptoms, stay home avoid contact with other people, sneeze in some tissue paper or something , not in the open, go to the hospital only if your primary doctor says so. This awareness has to be spread & when we , the public are aware we can fight it.

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    yashwant raj Reply:

    absolutely. private hospitals are joining in now — and you are right about the rest — people need to be careful, but shouldn’t panic

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  • prats

    news channels go hyper on any new item. so swine flu is not something that is important to them. it is just another news item which they can harp about for a week or two and then another news piece walks by. after swine flu it was SRK’s detention in usa, then jaswant singh’s book. so news guys are waiting for the next big news.
    the private hospitals are jumping into the swine flu testing field for minting money. they are overcharging since the government has set no ceiling on the price of the testing procedure. so the testing centers would actually like more panic to set in so that they can make a fast buck.

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  • Rahul

    The Hindustan times ad that ridicules a person wearing a mask in the lift is UNFORTUNATE. The number of people that have been killed in Bangalore right now is around 40 with almost 10% of those affected dying. every precautionary step will help curb the spread of the virus. I am not sure what the thinking behind the production of this ad was. Ofcourse the business community wants to downplay the flu effect lest it affect their footfalls :-(

    Let us not panic at the same time let us not be COMPLACENT… let us be VIGILANT…

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  • roney

    In india we are all borne advocates.We do not settle issue in its sprit,on the contrary it is our superiroty complex that picks up and feel defeated /disappointed if made compromise with views so expressed by us earlier.Some years ago there was a big hue and cry for PLAGUE,when a compagin was launched by the govt. A mouse or a rat became YAMRAJ for couple of weeks in our homes in whole of india.Tetracycline antibiotic went out of market. The hipe was so created by media ,both visual and print that rat /mouse became synonims of yamraj.How the terror of plague vanished though both rat and mouse are still existing in our houses media did not point out later.This indicates the strength of the level of confidence of public and govt at national level,we all possess.How many deaths and their grounds occuring in hospitals are ever reported by the visual or print media? in general .This is just to create a hipe in public and allow a mess in govt accountings so that a major chunk of budget could be siphoned off. All are benefitted in the celebreation ,media gets advt.,politicion get exposer and publicity.govt officers get commissions on emergency purchases,public gets sympathies from their leaders. Sufferer are invisible viz Honesty,Progress, and confidence of the innocent public.Indian system of medicine viz Ayurvedic,unani,Homeopathic,are made impotent by all of us only in the past 60 years after independence.It is all because we could develop no- confidence in ourselves and in our system of medicine. we have never made efforts to take our systems seriously by inviting calibure in this field. Now it seems in absence of allopathic medicine all humanity will die.This is a danjerous sign.why BAMS/BUMS/BHMS courses are considered inferior with little or no scope in govt deptt.Why we do stic to the carriculam that allopathic system of clubing with BHMS/BAMS/BUMS judiciously is untouchable we can integrate it andopen wider plateform of research approach on disease when human body remain same.In Delhi yamua river people are waiting for flood,media is helping a lot. A good coverage is made on tv /news paper showing evacuation of localites so that good amount of budget good be pumped for rehabilitation/ purchasing materials and govt sympathies for prompet efforts. It seems that HIPE and MESS creates pressure of work ,a congenial condition for draining Govt funds. It is due to lack of farsightedness which happens every year.

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  • pavitra

    Why does(do) quack intelligentsia(s) take the JOB to comment on spirituality with out knowing the objective and existential realities about self and human being: I could not understand. Do they not feel that their writings and sayings drags readers and listener to the area of SUBJECTIVE HALLUCINATION.Which facilitate the people for accepting mercurial and arbitrary conclusions about GOOD, TRUTH, JUSTICE, UNIVERSALITY and HUMANITARIAN CHARACTER. As per these people so called GOD ( unproven and unconfirmed faith of human being ) is only the perfect and person can attain the EXCELLENCE only; Whereas reality is that standards of perfection and excellence are created and formed by human beings only on the basis of POWER; the EVIL.

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  • dnsak

    Be fair , don.t get biased in opinion. I agree Dhoni is very good and must be appreciated . good and bad phase do comes in each player,s life that does,t mean you take all credit of great player and shower insults. Dada also has great achievements but he too has negatives. So we should be fair in critising great player of our country.

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  • Indian_#1

    Dhoni is the weakest link in the current team. He is a mediocre Captain, a below-par Batsman and an OK Wicketkeeper. It is him who created a culture in Indian team of blaming everything around them when defeated. Dhoni accused Umpire Harper for deliberate wrong decisions and still refuses to endorse DRS. Dhoni rose to prominence too quickly, won the world cup in his own backyard and felt that he has no downfall. In England he blamed Injuries, blamed Cricket Ball for swinging too much and blamed weather. He is not an inspiring leader. His captaincy, Field Placement leave much to be desired. After every test match, after every defeat, after every humiliation, there is one overriding conclusion, he should not be the test captain.

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  • Vivek

    Rahe wahi Laloo Yadav K Bihari ….Ab to dimag ko kholo…..Bihar Laloo Yadav ki chatr chaya sey aagey barh chuka hai…..

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  • Floyd Chaterji

    Its HIGH time for India to get rid of Cricket itself !! A nation of a billion plus population without a world class team in either Football, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, badminton, rugby, atheletics, snow-sports, swimming, waterpolo, handball, gymnastics, or a decent medal tally in the Olympics… this is India’s Gross National Embarrasment (GNE) and utter Shame !!

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  • monalisa

    It is time to sack Dhoni? No. No. No. It is time to give him much coveted award like Bharat Ratna and perhaps 100 if not 1000 million rupees handshake for performing so miserably after his one-day world cup wonder. And that pint size, little master ST should be given another 1 billion or more to sticking to his bat with no sign of retiring until probably he is 50! After all India is now a land of very few filthy rich and a billion or so filthy slum dwellers.

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  • NPS

    Best analysis! I think the same, many others and me already said after England series Dhoni is not capable of test team captaincy. He lacks the intelligence and right judgement of on field situation. Of course there are lot of experienced players in Indian team., but the captain is the leader and has to make decisions. Dhoni had made enough wrong decisions. It is time to quit for Dhoni. He must go in the best interest of Indian cricket.

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  • Sagar

    I 100% agree with this article by Arnab Mitra. Dhoni as TEST captain has turned into a JOKE.

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  • Chalochak

    DHONI HAS TOO MANY OLD LEGS IN THE TEAM. CHANGE THEM WITHFRESH ONES, DON’T BE AFRAID, SOMETHING GOOD WILL COME OUT,

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  • PM

    Dhoni should remain the leader I think bowler’s are not doing a proper job. Sehwag should be lower down Virat should open with Gambhir. Ishant Sharma should be rested and Mithun or Viney should be given the chance. Rohit should be added and let Dhoni to decide. Ozha shold come in place of Ashwin.

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  • Ramesh

    Yes indeed Dhoni has not been a good fit as a test captain especially in away games. The reason is very simple, he is a good cricketer and plays the game intuitively, but he does not have the technical competence or planning skills to be a test captain.

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  • Harjap Aujla

    India’s age old problem is lack of a battery of physically fit pace bowlers. Pace bowling needs very strong legs, strong arms, reasonable body weight, tall height and stamina to keep bowling over after over. All that is missing in the Indian youth. The Indian kids need protein and vitamin rich diet since early childhood. Our food habits are not conducive for breeding strong pace bowlers. We can do very well on spinning home wickets, but when faced with bouncy wickets and world class pace attacks abroad, we just crumble like a pack of cards. Why blame poor Dhoni for our national failures.

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  • Aditya Vikram

    Dude, you couldn’t be any further from the truth. It is his ‘unimaginative’, ‘ultra defensive’ leadership that got India the Number One Test Team status for the first time ever. Which other captain can boast of that. Its fickle fans like you that put India to shame. You are like rats that would jump ship at the first sign of trouble. If it wasn’t for His leadership you would still be dreaming of world cup wins….and hey comparing his records with other top order batsman is foolish, he comes at number 6 obviously his runs would be less than top order batsman. My suggestion to you – refrain from posting blogs when you dont know squat about the game.

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  • Rahul

    It’s interesting that the 2 comments reflect the antecedents of the commentators – big city vs small town boy. What’s lost is a dispassionate analysis of what ails the team. While Dhoni can’t be blamed for all that ails Indian Test cricket – he is the captain and must be held accountable if his current abysmal track record abroad continues for the next few tests. It is also true that we can learn from the Aussie experience of weeding out the aging superstars with journey-men who are young, athletic and want to win.

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  • M. DEKA/GUWAHATI

    I support your views. Cricket and poetry are not same thing.Cricket not only requires cricketing ability,it requires patience/coolness etc also.Dhoni is a cool captain. He might have got defeats,but his coolness and leadership are admirable.Oxford/Cambridge education hardly matters in cricket…………………………..

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  • cricket

    This writer has no clue as to what he is talking about. He dosent know the right end of a cricket bat from the wrong end

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  • Guest

    This is totally wrong. Dhoni in a nutsheel is doing what he is supposed to do, but the issue is that neither the bowlers nor the batsmen are handling their tasks well. In australia, when their pace bowlers can bowl us out twice in the match, we are struggling to even save runs. Our batsmen are too fragile there. We probably need to let seniors take some rest and show faith in young batsmen like Rohit, Raina and so on. I believe we have OK pace bowling attack with Umesh and Zaheer, but Ishant needs to be mentally strong. He can not bowl wayward all the time. He is not a newbie anymore. Irfan should be considered if he is consistently doing better in domestic cricket.

    Sacking Dhoni won’t do anything good. My 2 cents.

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  • Anhan

    so “anyone else” is better than Dhoni now….. wow…..

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  • IndianAussie

    Just a thought.. Shouldn’t the coach be making these analysis??? He surely isn’t at the matches as a spectator, may we should change the coach

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  • Proud Indian

    At last, someone is asking the right questions. Dhoni’s early successes as Test captain came mainly at home. His record outside the subcontinent is abysmal. I have a revolutionary suggestion. Remember, when SA were down and out (for different reasons), they appointed Graeme Smith captain and resurrected their fortunes. Make a complete rookie, like Ravichandran Ashwin or Virat Kohli (if he is able to seal his position in the Test team as a batsman), captain. The likes of Sehwag, Gambhir and Zaheer can guide the new skipper the way Pollock, Kallis and the other seniors helped Smith. What’s the downside? At worst, we’ll fail. But it can’t go much worse down six whitewashes in six games.

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  • Jo Kurian

    A wonderful article,; completely tru and to the Rght point !
    But my question is, especially ince you stated “anyone’…Who could be the next captain of Team India?!

    We obviously cant keep any of the Veterans in those shoes (or rather for how long).
    The next option of Ghambir? (Bad current form)
    Sehwag? (a personal No)
    Kohli’s, i feel too young, yet.

    i’m stumped!

    But excellent writing :)

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  • Sharma_r81

    Totally disagree. India has always axed its captains whenever it lost overseas… and it was always counter-productive. Lets instead face the truth. We suck in away matches. A green pitch makes us see red. We are tigers at home and mice away. So lets not blame only the captain. Lets look within and at the BCCI, which despite years of bitter experience has refused to make fast pitches on which our local teams can practice.

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  • Anonymous

    Our players can only be made to perform only if-
    1. BCCI fine them 100% of match fee for every loss (the players who underperformed)
    2. Ban underperforming players from playing in IPL.
    3. Ban underperforming players from signing any commercial deal.

    These guys don’t perform because they know money is raining for them in India in the form of IPL and ads.

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