India’s shattering loss in the series Down Under has the potential to create enough ripples to revamp the entire scenario of Indian cricket. It should be viewed not as the end of the world but as a new beginning!
Team India has played not like the champion side that it was eight months ago, in both the longer formats of the game, but like a shell-shocked, fatigued and aging side, with no passion or pride
The reactions across India to 7 straight losses in Test Matches abroad have been predictably caustic and fiery. There are calls to ‘boot out the seniors’ and field an entirely new team. The logic given is that the team is losing anyway so why not field a team of green-horns who would learn in the process.
The word ‘process’ is in the news anyway, since skipper MS Dhoni has rightly said that change cannot be an ‘event’ but has to be a ‘process’.
What then are the factors responsible for the disaster, factors that have never been on the priority list of BCCI? The following 3 are absolutely the key-
1. Topsy-turvy calendars- One glance at the calendar followed by the team in the past 4 years is enough to drive anyone crazy. The very thought that our cricketers play so many ODIs and T-20 matches accompanied as they are by travelling and off-the-field pains, is abhorrent. If any human being would play as much cricket as MS Dhoni has and simultaneously handle the pressure of captaincy, the media and the fan-frenzy, he would be bound to collapse. There is too little emphasis on top players turning up for their State and Zonal teams in 4 day matches. These days our Test players do not even participate in the prestigious Irani Trophy. The top players burn themselves out playing IPL and endless ODIs and have no time to prepare properly for the real stuff i.e. Test Cricket.
2. Pitches are bowlers’ nightmares- Domestic matches and even international cricket is played in India on pitches that have over the years made even great fast bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh look like imposters. There is no life for opening bowlers in most of the wickets across the country and as a result our batsmen perish the moment they are presented seaming pitches abroad.
3. Little thought is given to the future- There are some India A tours to countries like Australia and England but not enough. The second rung of the Indian team need to play as many matches of the 3 day and 4 day variety but they often travel as passengers for months as extras. If talented players like Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane had been sent to England and Australia last year in anticipation of these upcoming India tours, they could have performed miracles now!
What then is the way out? How can the lopsided world of Indian cricket be right-prioritised by BCCI?
1. An effective cricket committee- The Cricket Board has several committees but very few of them have enough teeth and vision to take a call on the larger interests of the game in India. There is a crying need for a committee manned by ex-players like Gundappa Vishwanath, Anil Kumble, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath and Sourav Ganguly which would draw up a calendar for domestic cricket and keep a watch on the goings-on that are likely to adversely affect India’s prospects at the international level. The committee should have the final say on all cricketing matters in India.
2. Long term selection policies- A large pool of cricketers is announced annually by the Board as having been handed out contracts. There is a need to ensure that players with real potential are picked for the main team and not one-match wonders. Many players have been dropped after playing just a couple of matches for India, and if the selectors had done their homework properly they would not have been selected in the first place. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are examples of players who need to be persisted with even at the risk of them failing in their initial Test career. Once picked, a player should be given a long rope.
3. A balance of youth and experience- No side can win match after match, but if the right balance is maintained, the chances are that it will do rather well. The present day greats of India, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag are the sort of players who know when it is time to hang up their boots. They will not play a match extra if their gut feel is that they should retire. However, their superb performances in previous years have no value to the team if they are not performing now. Yet, it is Tendulkar in Australia and Dravid in England earlier who have made runs while all the rest have perished. Youngsters have to be phased in. Once they play for India they should be the best in the land. On any given day, the best 11 should play for the country, and no one else!
4. Planning and foresight- In all the frenzy that never-endingly accompanies Indian cricket, the lack of planning for upcoming series is evident. When tours are finalised at least a year in advance, why cannot the team management get down to preparing right away? If Team India had gone to each of Australia and England a fortnight in advance and played at least three first class matches before the series as well as two more in between Tests, the results would surely have been different!
All in all, a dismal scenario has emerged because of short-sightedness and wrong priorities of the BCCI. What needs to be done is to prepare, plan and prioritise correctly.
The fact remains that Test cricket is number one for anyone who has any insight into the game, especially for the players. Let the BCCI prove to genuine cricket lovers that it thinks so too!