The world seems to be getting increasingly polarized on the issue of whether a player should be permitted to choose his club over country, or should he not be given that prerogative at all. While some reckon that it's okay for a player to miss a series or two, especially if it isn't as crucial a series, some on the other end of the spectrum have begun to suggest radical measures like banning the player from International cricket, in case he chooses personal interest over national. One would expect the ICC to overhaul the FTP and create a window for the IPL, and simultaneously cut down the number of International games to prevent player exhaustion. But since we don't live in an ideal world, we may not see that happening anytime soon. On the contrary, the number of international games to be played will only see a rise. Gone are the days when Cricket was only a summer sport. Today's Neo-Cricket has undergone a paradigm shift which seems to believe more is good. The calendar is only going to get crammed with a range of T20 leagues around the world.
So what's the way out? Should we begin to take players' absence with a pinch of salt? Or should we just take a cue from other sports which follow a far more hectic schedule than cricket?
Ever since the arrival of the IPL, we have observed players giving the following, less important International series a miss either to recuperate from an injury (which may have been picked up before the IPL) or to simply to give their bodies a well deserved break. And that's when a few fringe players get a look in but on the pretext of it being the right time to blood the youngsters, since a bigger pool of players to match the demands of the hectic calendar are always required. This policy was also followed even while selecting the team currently touring the West Indies. As many as 7 players from the squad which played the World Cup finals aren't featuring in this line up and hence it provides a golden opportunity for the likes of Badrinath, Dhawan and Tiwary. While it's great to see these cricketers getting an opportunity, the bigger question remains unanswered i.e. are these guys here to stay? Even if they perform exceptionally well in the series, will they retain their place when the seniors come back? My educated guess is that most of these players will relinquish their berth for the tour to England. While one can't dispute bringing back Zaheer, Yuvraj, Gautam or Viru as soon as they are fit to play, wouldn't it be worth to dwell upon the process a bit more?
When we both realize and acknowledge the need of a good bench strength and a bigger pool, then why do we wait for certain players to make themselves unavailable or get injured? Isn't it wise to keep blooding in the youngsters while the senior men are around to put an arm around their shoulder and guide them? Cheteshwar Pujara wouldn't have scored those 72 runs against Australia if Sachin wasn't there at the other end. But Abhinav Mukund must make do with Murali Vijay, who himself is a filler, at the other end. Why can't we have a rotation policy in place and give our senior cricketers a well-deserved break? It isn't always mandatory for Dhoni or Sehwag to play in all the matches, for when they break down, which they will from time to time, you won't have the ideal replacements ready. Why not share the workload more judiciously which shall keep the fire burning in everyone's belly. Anyway, playing a couple of International matches against weaker teams in a year isn't going to keep these fringe players in good stead for the future.
Baseball teams in America are dealing with a similar issue quite intelligently. While they play far more matches and also maintain a far bigger pool, there are strict guidelines that allow a player to play only a stipulated number of games in succession. It not only protects the player but also keeps the coaching staff on their toes with regards to using the players judiciously.
'Don't change it if it isn't broken' is perhaps one of the most redundant phrases in international sport, for only the teams who plan for the future while taking care of the present rule for long.