Venkat Ananth

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Structuring Indian Cricket, European Football Style

 

In the last two parts of this story [Links:
Part
1
| Part 2]
has dealt with the imminent problems with the BCCI's academy structure - the
fact that these specialist academies aren't exactly the right way forward, or
that the National Cricket Academy needs to reinvent itself.

 

Of course, the question here is how. In June
2007, I vividly recall a lunch meeting with the former BCCI president, the late
Raj Singh Dungarpur at the Cricket Club of India. The topic of discussion: taking
Indian cricket forward with the sport at the heart of reforms. That CCI visit came
at the backdrop of a book research trip to Sri Lanka.

 

Through several interactions with many Sri
Lankan cricketers of both past and present, I learnt that Sri Lankan cricket
had forged an excellent talent scouting and development system, with limited
resources and importantly, a four tier system. This meant that at any point,
they had close to 45 players to work with, across levels - the national team,
the A team, the U19 team and a schools squad (the best players from all schools
across the length and breadth of the country).

 

The only problem, however, was the lack of
organisation, or the lack of a streamlined structure that enabled the talent
progress through these levels or fast-track exceptional talents. This rather
interesting concept caught my mind and I made it known to Rajbhai, who was not
only generous to give it a patient listening, but also urged me to put this on
paper and at he would ensure the BCCI doesn't let this concept go unnoticed.

 

THE
EUROPEAN FOOTBALL WAY

 

On July 13, 2007, I wrote a paper about how
the BCCI could start something called the High Performance Programme to benefit
Indian cricket in the longer run. Simultaneously, I also emailed the BCCI Chief
Administrative Officer and hey, I am still awaiting a reply. Around the same
time, I also had the opportunity to study in depth how this High Performance
concept played a massive role in moulding players in other sports, notably
rugby union and Olympic sports like swimming and cycling.

 

As cricket was the focus, one had to
examine how cricket boards in Australia, England and Wales, and South Africa
ran their respective versions of this program and identify the constants that
could be applied to the High Performance Programme.

 

Four years later, with the state of India's
premier cricket academy in shambles, the need to establish a High Performance
Programme is absolutely imperative and urgent. The solution could well lie in
what I'd call the 'Elite High Performance Programme' or the 'Centre of
Excellence', which - semantics apart - is the best way forward.

 

Firstly, the high performance programme
will or should ideally consist of three tiers: the Indian national team, the
India 'A' squad, and the High Performance/Academy structure, with the country's
top fifty-sixty players as a part of this setup. This is much like football
clubs across Europe (the first team, reserves and the academy).

 

Each individual unit will have close to 20
players each on full-time contracts with dedicated coaching and support staff.
What this ensures is the automatic expansion of available bench strength to a
minimum of 30 players, and a maximum of 60. The three primary objectives of the
High Performance mechanism will be intake, exposure and evaluation.

 

The Academy must work on a University system
- a sort of three-year graduation programme with fresh intakes every year. The
annual intake system, borrowed from German football, will ensure a sense of
dynamism and regular flow of talent and, hopefully, eliminate the possibility
of stagnation.

 

THE
ACADEMY INTAKE

 

How are these intakes decided? The BCCI
must appoint close to 40 talent scouts who fan out to the length and breadth of
the country to closely follow age-group matches, U-16, U-19 and U-22 matches
and file reports about close to 500 players representing at every level. After this
the short-listed players will be run through intensive training at the Academy
and must play at least five matches amongst each other at the High Performance
Centre (a tournament similar to the Col. Hemu Adhikari tournament).

 

Every performance should be analysed
thoroughly, graded and evaluated objectively to ensure the best talent gets
through. Once these players get through, they will come under the aegis of the
High Performance Programme. The Academy, through its sheer importance, becomes
the all important base of the pyramid in which the ‘A' team is the mid-level
structure and the national team is the peak.

 

Critically, there should be an intense
player monitoring mechanism in place, upon which exceptional players could be
fast-tracked to India ‘A'. These players can be monitored when they are released
to play for their state teams. Through an equally intense evaluation programme,
their progress must be measured. Importantly, the academy should appoint
specific coaching staff at the High Performance Centre at the NCA to help
players develop specific skills - fast bowling, spin bowling, batting and
fielding (wicketkeepers included), thereby doing away with these specialised
academies that the BCCI has created. The benefits of a university structure
would primarily be a sense of continuity which could help the ‘A' team setup,
instead of the "what after 21 days?" of the specialised academy camps
we have in place today.

 

ESTABLISH
STATE-LEVEL ACADEMIES

 

The second and all-important level of this
programme is the mandatory establishment of functioning academies and high
performance programmes in every state
association affiliated to the BCCI - be it Mumbai or Tripura. It is a matter of
great surprise and shame that an association like Delhi doesn't even have an
academy.

 

The state High Performance Programme will
be a mirror image of the Elite Programme, with the onus of state scouts (by
qualification, former First Class cricketers) to cover each and every district
in their respective states, follow school and college matches  (wherever applicable) and select the best
prospective academy candidates through a similar evaluation programme.

 

The respective state High Performance units
will be directly responsible for grassroots talent scouting and development.
Unlike the Elite Programme, the state academies will function on a high-school
like two year basis, with the best graduates directly eligible for the Elite Programme
through their performances in matches throughout the season and selection
tournaments. Exceptional talents as earmarked through performance grades and
evaluations shall be promoted to state reserve squads and through consistent
performances, be rewarded with a place in the Ranji squad. If anything, this
system ensures reinforcement through a mobile reward mechanism, designed to
incentivise selection for talented players.

 

EXPOSURE
TO COMPETITION

 

The success or failure of this programme
will depend on how these academy talents are exposed against quality
oppositions at different levels. A possible suggestion in this regard would be
overseas tours that expose these players to alien conditions. In Australia, the
Centre of Excellence has been organising such tours to the subcontinent for
almost a decade. The results are there to see, their batsmen certainly learning
how to play spin better than Australia's previous teams.

 

The Emerging Players Tournament in
Australia has been a revelation since its inception. It is exactly where India could
blood some of the best academy talents or even send a mix of academy performers
and India ‘A' regulars, rather than IPL starlets. Tournaments at home, like the
Challengers could have an India High Performance XI or the Greens, as they
could play against some of the best players in the country. Also, if we really
want to preserve the sanctity of zonal tournaments (Duleep & Deodhar
Trophies), why not field an Academy XI, as it gives these young players a good
opportunity to not just play as a team, but also against stiffer opponents.
Importantly, it is a step up for these lads, and will only help them as they go
along.

 

Who takes charge of this programme? The
current position of the Director, NCA or the Chairman, NCA which happens to be
Anil Kumble. What are his roles and responsibilities? Simple. To oversee the
smooth functioning of the mechanism. Under him, five High Performance Managers,
one from each zone, will file reports based on regular feedback they receive
from the state programmes.

 

The scouting staff, with a chief scout
(like the erstwhile TRDW chief) and 40 scouts under him will file regular
reports to the director of the HPP. The coaching staff must consist of a Chief
Coach (a more hands-on lieutenant of the director), under whom there will be
two-three specialist coaches (preferably ex-internationals with highly
qualified coaching badges) looking after the scouted and selected players.

 

This eventually ensures an early exposure
to newer coaching and training techniques (of international standards no less)
before the player progresses to higher levels. And importantly, to ensure
greater accountability and to maintain standards, an annual audit/review of
this programme must be conducted with improvements/deductions from the same.
The idea here is to base a cricket development system on club football
structures, which in many ways has transformed the way coaching enables talent
development in Europe.

 

WILL
THE BOARD APPROVE?

 

Now, critically I ask the question if the
BCCI will approve of this structure. The cynic in me feels no way, while the
slight optimist in me says, hopefully. The question here isn't so much about the
economics of establishing such a programme, but the willingness to do so. A seamless,
progression-based reward-oriented setup might only ensure a dynamic assembly
line of potential national-level cricketers.

 

Yes, there will be hiccups with
the implementation, but having studied how other countries have overcome that
anxiety, this should benefit our cricketing ecosystem in the long run.

 

Over to you, BCCI.

 

(This concludes the 3-part series on
India's academy woes)

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