Venkat Ananth

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A Time To Introspect

 

If the second morning
of the Birmingham Test is any indication to go by, let's mince no words when we
say that Indian cricket today enters its most arduous phase in recent times.
And this statement I make, by the way is neither alarmist nor is fickleness personified,
for a chance for potential greatness in English shores has turned into a
surrender of sorts.

 

Birmingham, or for
that matter Trent Bridge, or even Lord's if you like wasn't about a cricket
team being blown apart, almost bullied by their opponents, but a severe
indictment of a cricketing system which over the years has not just stagnated
(mainly due to the apparent neglect and indifference of the Board) but also
heavily compromised in favour of unabashed greed, greed and more greed.

 

Maybe
Indian cricket needed this, for systemic issues, which I repeat were existent
aplenty as the Test team were deservedly worthy of the World no.1 ranking by
the ICC's rather complex computer algorithm and when the one-day team won the
World Cup. But, in no uncertain terms I'd put it this way - Indian cricket has
got its priorities (not knickers) in a twist with this very disaster waiting to
happen.

 

Preparation or the
lack of it
, certainly. As has been the discourse within the broader domains of Indian
cricket since this tour unfolded at Lord's. Fatigue? Surely, for these human
beings (read: not horses) play close to 200 days of cricket a year. Fact? Yes.
Excuse? Sorry. And by the by, this isn't just physical fatigue, but there's
also a mental side to it, surely.

 

India's injury
management
mechanism, which is a virtual joke. The lack of monitored rests,
adequate recovery/rehabilitation and if I might add something, sham fitness
tests, for a man with a recurring shoulder injury problem, Virender Sehwag, is passed
fit to play a Test match no less, when he could hardly throw the ball from ten
yards. Fact? Yes. Excuse? Sorry, again.

 

Scheduling that is
indeed questionable, for that unquenched lust for profit overcomes normal logic,
with players virtually submitting themselves with their hands tied and gagged.
These are the issues that have plagued Indian cricket, even when, by the way,
these cricketers were ranked  No. 1 by
the ICC.

 

It's just that it
wasn't considered sexy enough to write about. Now that we've lost and the
facade, the mask is off, systemic issues become mainstream discourse again when
they should have been par for the course all along. There's much scape-goatism
waiting to happen, starting with Duncan Fletcher, maybe MS Dhoni or even
Sreesanth, but I am afraid, till the powers that be realize that improving
cricketing standards in the country is the only way forward, things have
already hit a dead-end. And this, by the way, isn't an over-reaction! 

 

Today, I see the BCCI
wants to review its team's performance in England and warned the media/fans
against jumping the gun (per them, the proverbial hasn't happened yet, and may
never hit the fan). Do that by all means for knowing what went wrong is
essential. But, will the powers that be in the BCCI ever dare to introspect
their own role in the making of this disaster? Or for that matter the direction
they are trying to take Indian cricket in (or not) or even systemic issues that
have plagued Indian cricket for a while now, have been grossly overlooked?

 

The archaic points
system
which almost encourages domestic teams to embrace mediocrity than quell
a pursuit of excellence i.e. win matches and therefore win tournaments. Then,
the clichéd pitches, a problem which has been plaguing us since the 1990s, but
hey, the Board couldn't care less. When a Wasim Jaffer tells you that the strip
at Mysore he (& Mumbai) played on (Ranji final 2009/10) was the best ever
in his career, and mind you this man has played enough domestic cricket, this
is no longer a problem, it's almost an untreated epidemic.

 

And then, you have
this - a rather ridiculous piece of scheduling where India's traditional
pre-season first-class match between the Rest of India and the defending Ranji
Champions, played since 1959-60 (51 years before the IPL began), is coinciding
with a tournament that precisely signifies what Indian cricket's priorities
are? The Champions League T20.

 

As someone who
follows domestic cricket in this country rather closely, I feel disgusted to
see a tournament with such history (ask any BCCI official when the Irani Trophy
began, and I'd guarantee you a blank face) sidelined in favour of quick money.
If anything, this sends a very, very wrong message across to the rest of the
cricketing system. The Rest of India, which in the days gone by used to be the
strongest available cricketers in the country, will effectively be reduced to a
bunch of anonymous cricketers, some deserving, others making up the numbers
challenging Rajasthan (this season). As a famous commentator would say, "looks
like something's gotta give here!"

 

Also, consider this
and as boring and tiresome as it is likely to sound, this series was also about
a clear lack of a ready bench, which lends itself seamlessly into a squad culture,
that has been best imbibed by no less than their opponents in this tour -
England. A healthy competition for places, that both keeps regulars on their
toes and puts that element of insecurity that might help bring out consistent
performances, much in the way Bresnan slotted into England's plans at Trent
Bridge.

 

Zaheer out, who in?
Harbhajan out (and deservedly so, if I might add) and the best spinner in the
country
turns up for his club Vijay CC in TNCA tournaments in Chennai. With the
Pragyan Ojha scenario, I'd loved to have seen him play for Surrey (which was
his original destination) for the remainder of the season, build up some good
wicket-taking and bowling form ahead of the home calendar and make a good case
for a permanent slot, when the West Indians come home.

 

Secondly, where is
the pace bowling squad, which to me looks somewhat like this: Zaheer, Praveen
Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, no idea, no idea, someone called Abhimanyu
Mithun, and when in dire straits, RP Singh out of oblivion. The rest of this
bowling squad is filled with youngsters who haven't yet played two proper
seasons of the good old, hard-yakka making domestic cricket. The likes of
Jaidev Unadkut, Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav.

 

Well, if I were Kris
Srikkanth (and thankfully, I am not), I would have definitely flown in a couple
of these lads as "net bowlers" or as England did in Australia during the Ashes,
stand-bys. For instance, when Stuart Broad got injured at Adelaide, there was a
ready, well-groomed replacement (with good match practice/overs) i.e. Chris
Tremlett who slotted in perfectly.

 

Why couldn't India replicate this? Surely
not for want of money but definitely for want of planning. They decided to
proceed with an unfit squad for a tour that set itself up as an important one.
Again, the same with the batting unit - the third opener, which by most counts
would be the third name on the squad list, was non-existent. And by the time
one of those openers arrived, albeit for a really short stay on the wicket, the
series and India's fate was beyond an inch of doubt.

 

And finally, it's
time we bite the bullet and slowly initialize the transition process. Yes, some
of these legends of the game - Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman - are in the
twilight of their illustrious careers and somewhere down the line, Indian
cricket must recognize that all three of them cannot play together and must be
phased out gradually. The hunger might be on their side, the passion
still fuelling them to prepare day in and day out. But age is against
them and I say this despite Rahul Dravid's fine series thus far.

 

It's all fair to say
age isn't a factor and they can keep on playing "as long as they're fit,
scoring runs and enjoying their cricket" but, at what cost? The likes of
Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary doing what they've been asked of
by the system to keep pushing their respective cases? Have we even identified
the lads who might eventually replace these legends of the game in their
respective spots? I guess not. Once we identify these youngsters, can we please
blood them in the home Tests against the West Indies? I think that series might
well give a good indication of how the Indian setup should handle this tricky
business of transition.

 

This of course,
doesn't mean, drop them from the setup immediately - that would  be alarmist,
panicky and stupid. Some tough decisions might just have to be taken as a
result, and if anything, those decisions should be taken regardless of emotive
public opinion, and primarily, in the best interests of Indian cricket.

 

This tour, in many
ways has put Indian cricket in much needed perspective with the harshest
possible dose of reality check. It's definitely not a time to panic, but introspect,
we must. Question, we must. Review, we must. For, the answers to some of these
very uncomfortable questions might just give Indian cricket a brand new
direction, the way forward (definitely not an easy road), but a much needed
long-term vision. You might call me unpatriotic (or whatever), but hey... the
best possible outcome for Indian cricket could well be a whitewash. It might
well mark the end of an era, and yet...the beginning of another.

 

Equally, at the risk
of sounding repetitive, Indian cricket must end this obsession with a
computer-generated ranking system, which more or less rewards consistency than
recognizes excellence. Move on, we must, but with the scars of defeat as a firm
reminder of the depths we've unfortunately hit. In a way, lest we forget
England 2011. 

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