A system in denial

Only a whitewash in Australia will wake the BCCI up to its systematic failings.

The selection committee headed by Krishnamachari Srikkanth can't sit on its laurels.

Four months ago, when Indian cricket should have been introspecting for its failures in England, the BCCI had two clear options – one, to bite the bullet, conduct a thoroughly honest review of everything wrong with Indian cricket and introduce correctives to fix the inherent systemic flaws; or two, to remain firmly in denial as if they never happened.

Indubitably, they chose the latter. It was the easier choice – sit back and avoid a redressal of glaring issues staring at Indian cricket today. Also, in that same meeting where the proposal of a review was mooted, the BCCI’s suits discussed the fate of a now-terminated IPL franchise. If you still wonder where their priorities actually lie, your question pretty much has an answer.

The embarrassment of the England series would have been the perfect backdrop to conduct a review, which if happened, would have asked some of the toughest questions facing our administrators – their own failures as those responsible for the game in the country. It would have meant that some of their heads were on the line, and quite possibly, for the first time their authority or incompetence could have been both questioned and addressed (whichever side you’re on). Instead, they chose the easy way out.

Even if they didn’t want to put the hard yakka by conducting this review, the BCCI officials should have blindly gone the way Cricket Australia did with the Argus Review. Instead, they just stated the obvious: “We just won the World Cup and were World no.1 in Tests before this tour” – music to the ears of Indian fans, they hoped and prayed. It worked up to a point, it must be said for as a people, we’ve always been about results and nothing else. Then England came to India to be whitewashed in the ODIs. Then followed a convincing win over West Indies, and Indian cricket was back. Or so they exclaimed.

It was business as usual for the BCCI, the Indian fans and the cricketing ecosystem in general, until disaster struck twice in Australia, rather shamefully at that. If India’s tour of England was a “bad dream gone wrong”, this was quite “the nightmare” that should have awoken Indian cricket from this slumber of denial. Instead, two hours after they succumbed to the raging Australians in Sydney, the BCCI quite oblivious to the events down under, released the fixtures of their pet priority – the Indian Premier League. Sadly, batting collapses and field positions aren’t quite ruining Indian cricket, but the lack of vision on the part of the BCCI is surely taking the game downwards.

CAN INDIA REVERSE OR ARREST THIS SLIDE?

Ask the BCCI about systemic flaws and you’d get answers like, “The system worked brilliantly when we won the World …To put it bluntly, the answer is no. A sense of cluelessness comes over every BCCI member who is asked about the team’s performances. There are excuses aplenty, ranging from the passable to the absurd that somehow seem to justify and attest some credibility to everything that happens, be it defeats or wins. Ask them about systemic flaws and you’d get answers like, “The system worked brilliantly when we won the World Cup. You didn’t have to write anything about it then?”, and when you tell them that you did write about it pat comes the reply, “But we were also World no.1 then”. This is the cocoon of deniability that we’re faced with, the belief that any and every decision that the BCCI takes is in the best interest of Indian cricket, when on the contrary, it isn’t.

When England happened, the common rage on the street was poor planning. What was this planning about? Presumably, scheduling, injury management and player burn-out. Sure, issues that need urgent correctives and remedies. Not just all of that, but planning also involves a certain degree of preparedness and to some extent prophecy. It involves sending several bunch of players to a country to get a decent amount of exposure in those conditions before he’s deemed to be considered for the national side. But importantly, the process also involves the detailed identification of such players. The BCCI, post-Sydney has come up with statements where it intends to arrange for more A tours to England, Australia and South Africa.

Finally, better late than never and all that. But personnel? In the last two-three years, these ‘A’ tours have become quick reward trips to players who excelled in the IPL, or in some cases, with deep familial relations to those involved in the selection process. In the next selection for the Emerging Nations Tournament in Australia, pick a side you believe will emerge as the core of a future visiting national team to Australia, not sloggers and bowlers who can’t bowl beyond four overs. And this isn’t too difficult to implement straight away, is it?

BETTER SELECTION

Which is where I’d like to know what the selectors are up to in the first place, handsomely paid by the BCCI to do what? Watch as much age-group and domestic (not IPL) cricket as possible, scout for talent they believe would make the Indian setup and just keep doing that. Instead, I am happy to inform you that selectors often call up journalists and opposition players to find out about a player they’re interested in. Are they doing their job? Not to my mind, till you hear statements like “But under this selection committee, we won the World Cup. You didn’t write about this then?” Surely, the fact that they pick IPL performers for overseas A-tours is pretty much an indicator of the lethargy that we’re up against. If you’re paid to watch matches, jolly well watch it. If you can’t, quit job.

I’ve written about this before, and don’t feel shy of stressing this again, but please for flip’s sake, identify a bunch of bowlers and dispatch them to play county cricket in England. At the cost of repetition, it’s not just the skill that they get to improve there, but learn life as a professional, the burden of being an overseas pro and most importantly, learn to enjoy the game they love playing. Bowling close to 70-80 overs a week is perhaps the best way to get better, and there’s no better example than Zaheer Khan to prove that point. So, why not give this a try?

Indian pacers must follow Zaheer Khan into playing county cricket. The likes of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav and all those identified could just learn that much more by playing more cricket than just sit back and watch reality shows on their telly screens, isn’t it? If the concern against sending them is really fitness and injuries as you claim, to quote your officials, “Injuries are a part and parcel of the game”.

NOT SO FIRST CLASS

Closer home, and this is where all the rot is, for your domestic first-class cricket is quite on the verge of redundancy. A points system, archaic at best, dull at worst is more in favour of negative (intent-less) teams than ones who prefer taking the game forward. An incentive of two points more for a win (from a draw) is all you could come up with. Worse, there are pitches out there which either account for 40 wickets in two days of cricket or close to 1500 runs in two unfinished innings. There’s no punitive action, no accountability for this pathetic state of wickets.

On the contrary, there’s no reward for some of the better wickets you see. You don’t have a world-class academy in place, where your next generation of cricketers could benefit from. Instead, the National Cricket Academy that your officials go gaga about are nothing but a glorified sick-bay/rehabilitation centre for your contracted cricketers.

Also, can you please give Test cricket the priority it deserves? And one doesn’t even have to get to the toilets in your stadiums. Why can’t you give them the best possible system to get better and succeed? Why this high tolerance level for mediocrity, O! BCCI?

As opposed to say the IPL, where everything is hunky-dory, a thirty-day long facade of professionalism and perfectness that the BCCI chooses to display. And this is where I’d like to confront them and ask – why can’t this streak of professionalism continue on an annual basis? Why this lack of enthusiasm and neglect towards first class cricket? Surely, it’s not pumping in the cash for your coffers, but hey, your Test cricketers quite clearly emerge from the runs and wickets they take in four-day matches.

Lastly and more importantly, I hope that India gets whitewashed in Australia. Call me unpatriotic (and I’ve defended a lot of that tripe in the past), but quite honestly, that could be the best possible result for Indian cricket’s long-term interest, in my view. Unless of course, they win the tri-nation ODI series and the Asia Cup to follow and we’re given the same old, “But we just won the ODI series and the Asia Cup, so I don’t think we should take knee-jerk decisions” rubbish by the BCCI.

And given that India’s schedule in the next 18 months is filled with one home series after the other, we might well be knocking on the World #1 door for the second time. Everything will be back to normal (if an ODI series win can hint at normalcy, imagine a home series-run) till the next away tour in 2013 and in denial, shall Indian cricket still remain.

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