In the quest to let our poster boys play every game, our 2013 Test team in South Africa looks very similar to our 2014 WC T20 team – about to take field in Bangladesh!
For long, MS Dhoni has been accused of rigidity. For long, we have been made to believe our talent pool is limited. I disagree. I see a clear case where our team management is bowing to external pressures constantly and playing the same ‘stars’.
TV ratings of the India – New Zealand series may have dipped had the likes of Binny, Ishwar, Mishra played all games ahead of saleable faces like Rohit, Ashwin and Raina. However this has dug our grave.
Only three test players – Zaheer, Pujara, Vijay – are not part of our T20 World Cup squad. Contrast this with other nations.
Six Australians who took field in the first 2013 Ashes test in Australia, are not part of WC T20 squad – Smith, Siddle, Harris, Lyon, Clarke and Rogers.
In the same Test, the English team had nine players who don’t make to their current T20 squad – Cook, Carberry, Trott, Pietersen, Root, Prior, Swann, Tremlett and Anderson.
It’s the same for Pakistan. Nine players who started the test match and best world No.1 South Africa in a Test in UAE, don’t make it to the WC T20 – Junaid and Ajmal being the only exceptions. Imagine, if India had beaten the Proteas in Tests – all XI would have got honorary membership to play every game for the next one year!
The Sri Lankan Test team beat hosts Bangladesh earlier this year. Yet in the same venue, two months later, five of their test players make way for the T20 specialists. This, despite the Lankans being blessed with seam bowling all-rounders (in Mathews and Perera) who can balance out any playing XI.
It is clear that countries are identifying separate teams and keeping horses for courses policy – something which our board, selectors, public, player management firms, sponsors and corporate partners will loathe to see.
In the past 400 days, Indian team played 10 Tests, 45 limited over internationals (ODIs, T20s) and 16 IPL games. Some played the CLT20 also. Including all side games, finals appearances, most of our players would have been on field for 130 days of the 400. Add days of preparation before every game, travel across cities, continents and completing associated formalities, there is no breathing time to prepare to face a Steyn or even a Southee!
Preparation, rather respecting any series or opposition, seems to be lowest amongst our priorities. The team at South Africa or New Zealand got walloped in ODIs, but remarkably better off in the Tests. It probably missed the board that the team needs time mentally, at the country, weather, venue, pitches, local bowlers before they start battling to acceptable levels.
Hence, least the board can do is separate out teams to focus on single formats so that they can prepare on their own. It’s no surprise that Pujara, Rahane were the biggest performers in tests at SA – they weren’t playing the home ODI series vs Aus and had that extra time to mentally, physically, technically prepare themselves for the upcoming challenge.
I would recommend the board mark out Pujara, Rahane, Shami, Ashwin, Vijay, Saha as Test specialists. MS Dhoni needs some rest and relief from his presence in the Test squad. At same time they must be compensated adequately for staying out of money spinning events like IPL, CLT20 or meaningless bilateral ODI series.
It’s the IPL which changed Vijay from a 100 balls-40 runs patient player to a 40 balls-100 runs rash player. It’s IPL which has made Ashwin only bowl round the wickets to a right hander – how on earth can you expect him to suddenly take wickets in a test match deck, when containing is all what he has been doing most days of the year.
There is a legendary nineties story how the greatest batsman prepared to face the greatest bowler – digging a big rough patch outside the leg stick and asking leggie Sivaramakrishan to bowl there again and again. Sachin practiced and practiced and practiced; till he mastered it. Our players need to be given that time, that inspiration, that hunger and that motivation.
When they are playing all formats, all countries, all venues, all the time – the job then becomes a routine affair. India didn’t lose to the Afridi sixes recently. It was the casualness with which Shikhar Dhawan, on back foot, tried to flick across the stumps, in third over of the day, which signaled how dis-interested, un-inspired and de-motivated the team was.
And what happened after the game? Did the experts, commentators, coach, captain come hard at the performances? No. Only thing that followed was recall of poster boys Yuvraj and Raina back into the squad. Don’t be surprised if you see them playing Tests again!