By Venkatesan Iyengar
That Team India is going through one of the hardest phases is an understatement. The cold, hard reality of year-round cricket seems to have sapped the team of its vigour and desire to consistently excel. When former Pakistan cricket captain Zaheer Abbas said that “the Indian players were tired [since] they have played too much cricket recently and have not performed to the potential” in the recently-concluded mini-series against Pakistan, he was just underscoring what has been widely known for quite some time now.
One too many matches
In the last one year or so, the Indian cricket team played three-Test series, losing two (against Australia in Australia and England at home) and winning one (against New Zealand at home). Match-wise, out of the 10 Tests played, India won just three, lost six, and drew one.
As for the One-Day Internationals (ODIs), India took part in four ODI series, including the Commonwealth Bank Series and Asia Cup, playing in all 19 matches. It beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, lost to Pakistan at home, and could not make it to the finals of both Commonwealth Bank Series and Asia Cup.
During this period, India played seven T20 series, including the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, won one, lost two, drew three, and failed to make it to the final of the ICC World Twenty20. The total number of T20s that India played stood at 15.
In all, the Indian team played 10 Test matches, 19 ODIs, and 15 T20s last year. Add to this the two-month-long Indian Premier League (IPL) jamboree which comprised a whopping 76 T20 matches. In other words, the main players of the Indian team, who also form the fulcrum of the IPL teams, were required to play cricket for about 160 days a year, excluding the First-Class and other matches.
Given that India fields most of its key players in all three versions of the game (Tests, ODIs, and T20s) and that the same players constitute the core of the IPL, it is no wonder some of these players look jaded and go about their tasks rather perfunctorily while playing for the nation.
Horses for courses
Too much cricket is certainly the bane of the current crop of Indian players. However, to be realistic, there is not going to be any dilution in the franticness of the cricket schedule in the coming years. IPL is here to stay, at least for another five years, especially given the kind of investment that franchisees and other sponsors have made in the league. Since playing for an IPL franchise is much more lucrative than playing for one’s national side, players, especially the key Indian players who have proved to be the main attraction of IPL, are not going to forgo that opportunity for anything.
Hence, to reduce the workload on the players, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may consider selecting three different squads of players for the three versions of the game, based on their flair, skills, and technique. Such horses-for-courses selection policy would not only help the selected players adapt their game to and specialise in the version they are selected for, but also greatly reduce their workload in a given year, thus ensuring that they remain fresh and fired up when called to represent the national side.
In a country that prides itself on its unity-in-diversity credo and sees the national cricket team as the flag-bearers of national integration, the news that some senior cricketers in the national team cannot see eye to eye sounds asynchronous.
Team building is all about identifying, selecting, and motivating individuals of diverse skills and varied background to form a team that stays together, plays together, and achieves together. Anyone seen as an impediment to this goal needs to be spoken to and made to mend his corrosive behavior, and if he refuses to do so, he should be dispensed with, for what matters in a team game is the team and not individuals.
In all fairness, the current Indian team is certainly going through a transitional phase. Quite a few highly talented senior players have retired, and the youngsters who have been asked to step into their shoes have not yet found their moorings. Every team goes through such a phase when the old order changes yielding place to a new one.
However, such a transitional phase does not come to a quick end on its own. It requires singleness of purpose and concerted effort from every selected player to stretch their horizons and prove themselves worthy of their calling, so that the transitional phase remains transitory. In other words, each cricketer should justify his place in the team.
The golden goose
Avariciousness is certainly one of the deadly sins. History shows that insatiable lusting after money has brought only ruin in its wake. Such greed, which BCCI is guilty of, will only lead to the killing of the goose that lays the golden egg, which cricket in India is.
To give an example, what was the need for the recent mini series against Pakistan, that too in the middle of a long home series against England, comprising four Test matches, two T20s, and five ODIs? While the English cricketers went home for a well-deserved break from cricket to celebrate Christmas and New Year with their families and return refreshed for the five-match ODI series, the Indian players, who needed rest to get their acts together after a disastrous Test series, were asked to sweat it out against Pakistan. Who benefitted from the Pakistan series? Obviously, the BCCI which made some more quick money, and Pakistan which has been deprived of international cricket. But what benefit did the high-intensity series bring for the Indian team? More pressure on the team that has already been reeling under severe scrutiny.
The problem with the BCCI is, its attention is firmly focused on short-term gains and not on long-term solutions. And unless and until the Board changes its attitude, there is not going to be any great change in the situation, and improvement will come about only in fits and starts.
(Venkatesan Iyengar was a speedster who could swing the ball both ways. He captained his school team at the zonal and district levels. His boyhood dream was to open the bowling for Team India in the august company of his idol Kapil Dev. Even today the sight of Kapil makes him nostalgic)