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India vs England 2014: What BCCI can do to ensure India’s recovery

MS Dhoni has to answer lots of questions after this humiliating defeat © Getty Images
MS Dhoni has to answer lots of questions after this humiliating defeat © Getty Images

There had been high hopes after India’s historic win at Lord’s, but England had come back strongly to annihilate India 3-1 in the series. It the face of India’s 1-3 humiliation in England in 2014, Abhishek Mukherjee explores into the role the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has played and should play in future.

So India has lost another overseas series under MS Dhoni; Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s brightest young stars, have performed abysmally; the bowlers had toiled hard, but had lacked penetration; and the euphoria following the Lord’s Test have seem to be from a completely different era.

Where did things go wrong? Was it the terrible batting collapses, one after another? Was it the inept slip fielders? Was it the inexperienced bowling pack? Was it defensive leadership on the part of Dhoni? All have contributed to various extent. The worst part is perhaps the fact that none of the four seem to be changing in the near future as another humiliation — perhaps a worse one — is awaiting them against the unforgiving, brutal Australians in their den later this year.

Let us ponder for a moment, though: is the young quartet of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Varun Aaron, and Umesh Yadav a poor one (I am not mentioning the surprise resurgence of Ishant Sharma here)? When all four perform together at anywhere close to their peak, are they not potent enough?

As for the batsmen, we have all lauded Shikhar Dhawan along with Pujara and Kohli; we have admired the guts of Ajinkya Rahane and the determination of Murali Vijay; we have been sceptic about Rohit Sharma, but we did not really turn our backs on him.  There is certainly no shortage of talent. Where, then, are things going wrong? It is easy to put the blame on the captain and the coach, and barring the fourth innings at Lord’s (where he demanded a bouncer barrage from Ishant), Dhoni has never really come across as a tactful leader throughout the series.

In Dhoni’s defence, on the other hand, it has to be said that India had neither quality top-order batsmen nor wicket-taking bowlers to come to his aid. What, then, are the problems, and how can they be solved?

Do not make things easy for cricketers

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has been a fantastic concept when it comes to handling financial security of the cricketers, especially those who would never get to the top level. On the other hand, it creates complacency among cricketers, not letting the hunger build up among budding cricketers to represent their country at the highest level.

How to solve this? Here are a couple of methods:

-          Set the base price of cricketers for the IPL auction based on their performances in international cricket in the previous year. For domestic cricketers, consider domestic numbers.

-          Additionally, if a player has not performed at international (or domestic level) over the past year, fine a percentage of their salary per seasons.

Make international cricketers play domestic cricket

England never leave their shores during their summer; neither does Australia during their; and the same is applicable for South Africa. Indians, on the other hand, do not adhere to such programmes, which results in the detachment of the big guns from the domestic circuit. This leads to two obvious issues:

-           The quality of Indian domestic cricket obviously reduces.

-          The gruels of First-Class cricket invariably toughen characters, especially the travel. Overseas tours will seem less hectic if one is accustomed to the rigour of travelling from Tripura to Kerala to Himachal Pradesh in a span of two weeks.

There is a reason for the Australians, English, and South Africans make it compulsory for the big names to play domestic cricket. They are certainly not fools. They are, on the contrary, successful.

Restructure domestic cricket

The other problem is that of too many teams. Consider Vidarbha, for example, where you have Umesh as someone who can run through any domestic side. He lacks support from the other side, and even if he pulls off a solo effort to dismiss the opposition, the fragile batting line-up of his side is exposed. If there is a pool of 25 players spread over 23 teams, the average comes down to one quality player per team. The standards are bound to drop.

The obvious solution lies in highlighting the much-overlooked Duleep Trophy. The main reason for Australia’s success lies in their keenly contested Sheffield Shield (fine, Pura Cup); there are six sides, all of which contain stars; additionally, during home Tests, the substitutes are invariably released for domestic duties.

Release contracted cricketers to play outside India

Consider the summer of 2013. The Indians played the IPL, reached England for the Champions Trophy in summer and then sent a second-string unit to Zimbabwe. During the inactive season, the only Indians to play county cricket were Gautam Gambhir and Piyush Chawla — both of whom were out of contention.

Ask senior cricketers from Australia, Pakistan, or West Indies (closer to home, India as well, though the count was significantly lower) — especially from the 1970s and the 1980s; they would all agree that their careers have been influenced directly by the English county cricket.

Why? Is it about the quality of domestic cricket in England? That is of course a valid reason — more so since the Kolpak Ruling of 2003. The other part of the story lies in being accustomed to the demanding schedule, the seemingly endless travel, the alien conditions, and the unforgiving weather. Additionally, there is the matter of getting accustomed to April and May, easily the most challenging months for batsmen and spinners, especially if it’s a wet summer, when every military-medium pacer would turn out to be a world-class swing bowler.

If an English contract is not available, a dropped cricketer will also be welcome in Australia or South Africa (even New Zealand is a good option). Though not as long as English summers, the contests are equally strong and intense. And then, if you are the only overseas professional for the team, you have to take additional responsibility to justify your salary.

Stop protecting sacred cows

Finally, take a stance, BCCI. Do not go by names. Look at performances over a sustained period of time. Giving a player a chance after a couple of failures (Pujara and Kohli, for example, after the series) is fine. Retaining long-term passengers on the team, on the other hand, is not. Stern steps need to be taken if a team fails consistently, and one supposes it is due.

Having said that, throwing a bunch of promising faces (from First-Class cricket, India A, or Under-19) to the lions Down Under may not be the best of ideas: the changes need to be swift and brutal, and should ideally be implemented before the West Indies series at home.

Let heads roll if it comes to that. It is time.

Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014

 (Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)

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