By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The sight of Zaheer Khan grasping his hamstring and limping off the Lord’s cricket ground on the first day of the England-India series in 2011 remains painfully etched in our memory. In a sense it was the beginning of the horrific slide – one that witnessed India surrendering its No 1 status to the English might. If that wasn’t enough, Virender Sehwag’s hurried comeback in the later part of the series further exposed India’s poor injury management. A year down the line, the machinery has proven yet again that they haven’t learnt anything from past mistakes.
In the lead-up to the Australia tour late last year, the Indian management showed encouraging signs in handling Zaheer’s comeback with maturity. He was made to prove his match-fitness at the domestic level and was conditionally included in the squad. Once he was through with his acid test, he was ready to board the flight to Australia. India slipped to another 0-4 loss, but Zaheer played all the Tests – the first time he completed a Test series Down Under. One has to credit the sensible handling and planning in the lead-up for the final result.
However, the strategy employed with Zaheer seems to be missing with Ishant Sharma and Yuvraj Singh – men who were recently named in the Test and the T20 squads respectively. Both men are woefully short of match practice and are certainly being rushed into the rigorous playing field of international cricket. Why wasn’t the same sensible and timely approach taken this time around?
Let us first examine the case of Ishant. The fast-bowler carried an injured ankle to Australia and bore the pain through the tour. The surgery was inevitable – one that was put off so that he could play in Australia. The only heartening aspect was that he went under the knife even as the Indian Premier League (IPL) approached. The lure of the IPL didn’t deter him. It was heartening to see him get his priorities right. However, given the fact that he hasn’t played competitive cricket since February, it seems too early to blood him into the team.
Rudra Pratap Singh’s example is also pertinent to the current scenario. The fast-bowler played The Oval Test last year and looked unfit – because he hadn’t played competitive cricket for months. In contrast, Ishant is coming off an injury which makes it even more imperative to time his return well. He may have bowled a number of deliveries at the nets and cleared the fitness tests, but honing your skills in a match situation is a different kettle of fish. There are foreseeable dangers in the move to bring back Ishant without any game time.
Yuvraj’s fight against cancer has been very inspirational and has tugged the hearts of millions. The man is undoubtedly a fighter – one who has fought a battle much larger than the one on the cricket field. It was very obvious that sentiments ruled over logic when the selectors named him in the squad for the ICC World T20 2012. Cricket fans are waiting for his comeback, but wouldn’t want one where he is found wanting.
By Yuvraj’s own admission, he is not yet ready for the longer formats. Keeping this in perspective, it is too risky to field him at the highest level – even if it is the shortest format. He may have had a few practice games, but they may not be enough for him to get into full swing. A hurried comeback would do him no good and instead if he had waited for sometime and then timed his return, it would have been a sensible move.
In the words of a well-known commentator, “To err is human, but to sustain the mistake is unforgivable.” On the whole, India may be in a different position when compared to the one they were in England last year, but the lessons haven’t been learnt for posterity. The Zaheer case was probably one of a fire brigade extinguishing a blazing flame – a quick response in the aftermath of a calamity. However, the threat of a similar blaze looms large and the Indian management continues to baffle with their guard down.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44 )