Dhoni, Kohli, Gambhir and Ashwin bear brunt of illogical scheduling

Captain MS Dhoni (left), along with Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir and Ravichandran Ashwin, have been regular accumulator of frequent flyer miles in recent months © Getty Images

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The India-South Africa at Johannesburg is yet another unnecessary commitment, almost similar to England’s tour to India in October 2011.

 

The “all important” Indian Premier League (IPL) is days away and the Indian team finds itself on a long flight to South Africa for a three-hour game. The game in question is sandwiched in between the Asia Cup and the IPL which commences on April 4. In the months leading up to the Asia Cup, India hosted England, West Indies and travelled Down Under for a gruelling summer. Quite a few players named in India’s squad for the T20 have been slogging it out for months. The addition of the T20 game has deprived them of a golden chance to take a breather and recharge their batteries ahead of the IPL marathon lasting close to two months.

 

Consider the cases of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir, and Ravichandran Ashwin in particular. They were a part of their respective franchises’ campaigns for the CLT20. Since then, they have played for India in every series – England (home), West Indies (home), Australia (away) and the Asia Cup (away). Dhoni had a small break during the home One-Day International (ODI) series against West Indies, but apart from that he has been a regular accumulator of frequent flyer miles.

 

The two boards in question – BCCI and Cricket South Africa (CSA) – have announced that this would be an annual fixture and they aim to give it a symbolic status. India naming a full strength squad for a single T20 international supports this conclusion. It is astounding that the same board sent a weakened team to the Caribbean for a full ODI series in 2011. By taking such a move, the Indian board may have contradicted its own stance.

 

On the one hand they permitted the players to skip a full tour as the World Cup and the IPL had worn them out, but on the other they are sending the strongest available combination for one-off game just days before the cash-rich league kicks off – that too at the end of a tiring season. Keeping this in perspective, is the importance of the IPL subjective? And, if players have the option of resting from a full tour, why can’t they skip an inconsequential game?

 

In contrast, South Africa have named a second string squad with a number of main players missing. It is probably the first instance in years where a cricket board has got the BCCI to put in a bigger commitment than its own.

 

The boards can create a celebratory buzz around the game and build its iconic status only by scheduling it well. Coming at the end of the season for both teams, the crowds would be put off by cricket overkill and may choose to look past this game. Had this game been scheduled at the start of the season for both teams, or even when they aren’t involved in major competitions, the fans may have responded with more excitement. As a season opener, it would generate humongous interest and would be one of the most awaited events on the cricket calendars of both countries. Currently, it is another insignificant block on the calendar.

 

Both teams have made attempts at shedding an optimistic light on this game. Coach Duncan Fletcher has said that this experience would hold the younger players and provide them good exposure. For a man not known for his words, Fletcher’s statements come as a huge surprise. It is logical to assume that a T20 is too short to give the aimed exposure.

 

The ICC World T20 is a few months away and the teams are looking to pick their best combination for that tournament. This game may give the two teams some idea about their line-ups, but wouldn’t present too many opportunities to experiment. As Karthik Parimal, my fellow writer at CricketCountry discussed in his article, off the 15 men in India’s squad, three would warm the benches. Furthermore, the upcoming IPL would help shape India’s World T20 plans as a number of players would push their case with performances.

 

A player may do well in this game and fail in the IPL, only to find himself out of the reckoning for the World T20. Similarly, a player who isn’t in South Africa might draw the selectors’ attention during the IPL and book his ticket to Sri Lanka.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)