Narayana Murthy... The highly-respected Bhismapitama of India and one of the founders of global IT giant Infosys could do for Indian cricket what Don Argus did for Australia

 

By Akash Kaware

 

The India-England series began as a battle between the No 1 Test team in the world against the No 3 team. It ended as a battle between the No 1 and No 3 teams too, but over the course of four Tests, India lost much more than just two ranking positions while England gained much more than that. The most-anticipated series of the year ended as the dampest of squibs.

 

“This might take half an hour,” was Rahul Dravid’s pithy reply, when asked to list out what went wrong for India in the series. To right those wrongs is going to take a lot more time than that though, for India’s problems run much deeper than the players’ shortcomings. The series brought into sharp focus virtually all aspects of India’s cricket that need immediate attention — fitness, scheduling, preparation, succession planning, selection, injury management, you name it.

 

And of course, lest we forget, India were terrible in the three basic disciplines too — the batsmen collectively looked incapable of lasting a day on any sort of wicket, the bowlers looked incapable of taking 10 wickets in a match, much less 20, and the fielders, whose job it is to make a mediocre attack look better than it is, failed miserably in their task too. Heck, even MS Dhoni as a wicket-keeper was a distant second to Matt Prior.

 

While counting India’s woes, one should not forget the performance of a well-drilled England side, which seems to have men for every occasion. India were abysmal no doubt, but they were made to look so by vastly superior opponents. This English side has no superstars. What it does have is a set of remorseless batsmen who seem to enjoy grinding their opponents into dust rather than knocking them out. This side does not have the fastest or the craftiest bowlers the world has ever seen, but what it does have is a relentless attack whose modus operandi can best be described as murder by asphyxiation.

 

Most importantly, what this English side does have is a support structure that has its priorities very clear. With three formats, cricket now is a 365-days-a-year circus. And to dominate three formats, a team would either need to have an assembly line of talent that the champion West Indian and Australian sides of the past 30y years did, or cricketers with adamantium in their bones. The former happens once in a generation and the latter only happens in movies.

 

In such a calendar, a team would be well-advised to choose what they want to excel at, and clearly England have chosen Test cricket. Everything the team and the board have done in the last 10 years has been with a single-minded goal of making England the best Test team in the world. Whether it was big-picture changes like introduction of central contracts, which ensured that the Test players were England players first and county players later, or planning for tours and series in excruciating detail. Indeed, England’s Ashes success last year ought to serve as a case study for meticulous planning and ruthless execution, right from selection of bowlers based on conditions likely to be encountered (Chris Tremlett, Steve Finn and Stuart Broad made for the tallest attack ever to visit Australian shores, keeping in mind the bouncy tracks), landing in Australia a month before the first Test, scheduling of practice games (three of them, and all at Test venues), even to miniscule details like who will be the designated ball-shiner (it was Alastair Cook, who was found to have the least sweaty palms among the England players). Can you imagine such planning from the Indian team or the board?

 

And that goes for not just the players and the board; you only had to witness the crowds for all four Test matches in this series to know that this is a country which loves Test match cricket. It is instructive to note that since England began their upswing in Test cricket, as a by-product, their one-day cricket has improved as well, though admittedly, it will take them a while to become world-beaters in that format.

 

The BCCI has its priorities very clear too, but rather than ‘We want India to be the best Test team in the world’ or ‘We want India to be the best limited-overs side in the world’, those priorities seem to be ‘We want to make as much money as fast as we can.’ It naturally follows that the number of matches goes up, tours become shorter, practice games become a luxury, and rest for the players, well, they are free to opt out of any tour and tournament as long as its not the IPL, aren’t they?

 

India have had a very good last 10 years in international cricket, but it has been on the back of a golden generation that rose above the mediocrity around them. One from that generation is now in a commentary box, another is (thankfully) an administrator, and the other three are in the twilight of their careers, though still better than any of their younger peers. The performances of the Indian team in the last decade have been good in spite of the system, not because of it. But as the stalwarts depart, possibly within the next 12 months, the flaws of that system will ensure that India’s fall could be swift. Unless another Sachin Tendulkar, another Rahul Dravid, or more pertinently, another Anil Kumble or Zaheer Khan is unearthed in some obscure corner of the country, the powers that be in Indian cricket need to mend their chaotic ways, and need much better planning with the resources available to them. It’s a situation not too dissimilar to Australia’s.

 

Cricket Australia recently published the contents of the Don Argus review into its cricket. While some of changes are radical considering the usually conservative nature of cricket establishment in Australia, frankly, it came out with nothing that a well-informed fan did not already know. What I am more interested in is the second review which is still under way, the review of the governance of cricket in Australia. The governance and administration of cricket in India could sure do with something similar, a Narayan Murthy review if you will! On the evidence of this series, India have on-field problems aplenty, but it would not be the worst thing if change begins at the top.

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)