Indian Cricket – where do we go from here?

Posted: March 30, 2007 in cricket, india, rebuilding

There are no easy answers. Its like asking how to remove corruption from Indian society. It is so deeply entrenched that one does not know where to even start, to think in terms of a solution. The Indian cricket scene is somewhat similar.

So on the one hand, there are the seriously macro level steps, which need a lot of will and vision to be taken up, and I wonder if they will ever be taken up, in spite of the fact that cricket generates so much money:

1. Get a board of cricket control that understands cricket, and is not full of administrators and politicians. That will be a good start.

2. Get more pacy and more international pitches across the country, instead of the featherbeds that we currently have. Domestic cricket will then show who can really stand up, in the outside world, and not keep generating batting records alone.

3. Get a selection committee of 3 persons, and who are not recommended by their zones, who have no connections nor commitments to their zones, but who understand the game well. Who also can appear to be completely above board with regards to favouritism of any kind. Names like Venkatraghvan, Ashok Mankad, Anil Kumble (should he retire now) and such come to mind.

4. Invite foreign teams to play with our domestic teams, perhaps domestic teams of other countries like Australia, South Africa, etc. That will give our domestic players a better feel of international competition, give them some reality checks too.

These are larger macro issues, as I said.

In terms of the more immediate factors, what can be done or should be done.

Ordinarily, I am not one for en-mass changes in a team, just because they have lost a series. Demands of big changes go up, amongst the fans and the media, every time an Indian team loses. But that is usually not good nor justified.

However for once I am tempted to go with that thought. Not just because of the shameful World Cup exit, but also taking into account all recent performances, including the last couple of years, before the World Cup. We have shown inconsistency, an inability to push for wins, mental weakness, lack of team spirit, lack of focus on the individual’s role in the team, etc. Many of these factors are related to the player/s concerned, be it on account of their continuing lack of form, lack of commitment, lack of fitness, or a generally couldn’t-care attitude. Continuing with such negative forces in the team, spells disaster!

With that in mind, I would go for major cutting and chopping in the team, and essentially axe players like Sachin, Saurav, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Agarkar from the ODI team. Off these, Sachin, Saurav and Agarkar may be treated as a final adieu for ODIs. Quite like how Steve Waugh was shown the door, at one point, although he continued to play test matches for Australia. Sehwag and Harbhajan may have a chance to return, but not in a hurry.

There are a lot of voices out there, seeking Dravid’s and Chappell’s heads. And much as I feel differently, reality could show these guys becoming the first ‘fall guys’ of the World Cup loss. Which will be a shame, of course.

Yes, I did feel that Dravid did not show a very good strategy across the world cup games, and he could certainly have done with better decisions on the field. And perhaps the experimentation that Chappell-Dravid combine kept trying for so many months, should have stopped at some point, to enable the team to have a clear single strategy getting into the world cup. Unfortunately, we were still not sure what our best combination was, what will be the batting order, etc. Did that confusion stay with Dravid on the field as well? Did that confusion leave him without the ‘perfect single strategy’ for each game? Could be. Chappell’s dissatisfaction with the team has been revealed now. That he preferred young guns like Raina, but did not get them, is out in the open. If Dravid panicked at the last minute and opted for experience over youth in the selection meetings, that showed his lack of conviction in the team. Bringing in older hands, and leaving the young guys who were being groomed for last 1-2 years, smacked of insecurity.

Maybe at the end of it, all of these issues happened because the weight of the big event got on to Dravid. Bringing about a sort of anxiety that leads to taking not the best of decisions, many a times!

Given all that, and considering his individual talents, that he can still deliver for a few years, his own commitment to work and to cricket and at least my perception of him being ‘clean’, makes me believe that he should continue to be captain. Also I do not see an easy alternative. I do not believe it makes sense to make any of the older guys as captain (Sachin / Saurav). There is nothing that we need to be concerned about in the short term. Whatever steps are taken, have to be with a ‘rebuilding of the team’ in mind. Which means, we have to invest for the future. That rules out the older chaps. One would like to think akin to South Africa, when they went and got a young captain in Graeme Smith, few years back. That was a fantastic decision. But they must have seen clearly, that Smith was mature beyond his years, he had the ability to be consistent in his own performance, to have a level head to remain captain and lead the team from the front, for a few years, etc. That kind of confidence made them go and plug for him as captain.

In India, I do not see a name of that kind, on the horizon. No, Yuvraj does not work, as far as I am concerned. He has too much of an attitude problem. As Chappell put in his private (now public) SMSes, that Yuvraj behaves like a superstar which he is still not! That kind of an attitude does not make for an investment into the future, as far as captaincy goes.

For all these reasons, I will stay with Dravid.

Given a choice, I would also stay with Chappell as coach. I still believe that he had the right methodology. He just did not get the right team, nor the support from the players. Interestingly, none other than Narayan Murthy of Infosys, has written about this. And as he essentially says that don’t throw the baby with the bath water! What went wrong was not the process, but the implementation. Don’t blame the process for it. Indeed, don’t dump Chappell, but in fact, give him more control in terms of selection issues, length of time, and clear targets. I am sure he can deliver!

But how does the actual delivery happen, assuming that we have Dravid and Chappell in place, as captain and coach. What next. These could be the steps that could be undertaken.

1. The Board should give large advertisements in the media, conveying like a ‘white paper’ view, for the benefit of fans. Fundamentally to state that the Indian team is going to be rebuilt, and we are allowing a time frame of 2-3 years to achieve that, and during which time, there will be young guys being groomed and trained. And because this exercise takes time, fans are requested to not expect miracles, but wait for the 2-3 year period to go, before a great new Indian team emerges! Getting the fans pressure off the back, for this time, will be a great relief. Such ads can be repeated from time to time, during the period, to reinforce the thoughts.

2. A core team of 30 players, with perhaps another 20 in the periphery, may be chosen. Young chaps, ready to be groomed for the Indian team of the future. Chaps who are willing to work really hard. Who will take the coach’s words as gospel, and put the efforts. Quite like a Chinese team training for the Olympics.

3. Work hard with these chaps, and for each outing that comes up, give opportunities to few new names, from this lot. Give all of them a lot of exposure, in any case. Be it by sending them on unofficial tours or whatever. Let them learn all the basics, including running between the wickets, fielding, catching, playing fast bowling, playing spin, bowling to contain, bowling to attack, taking 1s and 2s, playing specific roles for the team, etc. The grooming should be complete. Mental strength also needs to be built up.

4. Also emphasize to all of the youngsters that the way to riches is via performance and there is no short cut. If this thought can be instilled into the group, it will not create an anxiety amongst them to try and make quick money, either by over-endorsing or by ‘other’ means. If the players know that serious long term gains of monetary kind as well as fame, can only happen on the strength of their performance, and which makes them focus on getting that right, always, that will pave the way for a great Indian team. Many players who make it to this stage of being considered for the Indian team, have often come from the lower echelons of society. Seeing their first big opportunity to make some money, there is an anxiety to do it soon. If a player succumbs to such temptations, he needs to be out of the loop. And which also tells the others to focus on performance, and nothing else!

I think all of these can then convert into a good Indian team happening!

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