December 12, 2007

No fringe benefits

Sanjay Bangar
Yuvraj Singh is frustrated while Dinesh Karthik, the 12th man, signals for a towel, India v Australia, 3rd ODI, Hyderabad, October 5, 2007
 © AFP
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The announcement of a team by the selectors for a match or tournament is greatly anticipated by all of us. Usually, in India, be it the national team or a first-class team, a squad of 15 players is named. We all get to see 11 players in action and can judge their skills and character on the field of play. But have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of players who are confined to the bench?

Most captains announce the playing XI before the day of the match and explain the role of each player. Players who are not picked are talked into how only 11 can play and how one can make a contribution to the team, or how he has to wait for his chances. However, till the toss and commencement of play, these reserve players have to be in a state of readiness if last-minute changes have to be made due to fitness issues or overnight changes in playing conditions.

Once it is certain you are confined to the reserves, some coaches keep a keen eye on the reaction of the player. He is expected to take the blow on the chin and not sulk, as if he does sulk, he is perceived to not be a team man. He is not expected to be relaxed and smile either as it could be taken that he is happy to be on the sidelines and does not want to play.

If the dressing rooms are small, the reserve player has to make room for the players, and in some rare instances, has to keep their kit bag in some adjoining room. He also has to ensure that he identifies each player’s kit bag so that he can cater to the requirement of the player like a sweater, glove, cap, shoe, etc.

Once the game begins, he has to work overtime to keep the players hydrated by making nimbu paani, salt water, electrol, or any carbo-drink and ensure adequate supply either on the boundary ropes or at the fall of a wicket if the side is fielding, and at any available instance when his side is batting.

He also has to play the role of a messenger and communicate to the captain or players in the middle about inputs regarding strategies, field placements or shot selection from the coach, or should I say coaches as there are at least three coaches as a part of the support staff now-a-days.

He has to understand and interpret sign convention; a batsman can ask for a change of grip, change of glove, a batting tape, cap, helmet and he makes the signals accordingly. One has to pick it up and respond quickly; players and coaches often let the reserves know sternly if there is any delay, if the players are not well looked after.

During breaks, if a player wants to dry his clothing or equipment, the reserve has to keep the stuff in the sunlight or use the dryer, if a washing machine is available. If the side is batting, the batsman might ask the reserve to bring him some lunch.

After catering to all these needs, the reserve has to train hard during the breaks, to ensure that he maintains his fitness levels as they are conceived to drop due to over-eating. They have to keep hitting balls to keep the form going, or bowl a few balls to keep the rhythm going, all during a lunch or a tea break and quickly return to the dressing room on resumption of play.

Often, during tournaments when there is less likelihood of a player playing, he does not get to bat in the net. A quiet word or reassurance from an understanding captain or coach can make a world of a difference to the reserves as they have to do all these duties selflessly.

All this is fine, but fringe players are often the soft target in the next team selection as the easiest way out for the selectors is to axe the player who has not got the opportunity to perform.

All I can suggest is, become such good and efficient players that you are picked in the playing XI quickly or stay at home as the longer you stay in the bench, the chances of progressing deteriorate.

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Posted by Aditya Mookerjee on (December 17, 2007, 6:20 GMT)

The same care should be taken to select all teams, as is taken to select The Indian Team. I believe, the game of cricket is being dictated to by commercial considerations. Interest must be given to the game. If the school system had been more developed, surely there would have been more Tendulkar's in Indian Cricket. Tendulkar, I believe, was not made because of his talent, but because of his interest in the game. All school teams, as well as state teams must have a large bench strength. Everyone on the bench, should be capable of playing. Children, who cannot make it to the school team, should be incouraged to play the game, for the game's sake, if it is not possible to practice on a pitch, let them do so elsewhere.

Posted by Anand Kochukudy on (December 16, 2007, 17:47 GMT)

Superb article.

Posted by Rohit Shetye on (December 16, 2007, 17:37 GMT)

Third world country game? Is Ano in his senses? More third world and desperately poor and war ravaged countries play soccer than cricket.Most Americans think the rest of the world is stupid and poor because they play a brain dead game like soccer.Cricket is actually thought of a refined, elitist and gentlemanly game by the non cricketing world. You don't have to be very intelligent or skilled to play soccer, only need to be fit enough to kick a ball around on virtually any surface.It needs no equipment , investment or protection.People lie on the ground crying trying to fake an injury when there is none, just to get a penalty. Is there a worse sight in world sport? Football being a professional setup is a joke , the players are the least professional of all in the world. They have no sense of loyalty or service , only play for themselves. Maybe you need to stick to things you actually understand and have a grasp of , have you even played competitive cricket?Sanjay is spot on.

Posted by Ano on (December 16, 2007, 14:56 GMT)

Unfortunately, cricket unlike football (or soccer for some of you yanks), is still a 3rd world country game. I can never imagine a reserve player in football drying up shirts for more senior players. It's a very professinal setup. All players are looked after regardless of your playing status.

Cricket has a long way to go (maybe its impossible given football's ever growing popularity) if it were to become worlds #1 sport.

Posted by Sanjeev on (December 16, 2007, 14:00 GMT)

Very thoughtful and honest commnets...I hope the silly BCCI notices this...Sanjay encourages people to excel or do something else. At this level you want to play and win...instead of the crap about it is important to take part.

Posted by Venks on (December 16, 2007, 13:11 GMT)

I totally disagree with Sanjay. It is a great honour and Privilege to represent our country. Not everybody gets this chance. One has to wait for the oppurtunities. Nobody is appointed as CEO as soon as he finishes college. One has to go through the hardships to reach the top. Another point to note that reserve players also get paid (not sure whether they get the equal share..Sanjay can clarify that!!!). Dear Sanjay!!! I guess you lead the Railways team in the Ranji Trophy. The same "fringe benefits" apply to the reserve player in Railways Ranji Team.

Posted by Robin on (December 16, 2007, 12:33 GMT)

Sanjay,it is not at all a good article i do not agree with u.Every domestic cricketer wants to play for India and it is a life time ambition of each player of being in a 15man squad, oboviesly talent is there that is why u r in the squad. Besides carrying drinks to the team members it helps u to learn so many new things,by siting and watch the great players of the game cricket performing in front of you.Being with them in the dressing room,reading the mind set of the player when they go in the middle to perform,watching their foot moments and shareing different ideas and views with great players makes u grow as a metiour player.Certianly you find youself a changed player.Even after that,if u come back to domestic cricket u can see the changes in yourself how u are playing.It will be completely different and i am sure that the next u will be selected in the team,u will be a much more confident player than the previous time u where selected in the team.It is a great feeling yar.

Posted by Sidhanta Patnaik on (December 16, 2007, 11:32 GMT)

This is one of those articles I have been waiting for since ages. I always wanted to know what happens on the other side of the field ad what goes in the mind of a reserve at the international level. At the domestic level, I know the feelings a reserve goes through courtsey my friends in Orissa Ramji Team. Thanks Sanjay for the updation

Posted by Gurinder on (December 16, 2007, 10:56 GMT)

Honestly am pretty amazed as would have thought that Sanjay would rather have been on these tours than sit at home! And he has been a reserve long enough to know that he valued the opportunities that he got! Anyway... I suppose now that he knows he does not have a chance to play for India any longer, its easier to put these thoughts down of rather not being a reserve!!!! Good luc nevertheless

Posted by chakri on (December 16, 2007, 7:28 GMT)

Sanjay,has always been at his thought provoking best.So many times the reserve players are dropped for the next tour with out being offered a chance and its some thing unique to Indian ckt.

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