December 12, 2007

No fringe benefits

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, says Sanjay Bangar

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.