April 8, 2000

BCCI Academy: success depends on correct implementation of plans

The first bunch of under-15 cricketers (yours truly being one of them) had a camp at Bangalore conducted by the BCCI in the summer of 1980. The wide-eyed boys who were as keen as mustard to learn were in for a surprise first up when an ex-army major arrived at breakfast time. Not many could work out the connection until we were told that he was there to teach us the basic table manners. All of us failed to realise the objective at that time but it proved to be more than useful later on in life.

The coaching camps were conducted at zonal levels and also at a national level during the off-season for the under-15 and under-19 cricketers. The national coach was Col. Hemu Adhikari and he served in that capacity for a long time. He laid great emphasis on the basics of the game and he also ensured that the youngsters developed values along with their game. Those off-season camps gave the budding cricketers the opportunity to fine-tune their game for the season ahead. The contributions of coaches like Adhikari, Aibara, Amladi, and the late Ram Singh are invaluable.

Gradually those camps started losing their importance and the mushrooming of coaching camps all over the country began. The irony is that the overall standard of the game has declined and it is hard to pinpoint the reason for this. In the recent past Indian cricket has taken a pounding but for a few successes here and there. It is about time that something was done to uplift the standard and very rightly the BCCI is starting the National cricket academy very shortly. The basic structure and the working of the academy have been decided and the coaches have been nominated.

Hanumant Singh has been appointed the director to be assisted by two coaches along with another local help. "Chotu" as he is called affectionately by his contemporaries is one of the best students of the game in this country and his passion for cricket is incredible. He was also a national coach after Adhikari and prior to that he was a national selector during the glory days in the mid-eighties. Hanumant Singh has the ability to spot talent and the remarkable thing about him is that he has an open mind. Roger Binny, along with Vasu Paranjpe, will be the coaches and both of them have the credentials for the posts.

Binny has been the coach for the Karnataka team for a few years and currently he is the junior national coach. His even temper will be his greatest asset but he can be tough if required. He did a tremendous job with the youth team that went on to win the Under-19 World Cup at the start of this year. Paranjpe has been involved in coaching for a long time and his dedication to the game is awesome. He is quite a character and his sense of humour will relieve the tedium of the boys. Cricketers often exchange anecdotes about his humourous remarks and the supply has not dried up so far.

Another appreciable fact is the involvement of former cricketers in the academy. Sunil Gavaskar has initiated the dialogue between the BCCI and Rodney Marsh and the latter had a lot to offer with regard to the structure of the academy. Marsh is the head coach of the Australian cricket academy and he knows his onions when it comes to coaching. The famous spinners of the yesteryears Prasanna and Bedi are also to be involved and the proposed plans for the academy is definitely along the right lines.

The success of the academy will depend upon the correct implementation of all the plans. It will be of paramount importance to find out what exactly is needed to strengthen the Indian team. The age limit fixed (between 19 and 23) for the prospective trainees is just about right, as it will be difficult to mould or change cricketers beyond a certain stage. The problem will be if the fringe players are drafted into the academy because some them will be close to thirty years of age. There is also a proposal to have a zonal academy as a medium to scout talent for the NCA. The idea is sound but the emphasis must be on quality rather than quantity. Not observing this has in a way contributed to the decline in the standard of the game in India.

The decision of not appointing an Australian coach may be debatable but obviously everything has its strengths and weaknesses. Talking of Australian coaches, Wayne Phillips, the chief coach of the Australian cricket academy, has brought a team to Chennai to play some matches on turning pitches. The team is a combination of promising spinners and batsmen only. The spinners are under the wings of Prasanna and Bedi to hone their skills while the batsmen are left to work it out for themselves about playing on turners. Obviously the Australians know they need spinners in the future and have already taken steps to develop some.

This is what is planning and foresight is all about and hopefully the NCA will achieve its objectives. The persons involved are ideal and I am positive that Hanumant Singh and Co will provide the desired results. It will be apt to wish the NCA all the very best in its endeavours.