Field placements, a defining factor in planning
Those days we didn't have any foreign coach. The team was handled by the captain and the manager, an ex-cricketer himself who knew the strengths and weaknesses of the side. The coach's role today is focused on the training and conditioning side but in my time the manager was responsible for strategic planning, based on skill. Physical fitness was a part of this but not to the extent currently. All it amounted to was that the player should last five days.
I remember my captain Pataudi very clearly mentioning that we are grown up kids! He said we should know our individual strengths and also realise that we were representing the country, which alone could motivate us to perform at peak level. The captain's duty is to compile all these strengths and integrate them into an overall strategy. At no point do I remember the captain mentioning that suggestions were not welcome. It was welcomed but it was his prerogative to take notice and implement them. He was inclined to play for a win, although draws were inevitable due to the time factor.
The captain's knowledge of the game was so strong, he always knew exactly what he should do and when. I remember in one Test, Bedi had taken a wicket in his first two overs. But realising that the incoming batsman was a lefthander, he immediately brought me into the attack surprising pundits of the game. Even though I had instant success, a section of followers were of the opinion that the captain had a soft corner for me. Later in the evening he was asked a logical explanation for the move. Pat came the reply that when he had the best off spinner in the side and the batsman was a lefthander who was never sure of playing me, he wanted to drive home the advantage.
I have narrated this incident to bring out the depth of the captain's knowledge. When you have a person of such authority handling the team you do not require coaches. Preparation is basically all about mentally analysing one's own strengths and those of the opponent. I do sincerely hope that John Wright has analysed the strengths of this Indian side. The only fear he may be having is our lack of bowling options. An average bowling strength can be made to look effective if one makes use of proper field placements. I have watched the Indians having the rival batsmen on their knees innumerable times, only to eventually lose track and struggle to save the game on this very count.
In the India A match, a great psychological advantage would have accrued if Laxman had forced the issue. His field placings were totally wrong. For the off spinner, he had the cover fielding too square and the batsmen, especially Kasprowicz were hitting merrily through extra cover. Laxman also made the mistake of allowing Balaji Rao a first spell of six overs. Once the captain realises a youngster is under pressure and is struggling to find his line and length, he should not let the game drift away simply to give him a chance. He could always bring him back into the attack later.
The Indian Board would have been wise had they formed a thinktank to help the captain and coach in planning field placements and the strategic line of attack. Physical training and practising together are a part of preparation. But the most important aspect is to know how to bowl at your opponents. You must remember statistics prove that 90% of wins are registered by taking 20 wickets, only 10% come after a declaration by the other side. And planning and field placement are crucial to bowling out a side. Has the Indian team management done this exercise? Let's wait and see once the series starts.