Axed practice game draws flak from former players
India's schedule for next month's New Zealand series, announced today, has raised questions over the lack of any practice match through the 48-day tour. An extra Test was included in the revised schedule - comprising three Tests, five ODIs and two Twenty20 matches - in place of the practice game that was originally scheduled, leaving no opportunity for India to acclimatise to unfamiliar conditions.
Former India captains Dilip Vengsarkar, the previous chief selector, and Bishan Bedi, who was manager of the team that lost the 1990 series in New Zealand, criticised an itinerary that will not allow the team to acclimatise to the conditions - cold, windy and conducive to swing bowling, and vastly different from those in the subcontinent, where the team played for most of last year - in a match situation.
"It is very important to play not one but at least two practice games to acclimatise to the conditions and the pitches because it takes time to settle," Vengsarkar said. "Practice is different compared to spending time in the middle. In New Zealand, the weather conditions and pitches are different to what we experience here. The ball moves around a lot, the pitch is spongy and you take time to adjust to that. The Test players could have done with at least a two-day practice game."
Bedi said the current schedule presented a no-win situation for India. "A practice game is meant for the visiting team to get familiar with the local conditions before the real contest," he said. "So, it (scrapping the practice game) is not a very healthy development. New Zealand is very much like England, and it is very cold. Going from the comparatively dry weather in India to New Zealand is always difficult. It is a no-win situation for India. If they do well, it will be deemed as expected, and if they don't, it will be said that they are not professionals."
Sanjay Bangar, a member of the Indian team that lost both Tests on their last tour of New Zealand, in 2002-03, said the players, particularly the Test specialists, needed more time to adapt to the extreme conditions there. "The last time, the conditions were pretty extreme and I guess they will be similar this time too," he said. "The Test-only players will need more time to adapt."
|India played one practice match in Sri Lanka last year, one in Australia before the Melbourne defeat, and two in England a few months before that. In fact, the only away bilateral series in the recent past in which India did not play a warm-up game, was in Bangladesh in 2007|
Lalchand Rajput, who was coach of the Indian team in Australia last season, said a similar lack of match practice during the 2007-08 series, after rain marred the team's only three-day warm-up game, contributed to the 337-run defeat in the first Test in Melbourne.
"Not even one full day's play was possible (India batted for 48 overs against Victoria) and that had a role in our subsequent defeat in the first Test," Rajput said. "The practice game allows you to get used to the prevailing conditions as quickly as possible and to do that, you require at least one or two games."
Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI's chief administrative officer though, said due diligence had been carried out before the schedule was finalised. Asked whether the players were consulted on the schedule, he said: "We looked at all issues before finalising the itinerary."
New Zealand Cricket (NZC) said it was committed to providing the best practice facilities for the Indian team, especially the Test players, under the supervision of John Wright, the former India coach. Justin Vaughan, the NZC chief executive, said the extra Twenty20 game was added after a request from the New Zealand side.
"I spoke to the BCCI and made a very strong committment that we will provide, particularly for the Test-only players, the very best practice opportunites in New Zealand," Vaughan said. "John Wright, the former Indian coach, who now works with NZC, will take the responsibility to make sure that the players get adequate practice arrangements."
India played one practice match in Sri Lanka last year, one in Australia before the Melbourne defeat, and two in England a few months before that. In fact, the only away bilateral series in the recent past in which India did not play a warm-up game, was in Bangladesh in 2007.
The original New Zealand tour schedule did have a practice match but that was later scrapped to accommodate an extra Test on a request from the BCCI after it was forced to cancel its January tour to Pakistan following a government directive.
India have not won a Test in New Zealand in over three decades, and apart from the loss in the Test series last time, they were beaten 2-5 in the ODIs.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo