May 22, 2010

Bounce isn't India's only devil

While the focus has been on India's inability to play short bowling, their poor preparation and the issue of player fatigue have been brushed under the carpet

So some Indian players stayed out too long, had a drink or a few, and apparently stood up for a team-mate who was being abused by "fans". In true God of Small Things fashion, the BCCI has slapped a show-cause notice on them. The fear, though, is that the real issues, the reasons for India's poor performance at the World Twenty20 - the weakness against the bouncer, the lack of fitness and intensity, the disappearance of fast bowlers, the crazy schedules - might, as usual, get swept under the carpet. Talk to people involved with this team of late and it reveals a lack of willingness to address such issues, both at individual and administrative levels.

Coach Gary Kirsten's dressing down of the team on their last day in St Lucia did not pertain to a new issue with the team. "While everybody is talking about lack of fitness now, I brought to the team management's notice the fitness problem - not only with bowlers, but the team as a whole - last year," says Venkatesh Prasad, India's former bowling coach who was sacked last October, no reasons given. "It wasn't taken in the right spirit." Kirsten's complaints last year weren't taken in the right spirit either, and he was subsequently gagged.

Something similar, only much more damning, can be said of some of the batsmen's troubles against short-pitched bowling.

"Everyone is now talking about how this started about 10 months ago," says a current India player. "Four or five years earlier, when they first came into international cricket, even then they needed to work on the short ball. You need to practise it in the nets, facing bouncers and getting good people to bowl at you. But they don't like facing bouncers and are upset about it."

It's easy to see why the bouncer was not top of the limited-overs side's agenda over the last year: there are players taking care of the issue in Tests, and only rarely in limited-overs cricket do Indian players come up against genuine pace in a Sri Lanka-Bangladesh-IPL-dominated schedule. "That is a dangerous route to take because you are masking a problem. In critical tournaments you need to win the crucial games: what if you run into Australia in the quarter-finals or semi-finals? Even Pakistan quicks are clever enough to challenge the batsmen."

Around when this new crop of Indian cricketers was coming through to the limited-overs side, the world's players had a major issue with boards - one that seems to have gone out of fashion of late. Player burnout is so early 2000s now, although schedules have only got tighter.

A fringe player has no doubt there is too much cricket happening, and too little care from the BCCI. "A player really burns out after a certain point," he says. "I believe we need to have a certain work ethic: you need time for preparation, performance and rest. Take the Australians - they spend at least four months a year resting and preparing."

How serious the BCCI is about preserving its resources is clear from an example during the IPL. Trainers from the ECB came down along with their players, and instructed the local trainers on how to deal with them. A couple of Indian national players, on the other hand, went to a miracle healer in Sri Lanka, without the permission of the board, so that they could play as many IPL matches as possible. Who will take the responsibility if the miracle healing goes wrong or involves substances on the WADA banned list?

The BCCI counters this by asking if any player is heard complaining about the schedule. No, they're not, except for Sachin Tendulkar, who applies for rest every now and then, but that can be put down to his age, and also that he has earned the right to pick and choose. Can an Ishant Sharma, considered by most experts a promising Test bowler, say no to yet another meaningless ODI series? Especially knowing that in India the money and fame come mostly through limited-overs cricket.

Every time the fatigue issue is raised, the BCCI says the same thing: nobody is forcing the cricketers to play. It is open to conjecture whether it is insecurity regarding their places in the side that makes players keep going even when not 100%. It is also open to conjecture whether the BCCI doesn't want to rest star players because of pressure from broadcasters, who have overpaid for the TV rights. What is sure, though, is what Prasad says. "When the schedules are so packed, the players have to become more disciplined, especially with fitness."

Preparation is not top priority with the board either. "You can't go into a big tournament without a warm-up because that would've also helped you look at your ideal line-up," says an India player. "We were always searching for the right combination throughout the tournament. Considering the schedule is so short and sharp, you can't do that during the tournament."

Every time the fatigue issue is raised, the BCCI says the same thing: nobody is forcing the cricketers to play. It is open to conjecture whether it is insecurity regarding their places in the side that makes players keep going even when not 100%

In the three years since their success in the World Twenty20, the catalyst for the Twenty20 revolution in the country, India have not only lost all their Super Eights matches but also a promising bench of fast bowlers. The way they have handled Ishant is an indictment of how the country's top talent is regarded. After having selecting him for almost all the meaningless ODI series played on flat tracks in recent times, they have barred him from playing county cricket - the one thing Wasim Akram thinks Ishant needs the most.

Akram, who worked with Ishant at Kolkata Knight Riders, believes his fast-bowling muscles will develop when he bowls 300 overs in a first-class season and learns to work things out by himself.

Another IPL coach believes Twenty20 is the worst thing to happen to an out-of-form fast bowler. "Good balls get whacked for fours and if you are not on top of your game it becomes difficult. For Ishant, playing the 50-overs game or the Tests is better. That would allow him to regain his rhythm, rather than the hustle and bustle of Twenty20."

On the surface of it, most players and coaches involved believe the IPL to be a fantastic tournament, and not one responsible for India's woes. They also concede, though, that when it teams up with a watertight year and a schedule that has the national team playing its first World Twenty20 match five days after the final, things don't look that rosy. "I would really like to know how many of these guys, while the IPL was on, thought about looking ahead to the World Twenty20," says a senior IPL player. "And saying, 'What we really are going to face is not this, so let's start preparing for that.'"

The World Twenty20 debacle has served the team a warning 10 months in advance. In February 2011 starts the 50-over World Cup. In May 2010, the fast-bowling cupboard is bare; the selectors seem intent on damaging the careers of both the back-up spinners, Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra; the schedule is still just as ridiculous; and the outcricket - which this team does well when fresh - is in disarray. Yes, there will be more quality coming into the batting line-up for the 50-overs contests. Yes, the bouncer is not that much of a devil in 50-over contests, especially when playing in the subcontinent. Still, much work is to be done if the BCCI wants to avoid a similar inquest this time next year. One that won't involve just banning the IPL parties.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo. Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Clive on May 24, 2010, 17:07 GMT

    Three problems for Indian cricketers: they're overweight, they can't decide whether they are sportsmen or socialites, and they can't face quality fast bowling on pitches that haven't been neutered. What is going to happen when Tendulkar, Laxman, and Sehwag retire? Take a look across at the Caribbean to find out what happens when a former cricketing superpower embraces mediocrity.

  • Sivaram on May 24, 2010, 9:17 GMT

    Some intelligent commentator or reporter starts commenting Indian cricketers are not good players of bounce, we poor guys will take it from there till a few players get sacked or resigned. On my first day and first ball in cricket nets a tall lanky fast bowler broke the grill of my helmet and in turn my lower jaw, i had never met him before to have a grudge on me to bowl like that..Every batsman would have faced the same stuff during their playing days and that too International level they sure are masters of facing short delivery but it seems our T20 team lacked focus in field to execute their skills...I support Dhoni's comment on IPL nights disturbed players focus to a great extent...One have to respect his profession to excel in it, teach players how to respect the game...I advice Lalit Modi to Broadcast LIVE IPL Parties which could earn more money than his entire broadcasting deal.

  • Love4 on May 24, 2010, 7:41 GMT

    Little bit of repair work in bowling, fielding, batting departments of the Indian team will do the all is fine with them :) Thats how we need to convince ourselves..BCCI (The curse for Indian cricket) seems to be thinking tat Aus, SA, NZ are gully cricket players..thats the reason why they select squads of this standard! WC 2011?? Sachin would be disappointed to be a member of that squad..Shame on the game..Please quit playing cricket.. T20 is a game of uncertainties?? Ok..but then a team which won a inaugural world cup in this format fails to win a single Super 8 match against any team?? Very very certain it looks!!

  • Jason on May 24, 2010, 4:51 GMT

    Yes not just bounce India's only problem- the main problem is lack of class/skill/ability/talent etc I mean come on Yuvraj Singh is in the side FFS!!

  • Shahzan on May 23, 2010, 19:49 GMT

    Keeping in view the poor and humiliating performance of India in T20 World Cup, it's very much clear now that Indian team and BCCI have only interest in earning money in IPL. They don't have that spirit of fighting as we have seen in other teams while playing in the T20 matches like Australia, Pakistan and England. On paper, Indian team is considered one of the best sides but when in reality, on grounds they are zero. As World Cup 2011 is just at 8 months distance, I don't expect India would do miracles both with ball and bat. They lack that bowling attacking side as Australia and Pakistan have.In their cricket history, India had got one bowler, Kapil Dave. But he was not that much impressive comparing with Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Waqar, Waseem,Shoaib Akhtar, Ambrose, Mc Grath, R. Headley and even Muhammad Asif or Muhammad Aamir.

  • Kameswara Venkatesh on May 23, 2010, 18:49 GMT

    What does BCCI mean by "we are not forcing players to play". If one of the top players like Dhoni refrains from playing the IPL, what effect could this have on Chennai's performance and on BCCI's revenues from the IPL. Why do they keep making such impractical comments? If you did not want star players to play, why to have a league at all? The lack of intensity was clearly missing from the cricketers in the T20 WC (maybe that's demeaning the players' patriotism, but as a fan I can't help but think so). As Boycott said once in an article about Sachin, one needs to want to go out and play cricket, be hungry for runs, mentally fresh to perform well at an international level. This was missing from the Indian team. Unless these issues are taken care of next year, the results are going to be the same in the 50 over WC. Have the IPL before the WC and I am quite sure India will put up a disappointing show once again. But IPL had non-Indian players also. Don't they get tired? I have no answers.

  • Ram on May 23, 2010, 18:49 GMT

    Even with all the luck involved in T20 games, India having 0-6 record in the super eights over the last two world cups shows that it is more than ill luck that is responsible for their pathetic show. The result of a match involving India and a team with express pace battery on a juicy pitch is known even before the match begins. Instead of blaming the batsmen all the time Indians must learn to return fire with fire. What if you struggle on some wickets? Make the opposition struggle as well and win the match. If you cant bowl well better you loose the match instead of expecting the batsmen to deliver all the time.

  • Moses on May 23, 2010, 17:51 GMT

    Anybody who has given this issue a serious thought would have realised that IPL is the biggest reson for India's failure at 2 T20 WCs now. It's obvious that BCCI's rogues are only interested in minting money and not interested in ensuring that our national team continues winning. It is now up to the cricketers to stand up and say that they don't want to play IPL; but they are also blinded by the money and overnight fame. So let us cricket fans take the issue in our hands and boycott IPL; if there is nobody to watch this tamasha, it will lose sponsor support and die, eventually helping our national cricketers to focus on their real job.

  • haris on May 23, 2010, 12:52 GMT

    First Irfan Pathan's career has been destroyed by not utilizing him as a front line bowler. RP Singh disappear, and now Ishant Sharma is going to darkness. Wake up BCCI.

  • Dummy4 on May 23, 2010, 12:29 GMT

    Im an hardcore INDIAN fan. 2011 world cup is just superbly set up. India losing 2 T20 WC on trot will make things spicier nd the boy will be keen to perform. MARK MY WORDS, BAJJI WILL PAY TRIBUTE WITH THE BALL and SEHWAG WITH THE BAT to the GOD OF BATTING, Sachin, 2011 WC is ours!

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