August 19, 2010

Too much or too badly scheduled?

The Indians don't play more than other top cricketers around the world; it's just that their calendar is more poorly structured

If you went strictly by record, the Indian team so far has had nothing official to say about the number of matches they play in a year, the importance and context of those matches and the toll the games take on players.

If you went by recent hearsay, then the team, or rather the senior management group, ideally including the captain, the coach, the manager and senior players, have sent off an email to the BCCI protesting "inconsequential" matches and asking for the schedule to be reworked. The BCCI claims it has received no such email.

Setting aside the Case of the Invisible Email and going by numbers alone, an excess of cricket cannot be an Indian grouse. In the last 12 months the Indians have not played more cricket than anyone else; their leading stars have, in fact, played fewer games than the frontline Australians.

A look at the combined Test, ODI, Twenty20 international, IPL and Champions League Twenty20 numbers reveals that, on sheer quantity, Australia's Shane Watson topped the table with 111 days of cricket, and Michael Hussey was just behind at 105. Even pace bowler Mitchell Johnson squeezed in 95 days on the job, just ahead of India's multi-tasking captain MS Dhoni, who on Monday was involved in his 94th day of cricket in the last 12 months.

Most days of cricket in the last year
Player Tests ODIs T20Is IPL matches CLT20 matches Total days played
Shane Watson 11 37 13 6 0 111
Michael Hussey 11 38 9 3 0 105
Mitchell Johnson 11 27 13 0 0 95
MS Dhoni 9 29 7 13 0 94
Michael Clarke 11 22 15 0 0 92
Ricky Ponting 11 36 0 0 0 91
Graeme Swann 11 24 11 0 0 90
Virender Sehwag 10 20 2 14 3 89
Paul Collingwood 9 24 11 8 0 88
Kumar Sangakkara 8 22 12 13 0 87
Tillakaratne Dilshan 8 25 12 6 4 87
Mahela Jayawardene 8 19 12 13 2 86
Harbhajan Singh 8 23 5 15 0 83
Sachin Tendulkar 10 17 0 15 0 82
Jacques Kallis 9 12 7 16 2 82
Gautam Gambhir 7 22 6 11 4 78
AB de Villiers 9 16 9 7 0 77
Suresh Raina 2 35 9 16 0 70
Graeme Smith 9 13 9 2 0 69
Yuvraj Singh 6 15 7 14 0 66
Stats from 16 Aug 2009 to 16 Aug 2010. All Tests taken to be five days long
Save for Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, both in the 60s, the other Indians (apart from those in the table above) come at a safe distance: Pragyan Ojha 56, Amit Mishra 41, Praveen Kumar 35.

Dhoni's tally is not even the most cricket played by an Indian in a year. Way back in the calendar year 2002, as India readied to launch its unexpected run to the World Cup final, their captain, Sourav Ganguly, played 106 days of cricket and Rahul Dravid 102, which included keeping wicket in ODIs. All this without 14 IPL matches and attendant pay cheques.

Even so, Ganguly's was not the record for most days of cricket played by anyone. That still belongs to Syed Kirmani's 107 days in 1983.

It can be said that the last 12 months of India's cricket have certainly been high-profile, high-attention and high-intensity. Issues like hectic travel schedules, sapping weather, the IPL's playing and party schedule, could count as subjective factors that may strengthen 2010 India's invisible email complaint.

Yet these identical factors apply to the Sri Lankans as well as other overseas players who dive into the IPL with the enthusiasm of infants sighting lollies. Sangakkara's 87 and Jayawardene's 86 match days in the last 12 months include 13 each in the IPL. Among the leading overseas players, Jacques Kallis played 16 IPL days (the same number as the much younger Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Pragyan Ojha) and two Champions League matches in his 82 days of cricket.

The only singular element that the Indians can claim as their own is, of course, the weight of public expectation and constant media scrutiny. But given that they are among the highest-earning cricketers in the world, these can well be considered the taxes of their celebrityhood. Much like the demand made by the market, with agents, associates, friends and everyone wanting a piece of what should ideally be their "downtime". Then, as now, it is the player who must find a way to cope.

The Indians, it can be argued, are as badly served by too much cricket as they are by the abysmal planning of their calendar. Even though the leading Australians may have a larger workload than the average Indian star, the Aussies are regularly given larger chunks of time off, and a more carefully calibrated off season, thereby giving them the opportunity to store enough up in their tanks to see them through a long, hard season.

Australia finished an exhausting 2009-10 season on March 31, 2010 and the next time they played as a team, it was on May 2, in the World Twenty20. In the interim Watson played six IPL matches and Hussey three. The World Twenty20 finished on May 16 and after that the Aussies were sighted on the field on June 17, for an ODI versus Ireland. So between April 1 and June 17, all the cricket the Australians were involved in was in a two-week series in the shortest format of the game, where they made the final.

India's last 2009-10 fixture was an ODI against South Africa on February 27. It was swiftly followed by the IPL (March 12 to April 25), which dovetailed into the May 1 start of the World Twenty20, which for India ended on May 11.

Then the pace of the game changed just a little. Dhoni, Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer, Gautam Gambhir, and Ashish Nehra were rested for just under a month, while Virender Sehwag was recovering from injury. In the meantime Suresh Raina led the Indians to Zimbabwe for six matches (four ODIs and two Twenty20s) from May 28 to June 13.

The main squad gathered for the next big event, the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka, June 16-24, during which Zaheer sustained a shoulder injury that led to him missing out on the Tests against Sri Lanka. The Tests only began on July 18, and Gambhir returned home wounded after the first. The limited-overs specialists only came into action on August 10, after a break of over a month.

In this whirlabout, the man who has played the most non-stop cricket in the last six months is actually Raina, who (the team's got fingers crossed) is still standing.

India's most serious concern now, though, rests on the physical condition of Dhoni, whose right hand with its bent finger reflects the pressure he has absorbed in the last 12 months. Those months for him have included an ascent to the No. 1 Test ranking, two average ICC events, (the Champions Trophy and the World Twenty20), a win-loss record of 15-12 in 29 ODIs and 3-4 in seven Twenty20s, and a very successful IPL. As a cricketer who has mastered switching himself on and off during matches as captain and keeper, Dhoni will need to find it for his match schedule in the next six months too.

The Case of the Invisible Email seems proof enough that any direct approaches the team may have made to the BCCI about the future course of their cricket did not really work. Last Saturday a top source/key member (thus described and quoted in two national newspapers) of the Indian team said, "The worst fear is as of now due to excess of cricket, [that] we will not be able to field the best XI in South Africa and during the World Cup."

It is possible that this news about a letter of complaint was meant to be a trial balloon from the team, a way to knock on the BCCI's door, giving a new meaning to the phrase "via media". Until now the team management has very pointedly kept all media at an arm's length, either due to BCCI gags or personal indifference, so this is quite a radical step.

It is probably because the next six months include two big-ticket events that will put Dhoni's India under their most extreme examination: the tour to South Africa and the World Cup, at home.

All they have left now until the World Cup are about 15 ODIs (two, perhaps three, more in Sri Lanka, three against Australia, and five each against New Zealand and South Africa).

All they have left until the tour of South Africa are five Tests at home (two against Australia and three against New Zealand). Exhausting or not, meaningless or meaningful, these are the only opportunities the Indians will have.

There is, of course, the minor matter of the mega-volume Champions League Twenty20, which will feature nine Indians who are in and around the ODI team at the moment - Dhoni, Raina, Tendulkar, Zaheer, Murali Vijay, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and Virat Kohli, in action from September 10 to 26.

Rather than have a carefully planned break and a thought-through campaign calendar, India must now move from event to event using band-aid, glue and hope.

With inputs from Madhusudan Ramakrishnan. Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kairavan on August 22, 2010, 1:54 GMT

    @ vinsho23: Regarding the total duration India's tour of SL, I think you got it wrong. For the current tour, Indians arrived in SL only on July 11 and had played a tour match against SL Board President's XI from July 13-15. They will be in SL till the Aug 28 final (god willing). So that would make their tour duration of 45 days...& not the 90 days that you have mentioned. Adding the 3 days of tour match to the 5 ODI's & 3 test matches, the total no. of playing days would be 23. I think you have also taken into account the 4 matches played by India during the earlier ASIA cup. That tournament lasted 10 days from Jun 15 to June 24 after which the Indians left for home & had taken a 18 day break till the current tour....!!!

  • Ashok on August 21, 2010, 23:12 GMT

    Besides the number of days played in a year, the environmental condition matter more. Indians play many matches in hot & humid conditions in India & SL. The ground surface is generally very hard under foot which is most damaging to the muscles. Consider the British condition where the grounds are relatively soft and friendly to the muscles and temperatures are low & comfortable. Playing in British conditions is far more congenial than playing in the Indian conditions. This is more important than the number of days played. The second factor is how closely the games are scheduled. You rightly say the schedules are bit shoddy. Third factor is the fitness (Physical & mental) of the individuals themselves.Dhoni played most of his days under far greater pressure on less body friendly ground surfaces than shane Watson did. It is like comparing oranges to apples. Yes we need to playing on different surfaces rather than those in Indian sub continent to make the players less injury prone.

  • Jay on August 21, 2010, 15:21 GMT

    Injuries are also a big issue: lacerations, muscle strains, concussions, fractures, etc. range in severity from cuts & bruises to surgeries & trauma. Still, it's amazing to see the players' resilience & endurance in overcoming adversity. Modern sports-medicine & strength-and-conditioning regimens, superior protective equipment & modern playing/training facilities help to alleviate the problem. Also important is the 3-4 month post-season break: it allows time for rehab, to relax with family & friends, and replenish their energy. Some undergo medical treatment. Many work out and practice to hone their skills and to build up strength & stamina for the next season. There is a good balance between play and rest. The final point: Elite NHL players have amazing staying power and longevity. Like Sachin. The Wings have at least 10 Hall of Famers who've played into their 40s with careers spanning 20+ years. They offer a benchmark of excellence worthy of emulation. Cricket can learn from hockey.

  • Jay on August 21, 2010, 13:57 GMT

    Sharda, I'm glad you included 'Mileage in other sports' as benchmarks. There's one more professional sport I'd like to add: Ice hockey. Besides NBA, MLB and NFL, the NHL (National Hockey League) is widely followed in North America. There are 30 franchises with 24 in the U.S. and 6 in Canada, with many elite players from Europe. The NHL schedule is physically and mentally very taxing: (1) Training camp and pre-season of 9 games in September; (2) Regular season of 82 home-and-away games, October to early-April; and (3) Playoffs for top 16 teams with 4 elimination rounds over 7-8 weeks, which can mean over 20 games for the two finalists. For example, the Detroit Red Wings (widely considered the best NHL franchise) played a total of 114 games in the 2008-09 season, a game in effect every 2-3 days. Furthermore, the season grinds through the harsh winter months with grueling air travel to far-flung cities across the vast expanse of the two countries. Fatigue therefore is a big issue.

  • Paritosh on August 21, 2010, 3:23 GMT

    India are just complaining about the number of matches unnecessarily...I say they are playing less cricket....At this level they should play more...I mean to say more number of tests....

  • Jigish on August 20, 2010, 20:19 GMT

    @AsherCA - There's a difference between sitting at your desk for 250 days and play international level cricket in the field. Play one full 40-50 over game and you'll know what it is like.

    Regarding comparison with NBA, those games are 60 mins of playtime - nowhere near the amount of effort needed for an ODI or a test match. Tennis matches usually last 3 hours at most.

  • Krishna on August 20, 2010, 18:52 GMT

    Some one mentioned that Dhoni should keep his no.1 ranking..some bull*. Its not about Dhoni and his multi-million deal for ads. Its about team India. Why can't he ask Karthik to keep wickets in ODI or Test. or At least when he is injured severely. Agreed, Dravid did the same but not when he was injured and handling ball like it is 150C hot iron ball. Either you have rotation or reduce no.of interests or open calendar. Since Dhoni is regular he is complaining. Imagine Yuvi scoring 25 centuries and 40 odd 50s already. It would have been much worse. Its not just IPL. Its the amount of time spent in Ads. Indiscipline towards their profession. All this in the midst of MPs getting hike in Salaries, Tennis starts not being paid over 2 yrs, Hockey coaches harassing women players. Disgusting fate of a diverse country. God can only save this country. When every sport is controlled by Government, why not cricket? Indian govt, Please corrupt this sport and make players buy their own thigh pads.

  • vin on August 20, 2010, 15:43 GMT

    I totally agree with Sharda is saying, but the most important thing that is missing from her analysis, is the amount played by the indian team. Players played less amount of days as they were injured or having a break because of a long season. Can you please make an analysis of the number of playing days by the team wise instead of player wise that will give you an insight into the complaints of the players.

    And also can you please make another analysis of the amount of time players spending on the tours, as Indian team is in SriLanka for like 3 months and will be playing only 8 ODIs and 3 Tests. This counts into only 23 days of cricket but it is taking 90 days on the tour. Can you justify this based on your current analysis.

  • Roger on August 20, 2010, 11:06 GMT

    You could have also factored the workload of the player into consideration. Hussey is not a bowler, Watson is a 3rd change bowler who is used as a surprise weapon. Dhoni is a wicket keeper who needs to sit down and stand up for each delivery. On top of that, he needs to perform his duties as a captain and keep his no. 1 ranking as a top order batsman. Think about the planning sessions, daily press briefings, interviews etc, that a captain has to go through. Indian selectors are mad to tax one guy with so much workload in Tests, ODI, T20 and IPL.

  • Chetan on August 20, 2010, 9:43 GMT

    Dhoni & his team's demands on BCCI are totally unjustified.

    People in most other professions work a little over 250 days a month. Dhoni himself - the most active cricketer has worked only 94 !

    If they need time for family, they have the option of posing in fewer ads, OR like Sachin - taking some time off from Intl. Cricket.

    However I suspect -

    Fewer ad's means less money & therefore should not be considered. Taking time off from matches will allow BCCI to select a replacement who might deliver, making it difficult for the person taking time off to come back into the side on merit. That option therefore is risky & should be avoided.

    Players therefore are trying to gang-up & demand that BCCI reduces the # of matches.

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