August 5, 2011

Blame the BCCI for the team's shoddiness

If India have held on to their No. 1 ranking so long, it is despite a board that doesn't take the team's needs into account

This was supposed to be the marquee series, wasn't it? A side holding on to No. 1 rather more tenuously than they believed, against one that had forsaken empty talk for a tough, hard-nosed approach. It was the kind of series you look forward to. India were meant to light up the English summer with their brand of cricket; indeed, even an excellent Wimbledon and a celebratory British Open had been done with and the big bully, the EPL, was almost a month away from the start of the first Test. It couldn't have been timed better. But so far it has been a damp squib, a big-budget flop. The crowds have turned up, but they haven't seen a contest.

When India ascended to No. 1, they did so without any favours done to them. It is important to understand that, because a good team doesn't become bad overnight, and this is, by any yardstick, a quality team. But having reached the summit, India needed to distance themselves from the opposition; it is part of the aura you create as No. 1. To do that India needed to prepare well to give themselves the best possible chance of staying ahead. They didn't. They were made to turn up and get into a contest against a well-prepared team in home conditions. It wasn't the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last.

The Indian administration likes to fill the itinerary, every available moment, rather than leave breathing space. In doing so they give their side the worst possible chance of making an early impact. And so, it is my argument that India have done well in the past in spite of shoddy preparation. It is not a new argument; some of us have been shouting about it from the rooftops. But it merits another look.

In the last four years India have had three tough away series. Against Australia in 2007-08, the captain, Anil Kumble, asked for three warm-up games. He was told that he would get no more than one. As it turns out, that was washed out with scarcely any cricket played, and India went into the Boxing Day Test with the baggage tags still on their kit bags. They were bowled out for 196 and 161 (an interesting sidelight being that Rahul Dravid was made to open the batting) and lost by 337 runs.

India then went to South Africa in December 2010 without a single first-class match behind them, even though much was made of sending players early for acclimatisation. They were bowled out for 136 and lost by an innings in spite of a tremendous second-innings performance.

On each of those tours India came back to score landmark wins, leading to the unwelcome tag of a team who start slowly and fight back. A fightback can be over-glamourised, especially if it can be avoided with better planning. The wins in Perth in 2008 and Durban in 2010 showed how good India could be, but that they weren't always allowed to be by the people who scheduled their tours; the people who were meant to be on their side.

Being the dominant figure in the ICC would allow India to get what they want in order to remain No. 1. Instead the BCCI flexes its muscle over appointments and the Decision Review System. India could have got the calendar they wanted in England and South Africa, but clearly that wasn't priority

Both those results suggested that the players were good enough to win overseas if India were to play two or three games before their first Tests. You would have thought that if the BCCI was serious about India staying No. 1, it would learn from that. But the board steadfastly chose not to. It is like knowing paracetamol will bring down your child's temperature but choosing not to use it.

The BCCI is better placed than anyone else to get the best possible schedules. Being the dominant figure in the ICC would allow India to get what they want to remain No. 1. Instead the board flexes its muscle over appointments and the Decision Review System. India could have got the calendar they wanted in England and South Africa, but clearly that wasn't priority. Often you get what you deserve but you also get what you genuinely want. India's players have the ability to stay No. 1 but their administration doesn't have the drive to be No. 1 on the field.

And nothing is going to change. The Champions League Twenty20 is sandwiched between this series and the limited-overs matches against England at home. There are then, 57 days before the Melbourne Test. You would want India to get there 15 days earlier to play two games. That leaves 42 days in which to play three Tests and five one-day internationals against West Indies at home. You need a minimum of 37 days, if the games are packed back to back, to achieve that.

Great organisations manage their brands very well; they nurture them like they would their children, giving them the best possible chance of success. Great brands make quality non-negotiable before managing profitability. If you do it the other way round, you allow quality to slip. Profitability at the expense of quality is always a short-term measure.

You reap as you sow. India could still come back in this series, for this is a quality side, but if they do, it will be in spite of what those who are meant to nurture them have allowed.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here