August 19, 2011

Wanted: dossiers on Indian players

Like any company that manufactures products, India need have specific plans for each of its players. Anil Kumble could be the man to put them together

I suspect Indian cricket is becoming the latest member of a club that believes in a theory which, unless already named otherwise, can be called the Precipice Theory. It is a club whose members steadfastly refuse to see the obvious unless they are driven to a situation where no other option presents itself. And so it is that the BCCI has now decided to ask Cricket Australia for another warm-up game before the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. Thus you can see, as the optimists may well tell you, that something good can still come out of a resounding defeat.

And yet, make no mistake, the BCCI is made up of intelligent people. That they should have so strongly refused to see what was best for India's Test team gives you an idea of priorities. The day the BCCI puts the quality of the national cricket team above everything else, India will give themselves the chance of remaining either at the top or very close to it.

Good things do happen, but they do so fairly sporadically. For example, there is a very good Indian Emerging Players team in Australia at the moment, but in spite of being world champions India have also allowed themselves to panic in team selection for the rest of this England tour.

I hope India don't have to reach the precipice in a few other very obvious matters. The Ranji Trophy is one of those. All logic would suggest that if the standard immediately below international cricket is high, the national team will automatically be strong. And yet we wilfully dilute the quality of our first-class cricket.

Here's a quick parallel. If India Cements (and I use the example only because Mr N Srinivasan runs a very good company) has to make the best cement, they will do what it takes to source the best raw material and use the finest production process. If they reduce the quality of their raw material, they cannot consistently make the best cement, even if the factories are very good.

Here is another business analogy (for producing a quality sports team is no different from manufacturing a fine product). Large multi-brand or multi-product corporations, say Hindustan Unilever or Procter & Gamble, or even, in a manner of speaking, Larsen & Toubro or Reliance, have a specific business plan for each brand. Even the smallest brand has a plan attached to it. A high-profile football team or a cricket team too is a collection of brands, each of which must have a caretaker and a plan. I am sure Alex Ferguson has a plan for each of his top 20-22 players. The plan for Rooney might be different from that or Ferdinand or Giggs, as indeed for a Young or a Smalling.

And so I would like to see specific dossiers put together for the top 25 Indian cricketers. These would almost be like medical files, with a history and a current diagnosis, and most important, a plan to get the best out of each of them. A dossier on Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma would require them to play as much cricket in different conditions as possible. Rahul Dravid's would be to get him into the best possible shape for the Tests against West Indies and Australia. An action plan for Irfan Pathan would find him a team in England and get him to bowl as much as possible. And given the paucity of multi-skilled cricketers, the message to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association would be to bat R Ashwin at No. 6 as often as possible.

As India find themselves in the middle of a serious transition phase, it isn't only about Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, but also about Zaheer Khan and maybe Harbhajan Singh. The replacements don't seem to be around. With great players there can never be adequate enough replacements, as the Australians are discovering, but that makes the need to have a well-defined plan for each cricketer even more crucial.

England started their recovery with the establishment of central contracts for key players, and that is a variation of the theme I am suggesting. Nasser Hussain says that was the single biggest factor in turning the England team around. Ideally the person putting together this plan should be the chairman of selectors, but if necessary, a committed, respected person could do it. If he has the time, Anil Kumble would be the best man for India.

In fact Kumble is fast discovering the power of being an administrator. As captain of India he asked for more warm-up games and was soundly rebuffed. As an administrator the same suggestion was immediately approved.

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

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