August 26, 2011

India need to sweat the small stuff

To start with, make fitness non-negotiable

India needs an enquiry into the defeat, not an inquisition, and it is not a difficult enquiry to conduct. Many journalists and former cricketers have done it already, and while some are admittedly more thoughtful than others, certain truths have emerged.

However, the basis of a successful enquiry is intent and subsequent action; and Indian cricket has traditionally been good at neither. Action assumes accountability, and that is a dreadful word for many.

I have often said that you become what you choose to become. Should there be a BCCI enquiry, it must begin with a fundamental question: what do we seek to be? If the idea is to be a profitable entity, the BCCI already is. If, however, the idea is to be the best cricket team in the world, then you must have the people and the structure that can take you there. Otherwise India will flirt with No. 1 but never own that position.

Traditionally Indian cricket has placed skill on a pedestal and attitude by the wayside. That seems to me to be the subcontinental way of doing things - even Bangladesh exhibit it. And so our part of the world tends to throw up people who can do some brilliant things but don't care too much about doing the smaller, more routine things. We are a batting country, then maybe a bowling country, and hardly, if ever, a fielding or fitness-driven one. You see, the newspapers and television channels don't report on fielding and fitness, and in any case those two aren't switches that can be flicked on for results. Attitude then becomes an individual pursuit not an institutional trait. A Dravid or a Tendulkar or a Kumble are products of individual values, and so they are willing to do the small things that allow them to become great.

In England, the team who did the small things better won. When you spend time on the small things, you are actually practising excellence. At key moments in the series India were a bowler or a batsman short, not because a truck had knocked them over but because they weren't fit. And it didn't matter to those selecting them that the players weren't fit. Both at Lord's and in Nottingham, India had the opportunity to win but didn't have a bowler when it mattered. Zaheer Khan shouldn't have been on the tour; his shape was a testament to that. Neither should Virender Sehwag or RP Singh have been on it.

The new England make some things non-negotiable, as the old Australia and the old West Indies did. Fitness is one of those. As an Indian player told me, fitness isn't about being able to get onto the park but about coming back after tea to bowl a solid six-over spell. To do that you must be strong and in rhythm, and to be strong and in rhythm you have to have trained and played.

In days gone by, English cricket sent players burdened by county workload to play Test matches. Predictably they didn't last, they weren't strong enough. But when Stuart Broad was bowling poorly against Sri Lanka he was sent off to play a four-day game for Nottinghamshire and told he had to bowl a lot and bowl a certain way. Instead of bowling short, as he was doing, he had to pitch it up and swing it. Knowledge alone wasn't enough, he had to bowl enough balls, which he did for his county. By the time he came to Lord's he was ready with a change in style. England could do that because they manage his workload. When Chris Tremlett had a niggle, he was left out, because England didn't want to be down to three bowlers. Somebody was taking tough decisions.

Indeed, England's renaissance is built around identifying a problem and doing what it takes to rectify it. They had fitness issues; now they have a state-of-the-art academy at Loughborough that monitors cricketers and requires them to submit themselves to tests at regular intervals. They have a fast-bowling coach with the power to summon bowlers from the pavilion if they aren't warming up before the start of play. And they chose not to pick their best spin-bowling allrounder, Samit Patel, because he disregarded instructions and wasn't fit enough. These messages travel.

India can do it too but not in the cozy democracy that exists today. If India's cricket establishment asks itself hard questions, and accepts the answers, India's climb back to the top could be quicker and their stay there more permanent.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nampally on August 29, 2011, 21:17 GMT

    Harsha, India needs to plan immediate actions regarding fitness based on your article and several interesting comments provided on it. Take the case of injured players - Zaheer, Ishant, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Sehwag who are likely candidates to be in the Squad for Australia.I would insist on Zaheer losing at least 25 lbs. and do lot of conditioning exercises to be in the squad. There is no point in including someone in the squad if he is not fit.Gambhir's concussion has not been taken seriously. Harbhajan even if he is fit, does he deserve a chance on merit? Ishant should have undergone surgery now rather after the Australian tour. Yuvraj needs to get his weight down at least 25 lbs. Sehwag needs to get Dr.'s clearance on his shoulder + get his weight down by daily running for at least few miles.India suffered a humiliating defeat in England due to unfit guys in the team. Shouldn't BCCI & the selectors learn from this experience & implement immediate corrective actions ?

  • bumsonseats on August 28, 2011, 16:01 GMT

    using the plan india used. england winning the world twenty/20 WC, we should have put all our eggs in 1 basket and put an ipl equivalent competiition run on smaller lines with less money ,but they did not down that avenue. for the last 20 and more years, test match cricket was always the more important to us than 1 day cricket, even though then we were not good at it. they say indian crcket fan love cricket more than others, which i believe to be wrong what they love is indian cricket so the ipl was always going to succed. i think the english are the best lovers of cricket we pay upwards of £100 to go to a lords game, and pay it 6 month before the game is played. see the ovation great cricketers get on any ground can u see KP getting the greeting in an away ground as say warne got at old trafford in 2005 when he got his i think his 400 wicket. i dont think so. dpk

  • Nampally on August 28, 2011, 12:41 GMT

    @jay57870: I fully agree with most of your comments. India were straight away on their backfoot from the time the team was selected. To start with the 2 spinners should have been Ashwin & Rahul Sharma. Rahul is tall and bowls quick leg spinners a bit like chandra or Benaud. Because of his height he gets a good bounce and he is very accurate. Ashwin has a good doosra & a carrom ball. In English conditions these 2 would have been the best spinners.Secondly, the injuries are the result of players not keeping up their fitness levels.So it is critacal to remaining fit - no wonder the injuries finished off the team chances. Thirdly, the guys who were expected to perform never rose to the occasion like Dhoni, Gambhir & Raina in second innings if 4th test.India should have drawn at least 2 tests but lack of guts & determination resulted in defeats.Indian fielding was sloppy as well with numerous catches dropped. So India fell below "C" level in all departments of the game + physical fitness.

  • jay57870 on August 28, 2011, 5:59 GMT

    (Cont) Not that the batting did not have letdowns. It did. Excepting the superb Dravid, the batsmen were sporadic and out of sync in an unsettled batting order. Still, I believe India has the best No.1-5 batsmen. And in Dhoni a cool captain. Most of us agree: It's the bowling that's the Achilles heel that needs to be strengthened. A practical fix: Go with 5 bonafide bowlers. In lieu of a No.6 batsman, pick a genuine spin bowler, preferably a leggie. Spinners like to hunt in pairs: Remember Kumble & Harbhajan. I also believe a healthy bowling squad, with Zaheer & Harbhajan in charge, is still capable of match-winning performances. After all, India could not have reached the top without bagging 20 wickets. We therefore have to adjust the batting/bowling mix. The selectors have their jobs cut out. You can bet the coaching staff and NCA (with Kumble) will be sweating it out too with the players. Rest assured, a healthy Team India will be ready to contend again for the top Test spot.

  • jay57870 on August 28, 2011, 5:25 GMT

    (Cont) Still, don't let fitness issues hide two other deep-rooted flaws: the gaping holes in vital batting & bowling positions left void by the retired Ganguly & Kumble. Sourav's No.6 slot has not yet been filled by Yuvraj (age 29) or Raina (24), despite numerous chances. (Both are good fielders; so-so bowlers.) Likewise, Mishra (28) has fallen way short as a leg-spinner, not only in performance (3/320 in 2 innings) but also in preparation (13 no-balls for a slow bowler!). An already handicapped bowling attack lacked the closers/finishers to put away even the lower-order English batsmen. Raina & Yuvraj with their "lollipops" were smothered. Even the experienced Sreesanth (28), in Zaheer's absence, failed to lead and live up to the challenge. Result: Bowling breakdowns. England piled up huge scores in all Tests, putting an unsettled Indian team under duress. Any cricketer knows how hard it is to be playing from behind the whole game and to rally back, especially when batting last. TBC

  • bobbington7 on August 28, 2011, 5:11 GMT

    Harsha you list Kumble along with Sachin and Dravid as a great player.A sensible cricketer lover knows the fact that Kumble never bowled well on normal pitches.He has always struggled on these pitches like Harbhajan struggled in England.He is called a spinner, who could not turn a cricket ball-funny!.

    Our cricketers should under go staunch diet and fitness regime.

    We are concentrating and focusing too much only on cricket,so naturally we should be far more superior to other cricketing countries-BUT??????.

  • bobbington7 on August 28, 2011, 5:09 GMT

    Harsha you list Kumble along with Sachin and Dravid as a great player.A sensible cricketer lover knows the fact that Kumble never bowled well on normal pitches.He has always struggled on these pitches like Harbhajan struggled in England.He is called a spinner, who could not turn a cricket ball-funny!.

    Our cricketers should under go staunch diet and fitness regime.

    We are concentrating and focusing too much only on cricket,so naturally we should be far more superior to other cricketing countries-BUT??????.

  • landl47 on August 28, 2011, 5:04 GMT

    While this article makes some good points, it's not by any means the whole story. England have a squad of good batsmen and bowlers, and while they have a program in place to try to allow each man to reach his potential, the potential has to be there in the first place. With the greatest respect to Kumar, who really exhibited spirit and desire to win, none of the Indian bowlers looked to have the capability to bowl out the England side twice. Yes, Zaheer turned up out of shape, but one bowler doesn't make a side. On the other hand, the legendary Indian batting line-up failed to make more than 300 in 8 innings, in games where England made 474-8, 544, 710-7 and 591-6. India have been the #1 side for a couple of years now and they didn't get bad suddenly. England are simply a very good side and have been building towards this position for years now. Much as the Indian fans hate to admit it, India were beaten by a better side and that's not going to be fixed by more fitness training.

  • jay57870 on August 28, 2011, 5:02 GMT

    Harsha - You are right. But fitness is big stuff: It's the price of entry for any frontline cricketer. But first let's put India's Test problems in perspective: The continuous rash of injuries to key players - Zaheer, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Sehwag, Kumar - seriously impaired the team's performance. It was handicapped even before a ball was bowled. And it got worse with time. England was at its peak; India in an abyss. The rout was inevitable. Remember Murphy's Law: That anything that can go wrong, will. That said, it could have been mitigated with better team selection & preparation. Fitness is everyone's responsibility (selectors, coaches, players), starting with BCCI administrators: They have espoused this policy of allowing players to skip series voluntarily for "rest" purposes. Conversely then, as a matter of policy, they should disallow any players from playing if they're not 100% fit. Period. India already has a place to monitor players and enforce it: The NCA. (TBC)

  • Nampally on August 27, 2011, 23:25 GMT

    Almost every Indian coach starting from Chapell to Kirsten stated that thefitness levels in the Indiancricketers is poor. On top of that when the Cricketers take a long break due to some physical problem with their limbs, they do not focus on diet & exercise at all. As a result you see Zaheer & Sehwag showing up grossly over weight & with pounches to the England test series. Fitness really starts with an individual and his work ethics to remain in shape.I see people in Western world(incl. myself) jogging or doing work outs in the Gyms. daily for a certain stipulated time. Many elderly walk 4 miles per day at brisk pace So it is in the national culture. Cricketers must be given a daily mandatory work out schedule when they are on the disabled list, to be followed at specific locations under supervision. This is the only way to enforce this fitness schedule which has to be individualized. Mandating fitness with goals to measure fitness level is the way to produce fit Cricketers.

  • No featured comments at the moment.