September 1, 2011

Let Kumble take charge of the Indian team

The BCCI needs to consider giving a three-member body, with Kumble as its head, complete responsibility for the side

India's Test series in England gave us a peek into the depth of Indian cricket, and that for me is more worrying than the 4-0 result.

Very often you get talent without having to look for it, but that does not mean it's not important to have the right systems in place. At the cost of being labelled naïve, here is my five-point programme of change for Indian cricket.

Declare a goal
It has never been India's style to set goals and make plans to pursue them, but if the BCCI announces its goal and its priorities, there will automatically be pressure on everyone connected with Indian cricket, right from the grassroots level, to do what it takes to achieve that goal.

That goal must be to be the No. 1 Test team, which means you place Test cricket at the top of your priorities. Test cricket has been a real surprise package in recent times. With the rise in popularity of Twenty20 cricket, many of us thought Test cricket would just fade away, but instead, Test performances and match results have made the greatest impact on the sport.

Take the last Ashes in Australia, where England won the Test series and retained the Ashes. That's what people remember today. Nobody recalls that England were thrashed 6-1 in the one-day series that followed.

Cricket Australia, through the Argus report, has already placed Test cricket as its No. 1 priority. It's time India did the same.

Accountability
I recently saw Chris Gayle dive and lunge - he usually walks about like he's just had a heavy dinner - during the IPL. Financial incentive aside, I believe it was also because the owner of his team was at the ground, watching like a hawk.

We need Indian players to feel the same when playing for India. Of course, playing for the country and its million die-hard cricket fans should be the ultimate motivation, but when you are playing every day of the year, it ceases to be all that special every time. To get players to take that extra effort, they need to understand there is one person who they must impress to keep their places in the team. Ideally this person should be the coach, but for that he needs to be given more powers than he currently has, starting with a vote in selection.

The BCCI has a lot on its plate other than managing the Indian cricket team, so it's time the board gave complete charge to perhaps a three-member team (excluding the captain), which could comprise the national coach, the chairman of selectors, and one person who's in charge, who makes the plans, manages the team and liaises with the BCCI to ensure the team is always on track to achieve its goals. I can't think of a better man than Anil Kumble to be assigned this task.

This management team must be paid very well, for it will have a high-profile, high-pressure job - that of taking care of the biggest brand in Indian cricket, the national team.

Earmark important series in the calendar and manage players accordingly
India underestimated the significance of the England tour. As it turned out, it was a series the whole world was watching (and one that decided the No. 1 ranking). In the future the management body described above could decide internally which series deserve the most importance and draw plans accordingly to make sure the best players are available and well prepared for them.

Make fitness a priority
If you wish to represent India, skills alone are not going to be enough. You also need have close-to-international standards of fitness. This message must be sent out loud and clear to all those aspiring to play for India. Frequent injuries to a player have to be held against him. And once you have the given the necessary powers to the coach, this should not be difficult to achieve. It was embarrassing to see some players overweight when they came to England. I have noticed that the players who seem to have lost some of the edge in their performances are the ones who are six to seven kilos heavier than they used to be.

Make Test cricket the most lucrative form of cricket
This is purely an administrative matter for the BCCI to undertake, and if the will is there, it should be simple enough. Test cricket sets the brand value of a country's cricket, so it makes sense for it to be the most lucrative form of the game. Granted, the five-day format doesn't generate that kind of money, but it's always possible to channel the earnings from other formats to Test cricket so that a Rahul Dravid makes more money playing Tests than a Suresh Raina does playing T20.

I feel a lot of us hold a permanent grudge against the IPL and have found this a good time to get our own back, as it were, by holding it responsible for the England disaster. I think that if the time between the IPL and the England tour was managed better, vis a vis the players, things may not have been as disastrous. But I believe India can still be the No. 1 Test team in the world while letting the IPL have its seven weeks a year. It's just a matter of setting the right priorities.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

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