September 30, 2011

Players shouldn't be deciding when they sit out

India need to follow the English model, where the coach and general manager of the team take a call on whether a cricketer plays or rests

If diagnostic tests could be run on the selection of the Indian team, the prognosis would be pretty grim. Fast bowlers are as rare as a dry day during the Mumbai monsoon; a player is recovering from surgery a month and a half after it was thought he was fine to play; a left-arm spinner's name has been virtually erased from the database; and the captain, like a double-shift taxi, continues to be pressed into service.

I guess little can be done in the immediate future about the state of new-ball bowlers in India, but if they are dropping like autumn leaves, it should be a matter of concern. I presume there is a long-term plan for the development and maintenance of fast bowlers in India; if so, this might be a good time to dust it off the shelf.

And in a land where spinners aren't exactly blooming either, Pragyan Ojha must feel a bit like a DMK minister these days. In recent times Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Amit Mishra, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and now Rahul Sharma, have been picked ahead of him. Presumably he has been left out now because Jadeja is back, and he was earlier because Chawla could bat, and before that because Mishra was around. In Hyderabad, where Ojha lives, there is a quaint locality called Koranti (named after the quarantine hospital in the area). He must think he has been issued a residence permit there.

Indian cricket needs to examine the deeper issues. On August 10, Virender Sehwag was thought fit enough to open the batting for India in a Test. He is now "yet to recover" for a one-day game to be played on October 14. There is no known record of an injury in the interim. So either he was played in August when he wasn't fit or there is another reason for his exclusion now. Neither situation is healthy. I suspect the first explanation is more plausible, but like with so many matters in cricket, there are questions but no answers.

I understand the National Cricket Academy has to certify a player fit before he can be selected, and so, presumably, Sehwag was passed fit and found his way to England. It could happen again, and we will continue to talk of injury management rather than practise it. Sehwag is not the only case. Ishant Sharma's announcement that he needs ankle surgery but will keep playing till the end of the tour of Australia is equally worrisome, given our players' history of breaking down on tour. Either Ishant is fully fit or he is unfit. I am not sure there is a state in between.

Just as worrisome is the situation with MS Dhoni. In England his fingers were very sore and he was clearly in need of a break. It was just as clear that if he were to play the one-dayers against England at home, the only break he could get was during the Champions League Twenty20. Both the Champions League and the series against England are BCCI events, and I believe it's up to the board to set the priorities, given that players are contracted to it. Ditto with the IPL.

In an ideal world the BCCI must decide whether Sehwag undergoes surgery or plays for the Delhi Daredevils, and whether Dhoni rests his fingers and body or plays for the Chennai Super Kings. The player might have a preference but it shouldn't count. That is why the new system in England, and the one Australia seek to emulate, is so sound in its conception. The coach and the general manager of the team take a decision on whether a player plays or rests. They set the priority.

I have never understood the idea of a player asking for a break. The group that manages him and the team must take the call. If the priorities are clear, it's an easy decision. The IPL and the Champions League exploded; they didn't evolve naturally from India's existing cricket system. Just like you can't build an airport and think later of how travellers get there, you can't create a giant like the IPL or the Champions League without first deciding its role in the context of the national team.

Organisations must evolve to reflect changing times. You can no longer keep accounts in yellowing ledgers, or continue to have selectors representing zones years after the Ranji Trophy went open.

Not that it would make a difference to Ojha, cast aside as he is in his ward in Koranti.

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

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