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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on October 3, 2011, 18:42 GMT

    @Nampally: Your point about fitness is fine. What a world-class MSM system does is ensure all the screening is completed to certify a player's 100% game-readiness & match-fitness. There's no "one size-fits-all" fitness routine. Strength and-conditioning regimens need to be customised for each athlete: Paunchy ones may need to lose lbs, while thin guys may have to bulk up for mass & muscle. Some bowlers may need to build lower-body strength (intense running) for endurance, while others may have to work on upper-body muscles (weight training) for power. Rehabilitation (post-operative) under a qualified sports doctor's IM supervision is more effective than just therapy. Each player's progress has to be calibrated & monitored carefully. Also, MSM helps detect early symptoms & prevent injuries. Importantly, it helps prolong longevity of older stars. Fitness apart, Team India needs the staying power - physical durability & mental toughness - and work ethic of a Rahul or Sachin to succeed.

  • Raj on October 3, 2011, 17:30 GMT

    Soon Dhoni will rested after few more series defeats

  • Milind on October 3, 2011, 15:09 GMT

    After the disastrous Eng tour, it seems like a very logical comment to make.

  • Ashok on October 3, 2011, 13:29 GMT

    @Jay57870: Your suggestion of having Sports Medicine specialists at the NCA is valid and essential. However the injuries to the Indian players are a combination of aging + lack of physical conditioning."Fun soccer" be banned. All prof. Cricketers must have daily physical exercises for individual player during the Match season as well as in the off season. Physiotherapy is essential for Sehwag's rather than just resting doing nothing.Strict Physical fitness check ups must be essential for each selected player - India does not appear to have this let alone enforce it.Fitness must be #1 requirement for each playerfor selection.Why was Sehwag selected to play in 5 day tests with half baked shoulder when he dropped from ODI now? Fast bowlers, Zaheer, RP & Munaf. should retire rather than show up out of shape.Yuvraj, Laxman, Sachin & Sehwag need to run 3 miles daily to drop at least 20 lbs. Be fit like Raina, Kohli, Tiwary & Jadeja.Mental & Physical fitness #1 priority for Cricketers.

  • Naresh on October 3, 2011, 12:02 GMT

    OHJA is a very talented bowler and should be given an opportunity in upcoming ODI games against England. He is a good left armer who could trouble England. One should look at his recent county stint, Link below:-

    In fact the current Rajasthan vs Rest of India is a good barometer for the selectors. The left armer is missing in the India squad. Between Ashwin, Rahul Sharma, Jadeja and Ohja india needs to choose - three to play. Only two pacesr should be playing Rahane showed good skill scoring 152 in that match

  • Naresh on October 3, 2011, 9:18 GMT

    DHONI definetly needs a rest. He is playing like a robot and his heart is not in captaincy at the moment. The recent T20 match(lost) is an example. The good news is that Gambhir has got back his form in the IPL. One exquisite six was a standout. The fast bowlers load is definitely a problem. New ones who could be looked at are:- Abu Nechim, D Chahar, Varun, and Yadev . From the older lot maybe Pankaj Singh, Irfan Pathan, Our fast bowlers at the moment are Zaheer, Ishant and Sreenath. More reserves are needed - to prevent a disastar.

  • Jay on October 3, 2011, 3:34 GMT

    To build a world-class MSM system, BCCI must first benchmark best-in-class sports programmes with best MSM standards & IM practices. Start with baseball, which is closest to cricket in mode of play & types/severity of injuries (eg, joints, bones, muscles). The MLB season is a long 8+ months of continuous baseball: 30-35 pre-season games (1 month), 162 regular-season games (6 mos) plus extra 15-20 playoff games for finalists (1 mo). Talk about tight scheduling & fatigue! A winning team to benchmark: NY Yankees. The benchmarking insights will no doubt provide several benefits: how its MSM team provides medical care at both home-and-away games; how it uses MSM system for diagnostics, treatment, rehab & even prevention of injuries; how customised strength-and-conditioning regimens, healthy diets & mind-body exercises boost athlete's fitness & performance. Goal: Upgrade MSM system at NCA to world-class with these enhancements. Result: It'll ensure "survival of the fittest" in Team India!

  • Jay on October 3, 2011, 1:12 GMT

    Harsha -- There's help available for BCCI! Just that it's old-fashioned care: Doctor in the House! Scientific advances in medical & related technologies have made Modern Sports Medicine (MSM) a must for any sports programme. The calamity of injuries in England exposed two chronic BCCI ailments: Lack of in-home care (NCA) & on-field care. Relying on physios is not good enough, because they lack the broader professional expertise needed to tend to all injuries afflicting cricketers today. Injury Management (IM) is a field requiring special skills & knowledge. Experienced MSM practitioners must be made a vital part of the NCA staff & on-field medical crew - starting with having a "team physician" to an integrated "MSM team" made up of para-medics to specialists - such as a sports doctor, orthopedist, athletic trainer, nutritionist, psychologist, biomedical engineer, physiotherapist, surgeon & the like. BCCI should have a MSM team of professionals best suited to its medical care needs.

  • Sudhakar on October 2, 2011, 7:06 GMT

    Its nice to see you speaking your mind Harsha. Many a times "just get a feeling that" you're holding off on expressing what is right vs. what is politically correct :-) Yes, its absolutely necessary that the "supreme cricketing body" of India clearly defines which player can play a certain tournament and when they cannot. If it cannot & if it is let to the players to decide, certainly their priorities would be with the entity that pays them the maximum - which in this case would be the clubs. We just saw how the likes of Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Zaheer chose IPL over the West Indies tour and it turned out to be the beginning of one of the worst summers in India's cricketing history. Defeats provide greater lessons in life and its time to prevent this from happening again. We're fortunate that true cricket pundits understand the root of the problem. Will the BCCI understand? Do they read cricinfo? Someone... someone please handover this article to BCCI!!

  • Ashok on October 1, 2011, 23:35 GMT

    Harsha, it is refreshing to see a journalist calling "Spade a Spade". Firstly, it is hard to find the basis for selection into the Indian team with no fitness standards established or enforced. Ojha playing right in England was making hay even in the gloomy English weather. He took 6 for --, twice & in one match got 10 wickets in 2 innings. Was this not enough proof of the form & performance of a player to reinforce the worst bowling in the world? Yet he was doomed to be"quarantined". In the forthcoming England ODI's Ojha again got the boot in favour of Jadeja - who was" royally thrashed" in England in the final ODI.Sehwag's case is even stranger. He was taken for the last 2 tests in England even without any medical checks on his shoulder yet he is excluded after a month's rest from the ODI's Vs. England.If Dhoni is hurting. Parthiv is available & Gambhir can lead the side.why not rest him? Ishant's case is totally crazy -Force his surgery now. Bizzare selectors & strange tactics!.

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