December 5, 2011

Harbhajan's injured? Go figure

Would his condition have come to light if he had been picked for the Australia tour? And why does the BCCI manage player injuries so poorly?

I am a little surprised the news that Harbhajan Singh was dropped from the tour of Australia and then missed his next Ranji Trophy game because of a shin injury didn't make the headlines it should have. A week later, we learn he may be out for a long time because the scans have revealed the injury is a lot more serious than it was originally thought to be.

The obvious question here is: what if Harbhajan had been selected for the tour of Australia? Before the squad was picked, his form had been an issue, not his fitness. So it is fair to assume that had he been selected, he would possibly have made the trip to Australia carrying an injury serious enough to call for long-term rehabilitation.

The way I see it, the injury has come to light now because Harbhajan decided to get the scan done now. The question is, would he have done the scan if he was in the squad for Australia?

India's management of their players' fitness has left a lot to be desired over the years. It was an important reason why Indian cricket was humiliated in England earlier this year. If the curious case of Harbhajan's injury is ignored by the authorities and allowed to pass, an important lesson will not have been learned from the England tour.

However, it has to be said the selectors are handling Zaheer Khan's current fitness issue and his comeback to international cricket quite professionally, and they should be complimented for it. Though I daresay it might not have been dealt with this way had it not been for England. Now that they seem to be on the right track with Zaheer, they should tackle Harbhajan's injury with the same attitude.

For some time now we know there has been a convenient, unspoken arrangement between players and cricket boards with regard to excessive cricket. Players who wanted to give their very best for their country in every game but felt the prevailing international schedule made it impossible for them to do so, realised their complaints were falling on deaf ears as cricket was being driven by its market and the administrators were seemingly powerless to stop the juggernaut.

So the players took a more pragmatic approach. Instead of taking on the boards to get the right balance between rest and play, they started taking their own "rest" and "injury" breaks, while their nation's cricket marched on. The boards obliged, as long as the series was played and their commitment to television to play a certain number of matches in a year was honoured. Indian TV companies wanted the Indian cricket team to play a certain number of matches and the composition of that team did not matter all that much to them. So it was a win-win situation.

The established players started getting their much-needed breaks and India were still playing the required number of matches. The problem of excessive cricket taking its toll on star players was largely solved, because although India were playing a lot of International cricket, barring a couple or so, the rest of the top Indian stars were never as busy as the Indian team was. All they had to do was raise their hands and be promptly given their leave of absence. But this convenient arrangement led to an undesirable culture: of players deciding when they were fit and when not, rather than the decision being left to the coach or the board.

Kevin Pietersen was not happy when he was rested for the one-dayers after a successful Test series against India, but that decision was taken because the ECB thought it was in the best interest of England's cricket.

Harbhajan is unfit today because he decided to raise his hand now and excuse himself. If he had been in the squad to Australia, the injury may not have come to light in time. Where are the interests of Indian cricket amidst all this?

09:45 GMT, Dcember 4: Amendments were made in the third and last paragraphs of this piece

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cric on December 8, 2011, 20:35 GMT

    Hello Naresh28, You are being too much emotional about Bhaji. He had given enough matches to prove himself and he should let other younger talented players to come up to stage. He can not play for ever for India. If he can not cope up with rest of the team, he is simply dragging the team. As a selector, you should keep your emotions apart and put the team or the country front rather than some individuals. It does not matter how senior they are. All players are compensated and they should take care of themselves rather than barking on the selectors or the management. Look at Dravid, he is much older than Bhaji and he seems much fit than ever before. You said, "People should not have short memories - Australia in India at Kolkata in 2001. Harbajan was the star of that game - together with Dravid and Laxman.", come on...this is a decade ago. However, in a game of cricket, consistency matters, look at his number of wickets in World Cup. He is not even close to some of the junior players!

  • Dummy4 on December 7, 2011, 21:17 GMT

    I really like your commentary and articles and I find you very humble,honest and soft spoken. You are a very good human being and it reflects in your commentary.Good job and stay blessed.

  • Srinivas on December 7, 2011, 14:20 GMT

    A blanket statement from me - The ONLY, I SAY, THE ONLY player who stands tall amidst all these ruins, liars, fakers, pretenders and dishonest malingerers is Rahul Dravid, The Wall. There are no two way about it. Sorry to Sachin and VVS. They both are far behind The Wall in matters regarding fitness (VVS) and 'convenient rest' periods (Sachin).

  • Randolph on December 7, 2011, 12:52 GMT

    How is this obnoxious weed still making articles?

  • RAJARAMAN on December 7, 2011, 8:38 GMT

    Bhajji ... 400 wickets .. ok well done .. Murali rated him as one who could come near his record ... fine ... but now .. Bhajji is out of form .. so he lost his place .. he faked injury in england .. he lost his respect as well ... now no place in aus squad .. so conveniently skipping ranji .... poor example of a senior cricketer .. deserves to be punished until he proves himself again in domestic cricket ... that is all

  • Prachi on December 7, 2011, 4:49 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas - Totally agree with you! As a die-hard Team India fan, its such a shame to know that players are stretched left to right by management. Earlier today I had read Sehwag was surprised to hear Gautam Gambhir may have injury and complained about back pain after 3rd ODI. Well, scan showed no damage so I hope next ODI just proves he is in fact out of form and not selected for the Aus tour but I just dont understand why and how our cricketers are allowed to play matches knowing they are not completely fit. And this article makes me question once again how many other players are also hiding injuries (i.e. Sehwag) and why and how long will they continue to do so? Sadly, I'm left wondering if anyone out there cares to play for nations pride anymore, and hiding injuries certainly does not help the cause. :( Cricinfo please publish.

  • Harish on December 7, 2011, 0:45 GMT

    @Gautham Va : I agree with your sentiments. Shastri and Gavaskar are already the butt of most jokes amongst the commenting just needs to follow twitter :)

  • shashaank on December 6, 2011, 18:00 GMT

    Mr.Manjrekar, you have made a very valid point when it comes to injury management of the players. It is very essential for the players to come out clean, no matter if selected or not. Indian cricket has got poor injury management. We should take inspiration from the Australian and South African cricket boards when it comes to managing players'.

  • Srinivas on December 6, 2011, 15:16 GMT

    @Nutcutlet, thank you and wish you and your family the same - from wintery New York :). Are you watching how our batsmen are struggling at home against a young Windies? It's hard not to say, though I'm a die-hard Indian supporter, that there are going to be some heart-breaking batting collapses in Australia. Worse, in the last ODI our bowlers were dismissed with some utter disdain by Sammy and Russell. I'm not saying Sammy and Russell shouldn't be able to play brutal shots against our bowlers. After all, these are all international cricketers. I'm just growing more and more circumspect about our chances in Australia, with some inexperienced bowlers and may be some hidden injuries.

  • Naresh on December 6, 2011, 14:40 GMT

    One person who must be feeling really bad is Ashish Nehra - one of the best ODI bowlers India has. He is being treated badly. The selectors should always be communicating with players especially the seniors. The same with Harbajan - he has won many a match for India. If he is injured than BCCI should be assisting him. People should not have short memories - Australia in India at Kolkata in 2001. Harbajan was the star of that game - together with Dravid and Laxman.

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