January 27, 2012

India's system needs overhauling, not tweaking

Pitches, the selection process, itineraries, attitudes - they all have to change if India wish to have a real, long-term shot at being No. 1

Even as India continue to stumble in Australia, the reactions to my suggestion last week, to recalibrate domestic cricket, indicate there is a demand for action and accountability. The current system is inconsistent and, as we have seen with the BCCI's stance on the DRS, the board does not like inconsistency. And so change becomes imperative if intent - a great desire to be the best cricket team in the world - is uppermost on the list of priorities.

When I suggested a 12-team format many asked what would happen to talented cricketers from, say, Kerala. My idea of merging states is not that one annexes the other and subjugates it. The system should require each team to search deep within its territory for ability and to produce the best team. That is why I believe the grant to state associations should be capped and the prize for winning the Ranji Trophy should be huge, maybe in the region of Rs 10 crore (US$1.8 million approx). It will mean that greater income can only come from producing the best team. Organisations that rely on grants, as we have seen with federations in charge of other sports, degenerate into lazy, bloated entities. They become drones, not bees.

But there can be no progress in domestic cricket unless we make good pitches - an issue that is particularly relevant after the deeply disappointing Ranji Trophy final. The BCCI must encourage each of the 12 teams to produce good wickets, for that is the only way you can have good matches and produce good cricketers. The discussion on pitches in Indian cricket must by now have celebrated its golden jubilee; it certainly has gone past silver. And as the statistics from this year's Ranji Trophy show, scoring a century is as easy as having an opinion. When too many runs are scored, it can only mean the pitches are one-sided and the bowling is not good enough, and that therefore the batsmen are not learning enough. I would like to believe pitches will improve but I wouldn't be betting my first, let alone my last, rupee on it.

The legacy of the vote, and its importance over everything else, also leads to the most outdated system in Indian cricket - the one of zone-wise selectors. I have spoken to many people about its relevance and have yet to get a logical reply. The most common one is that with 27 teams and so many games, each selector can watch matches in his territory. But the Ranji Trophy is no longer zone-based and the Duleep Trophy is a relic of another time, so the idea of a zonal selector is redundant. The moment a selector is appointed by one zone, it is implied, even if it is not said, that he has to promote talent from his area. Another example of a system created to feed a wrong end.

And so we need to appoint the best men - those who have the time and passion - and trust them. For decades the secretary of the BCCI has sat in on selection committee meetings as the convenor. It is only natural that his views will be known, and given the power he wields, his point of view is the one most likely to take precedence. The system promotes centralised power, and that can never produce good organisations. The selectors need to be trusted, for that is the basis of all appointments, and be left alone to pick their team.

In recent years there has been much talk of what to do with the National Cricket Academy, a wonderfully staffed place created with the right intent. Increasingly it becomes a rehab centre or, as a friend put it, a garage, not a factory. People with large reputations and no time have been asked to lead it. It is the bane of all India - our obsession with the celebrity. The head of the NCA has to be someone who derives great pride from being that; to whom it is something to aspire to, not just another thing to do after the biggest achievements are past. The head of the NCA could be a hockey player, an event manager, anyone who knows how to run an efficient organisation, for the coaches will always be there. This premise of only having cricketers run cricket is a seriously flawed, even dangerous, one for the job requires skills a cricketer may not possess. If he does, that's excellent, but it is not an assumption that can safely be made. Cricket for cricketers is a great thought, an essential thought, but cricket only by cricketers rarely so.

The head of the NCA could be a hockey player, an event manager, anyone who knows how to run an efficient organisation for the coaches will always be there. This premise of only having cricketers run cricket is a seriously flawed, even dangerous, one for the job requires skills a cricketer may not possess

For some time now India's young cricketers have looked less than ready for international cricket. Yes, they do go on the odd A tour but they need to play more, and I would love to see them encouraged to play overseas. Ishant Sharma would have become a better bowler, Virat Kohli a better batsman, if they had spent a month and a half, even an entire season, playing in England. Apart from their cricket, they would have learnt to look after themselves and to handle responsibility. But the BCCI is currently strongly opposed to players playing overseas. Maybe the idea is to manage workload, but it isn't working.

Ideally the selectors should have dossiers on the top 30 players, with notes in them like a doctor would make for patients. (X needs to play in England, Y needs exposure to bouncy tracks, Z needs rest and rehab, for example) Indeed, it should be mandatory and could be one way of judging selectors. The old "watch and go with the hunch" is far too empirical. It cannot guarantee continuity and is way too haphazard.

The tours of England and Australia have exposed vast deficiencies in the field, and part of the reason is that at Under-17 and U-19 level, coaches focus far too much on cricketing skills and too little on athletic skills. That could be one reason why the development of fast bowlers is a bit like the scripts in Hindi movies: occasionally one will make you sit up but far too many will get lost.

I am enormously excited by Umesh Yadav because he looks an athlete and wants to bowl fast. He needs to be protected from people who don't understand what that means. But searching for, and grooming, fast bowlers (not medium-pacers or the incomprehensible "fast-medium", but "fast" bowlers) needs to become an immediate priority.

And I think the Punjab Cricket Association might have a very good point when it says it will not allow players below 21 to play the IPL. Maybe an "adult" classification for this form of cricketing entertainment. They can always learn to play 20-overs cricket but may find the textbooks a bit tougher if they have to go from T20 to five-day cricket. It isn't a bad suggestion because it only delays entry to 20-over cricket. It doesn't reject it, for that would be folly in today's times.

There are many other issues to engage attention but these are my choices. And this is but a draft that some others could polish, provided they have the right intent. The current system of Indian cricket will, at best, allow India to flirt with the top ranking but cannot ensure a long run at the top.

India need this debate, but it has to begin with an acceptance of the fact that the system has to transform itself from being obsessed with the profit-loss statement to a healthy infatuation with a win-loss statement.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on January 30, 2012, 20:37 GMT

    You guys are all nuts, every cricketer, every team goes through bad spots, this is India's turn. Not too long ago, everyone was calling for Ponting's head. Team India will bounce back, and yes they do need to get young players, but not because they lost two series. To say that the senior players need to go is just ridiculous. We were disappointed, Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar did not score like they should, its two series that went bad. Hold your horses, and lets go through the process sensibly. We should also note that Australia, England and the top teams lose series outside of their backyard. Look at England against Pakistan. Don't forget both England and Australia lost in India. They will both lose again in India, likewise India will lose in England and Australia. India will bounce back..

  • Thanigasalam on January 30, 2012, 18:51 GMT

    I agree with all of ur suggestions but there is a problem. Its been there forever in India. People are good at suggesting, advising, criticizing etc. but seldom do they DO something on their own. It is this indifference from the 'knowledgeable' that is the main reason for changes not being implemented. I know that u have an MBA from the prestigious IIM-A and have immense knowledge in the field of cricket. I, as a fan of Indian cricket, would like to see u take up a post where u can put ur above words to action. Unless people like u try, all the common fan can do is to feel bad and do nothing for the powerful themselves don't care. Blogs are good platform to vent ur anger but when u have the potential to do more then PLEASE DO SO!

    Yours Sincerely, Indian Cricket Fan

  • shahid on January 30, 2012, 16:40 GMT

    One of the worst ideas to invest big money as prize for winning Ranji. It will only make rich clubs richer. You need the following (1) Differentiate the wickets. make some fast, som spin and some sporting wickets. (2) Provide money to install speed measuring systems at the smallest twon level. It will make children compete in bowlling speed (3) Upcoming players should have chance to represent in national teams. A revolving system is needed where permanent players should be rested in low key games. India's great batsmen have kept the possibilities blocked for a whole generation. (4) Allow Ranji teams to play at least two foriegn players each (5) Let players play county (6) Employ great fast bowlers of subcontinent to coach young bowlers of age 14-18. ( 7) Divert more money towards Firstclass and even club cricket. (8) Make academies at small town level and no player should be made to pay to attend them. (9) Cut IPL salaries to max. 400.000 dollars and keep the minimum cap at 75.000 (10

  • Dummy4 on January 30, 2012, 11:55 GMT

    Change of Ranji format to Elite and Plate league was welcome since it threw up new faces in the form of MS Dhoni, Saurabh Tiwary, Varun Aaron & Umesh Yadav who were picked from the weak teams like Jharkhand & Vidharbha who have never been promoted to the Elite level of the ranji trophy during the past 10 years. As far as my suggestion is concerned, this system should continue but Ranji Trophy performance should not be the only criteria for selection. I will go with Mr. Sumeet Gupta's comments in your earlier article where he suggested making Duleep Trophy a premier tournament and played on a home and away basis and being run parallel with the Ranji Trophy. I am posting this comment after watching today's match of West zone vs East Zone which was a thriller going till last session. But the reserve players in the west zone have to wait for one more year to exhibit their talent at Duleep Trophy level. In Duleep Trophy, you have the best combination of 15 players to select from each zone

  • ccrriicc on January 30, 2012, 2:36 GMT

    We have too many Queen bees Harshaji - we need hard working drones - you got it a little worng - but so long as the overhaul is concerned - there is no other alternative - Indian public should reject all cosmetic fixes and demand removal of Pawars, Srinivasans, Shuklas and Srikkanths - they have starngled change by keeping any one who knows anything about Indian cricket on their payroll which makes Gavaskars, Shasrtri's and many others as suspect as any one - no supports body should have such unbridled power. About players - you can not force people to retire - but you can drop them and let them in only when they are in form irrespective of their chronological age. Mr. Gavaskar thinks that we should be patient with Mr. Dhoni - so there you go!It seems Indian cricket will continue to remain a corporation of good intent and corrpt execution.

  • Dummy4 on January 30, 2012, 0:31 GMT

    I totally agree with Harsha, 0-8 should be enough indication that an overhaul is due.

  • Shakti on January 29, 2012, 22:48 GMT

    For once,I completely agree with Bhogle.The current BCCI has no interest in formats of the game that offer them little oppurtunity to gain money for themselves.People passionate about the quality of Indian cricket should be running the BCCI.Pitches at first-class level set the tone for the technique a batsmen or bowler develops,a variety of pitches creates a solid technique.Coaching is the next important element & coaching is what the English do best.Young Indians with potential should have spent a season in England before making their test debuts for India.

  • Sagir on January 29, 2012, 16:12 GMT

    excellently put Harsha.. i was a bit late in reading your article about restructuring the domestic game but from the comments, i infer that many people misterpreted the suggestion.. i completely agree that Ranji trophy, and not Duleep or IPL should be the pinnacle of the domestic scene and the lesser the number of teams spread regionally the better the players they select. at the moment there are far too many players but not much of talent. Pitches, selection process, political interference and other maladies need to improve. there has to be a sense of pride in playing cricket and a big prize on playing for the country rather than franchise. There have to be changes from the top to the grass roots. things will not change overnight but it will take years but cricket followers and administrators have to be patient during the transition. Whether the vested interests of politicians and businessmen will allow that to happen remains to be seen.

  • Dummy4 on January 29, 2012, 8:50 GMT

    Why Indian fans are so fearful of letting old guard go? What will happen at most? You are already losing with them anyway.. They are past their prime and move on now. Find some young lads and give them chance to prove. you will find new STs and RDs in due course of time. Look at out team, (Pakistan) we have moved on and found success even without Amirs, Asifs, Inzis and Yousoufs..

    No one is bigger than the game.. not even ST.. esp in current miserable form..

  • Dummy4 on January 29, 2012, 5:16 GMT

    may the management and bcci see this....one more thing i observed....look at hussey and ricky ...superb fielders even though there age is 37...laxman with all due respect to his batting...see at his fielding...why laxman...see ashwin zaheer ....bcci should only select players who are fit even at 40...does not matter if u r superb batsmen...just for ur batting cant select you...sorry to say there a lot of difference in inidan test team...mind u i am nt saying one day...test team and other countries test team only in fitness...if we start focusing on that...we can definitely win matches...if u r better and fitter....you will automatically give more than 100%...

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