June 12, 2012

Who's mentoring India's youngsters?

Test prospects are not getting enough guidance, if you go by recent performances. The talent pool won't keep supplying quality players endlessly

To the first ball Manish Pandey faced, from medium-pacer Deepak Chahar, he walked down the track and played a wild swish, missing by a foot. It was perhaps the first time in my 15 years of first-class cricket that I saw a frontline batsman act so recklessly at the beginning of an important innings. Was it a one-off, I wondered, standing in the slip cordon.

But to our utter disbelief (and delight) Pandey continued to bat like that before getting out for a 17-ball 16 that included four boundaries. This in an Irani Trophy match in Jaipur, played on a greentop with a bit of moisture underneath. It was only the second session of the first day.

The scoreboard gave an impression of perfect batting conditions - 267 for 2 off 56 overs - but they were far from being ideal. The scoring rate was due to a combination of Shikhar Dhawan's excellent batting and Rajasthan's below-par bowling performance. But even if the conditions had been ideal, how would one justify Pandey's approach to building an innings in a five-day match?

It wouldn't have bothered me if it had been any other first-class cricketer or if Pandey's attitude had been an aberration. He had stormed into the limelight after scoring a fine hundred in the IPL played in South Africa in 2009 - the first Indian to reach the milestone in the tournament. He went on to play some useful knocks for Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy, including a superb century against Mumbai in the final in Mysore. I also watched as he made a double-century in a Duleep Trophy game against Central Zone. From everything I had seen, he looked a special kid.

Since he had come to light with such promise in 2009 and had also scored runs in the following few first-class seasons (he averages 54 in first-class cricket), why had he never been a serious contender for a place in the Test side? As far as this match went, had he been told about the importance of a game as big as the Irani Trophy? If he was under pressure, why wasn't he made aware of other, more positive ways of dealing with it?

The bigger question is: are we worried about such talents not realising their potential?

This brings me to the case of another immensely talented youngster - Rohit Sharma. In this year's IPL, he played some shots that would leave the best batsmen in the world awestruck. I remember a pull off the front foot, hit off a marginally short-of-length ball, that landed in the second tier of the Wankhede Stadium. Having misread the length, Rohit had already committed to the front foot, but he then shifted his weight onto the back foot and despatched it over the square-leg fielder. Any other batsman would have looked for a single.

It takes nerves of steel to hit a six off the last ball to win a match, like Rohit has done. Unfortunately, he has also been guilty of casually throwing away his wicket on many occasions.

Since Rohit has both the technique and the temperament to succeed at the highest level, has someone tried to address why he hasn't been able to make the Test team so far?

Is there someone mentoring these talented cricketers?

Virat Kohli, despite all his talent, had nearly fallen by the wayside when his interactions with Jacques Kallis and Ray Jennings put his career back on track. While Kohli was smart enough to pull back at the right time, others haven't been as fortunate or intelligent. That's where the role of the parent body - in this case the BCCI - becomes important.

After the first IPL, the governing council announced that all young cricketers would be expected to go through a mentoring programme at the NCA. How many young cricketers have benefited from that noble programme? None

Since India is blessed with a huge numbers of cricketers, the talent keeps coming through. But that shouldn't absolve us of our responsibilities. Once the basic cricket foundation is laid, it's mental ability that separates a good player from a great one. There is an urgent need to address that area of players' development. Once talent is identified, a cricketer must be mentored, so he can grow as a player and as an individual.

If Pandey's or Rohit's career graphs aren't heading north, someone should observe the patterns and plug the holes. If Munaf Patel is sacrificing pace for line and length, somebody should explain his role in Indian cricket's set-up to him. If Cheteshwar Pujara is finding it tough to make a seamless transition into Twenty20 cricket, it's the board's duty to lend the helping hand.

Has anyone bothered to find out why Jaydev Unadkat, a bowler who made his Test debut a year ago, isn't good enough to make it to the India A team anymore? If Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha or Piyush Chawla aren't flighting or turning the ball, the BCCI should ask former spinners like Erapalli Prasanna and Bishan Bedi to help them regain form. The days spent outside the Indian team are the toughest, so it's imperative players are not left to their own devices.

Since the IPL began, I've met many India cricketers who have given up hope of making it back into the national side - and the desire to do so. Instead, they only focus on the annual 45-day T20 extravaganza.

It's because we have the numbers that we look the other way, expecting that the next crop of equally talented cricketers is always around the corner. But what if these players, say the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Parwinder Awana or Dhawan, also decide they are happy playing in the IPL and aren't really keen to make that extra effort to don the Indian colours? Can we really afford to lose quality talent to club cricket?

After the first edition of the IPL, the tournament's governing council announced that all young cricketers would go through a mentoring programme at the National Cricket Academy. How many young cricketers have benefited from that noble programme? None, because the programme is yet to be rolled out. In the wake of spot-fixing scares, black-money transactions and so on, it's even more important for these younger players to be a part of a programme that educates them about the dos and don'ts.

While we happily bask in the glory of producing world-class talent like Kohli and Umesh Yadav, it's advisable to be realistic and accept that the talent is in spite of the system, not because of it.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 13, 2012, 15:39 GMT

    The basic problem is money, and easy money at that, coming too early and in torrents to people like Rohit Sharma or an Ishant or even Robin Uthappa. When one has such an abundance of riches in the bank, what difference does it make if one performs only in T20 and forsakes performance in the longer form. Much less strenuous too! Cricketers like Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman are highly motivated and committed too. They came in an era when the primary motivation was to play for India and not in front of the cameras. If one expects that kind of motivation from cricketers such as Rohit or Raina, it's a forlorn hope. However, there should be some kind of incentive to play Tests and even Ranji by raising the compensation levels much higher. Dravid has made several suggestions in his Bradman oration. These are worthy of emulation. Otherwise expect T20 hacks to rule the roost and 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 performances by India in future.

  • Srinivas on June 13, 2012, 14:02 GMT

    All this talk about survival of test and ODI cricket in the wake of success of T20 has been irritating to say the least. To my knowledge, any game of sport survives on the level of skill and competition at display which in the game of cricket has been on the decline over the last decade or so. With the advent of T20, it just became fast tracked. Any game of cricket requires talent and fit individuals pitted against equally fit and talented crickets on a pitch that gives everybody to give their best. Has it been happening regularly? No. Every educated cricket lover seems to have a disdain over the masses opinion who follow cricket to see the skill and competition on a pitch, and trivialize his opinion in the name of format or what not. All we need is little austerity on the part of administrators to reduce the work load and careful and interesting scheduling of FTP, administering the pitches to maintain a certain level of competition to keep the interest alive in the game.

  • Dummy4 on June 13, 2012, 11:21 GMT

    Akash, you have hit the nail on the head with the last line of your article - India has good cricketers in spite of the system, not because of it. Examples - We get really promising fast bowlers. BCCI assigns them to bowling coarch Venkatesh Prasad. The bowlers become medium pace & disappear from sight OR they are called inconsistent & dropped (Sree Santh being one of the inconsistents). Batsmen...well they don't even get a look in till they are close to retirement, like Dilip Doshi a couple of decades back.

  • John on June 13, 2012, 6:52 GMT

    Interesting that in all the comments below the name of Duncan Fletcher is not mentioned once. Surely the national coach has a responsibility to insist the BCCI builds the correct coaching and mentoring structure under him. Where is the evidence that Fletcher has the strategic vision that India requires? What is his working relationship with Srinivasan - that is the key issue that needs uncovering Mr Chopra.

  • Kaundinya on June 13, 2012, 5:44 GMT

    @ Ravi Darira : Sehwag has excellent averages in Aus, England, Saf, nz and west indies no?? he averages way lesser outside india than he averages in India!! talk about aus where dravid failed!! But don't talk about England where he averages way more than any other indian batsman in the series against arguably the second best bowling attack in the world now!! Technique is not over rated!! never over rated!! Kallis and Dravid are the legends who drive home that point!! I really hope u r right regarding Rohit , Rahane and kohli or else it will all be a kill joy after all the hype surrouunding them. Talking about chances!! don't you think Rohit got enough already??

  • Dummy4 on June 13, 2012, 2:54 GMT

    A very thought-provoking article. I agree with Aakash that the BCCI needs to identify special talent and have a mentoring programme. As far as the batting is concerned, I can't think of anyone better than Rahul Dravid to do the job, provided he is interested, of course. However, the BCCI can only do so much (i.e., if it chooses to do anything at all, but that is another story). Much of the onus is on the players to make use of the opportunity to get their careers on track. They have to be pro-active. The case in point is Virat Kohli. If the players themselves do not realise what is good for them, nobody can help them. It would be sad to see people like Rohit Sharma go the Vinod Kambli way, for instance. For the sake of Indian cricket, I hope and pray that it does not happen.

  • Nilesh on June 13, 2012, 2:08 GMT


    Sorry for hogging the comments section but I had to mention that in reality there is some similar thread between this article and Harsha Bhogle's latest column: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/567624.html

    I am a bit bearish on Test Cricket right now. I personally don't think I would want to watch a complete Test match (start to finish) ever again (This is not how I felt 10 years ago). I could catch up on some highlights once in a while or just follow the scores on Cricinfo but I don't get any thrill from "viewing" the entire match (I could watch bits and pieces here and there for an hour or so but not ~25-30 hours for 1 game). Tests seems more of a test of patience than of skill. I think if Test cricket is to survive in the long term (say 25 years or perhaps even 10 years from now), there will need to be changes made to the format. Otherwise, I see them slowly dying out which is unfortunate.

  • Ravishankar on June 12, 2012, 23:56 GMT

    IPL needs stars, both international and national stars to be popular and successful. The domestic tournaments are one of the most important breeding grounds for such stars. If they are ignored, IPL's success in the long run will get affected

  • Dummy4 on June 12, 2012, 22:08 GMT

    As usual a well written and balance article. One observation though. Somewhere down the line I believe the motivation to excel in the longer version is missing coupled with faster scoring rate achieved by batsmen in longer version is eating into the habit of building an innings.The Duleep trphy match between Central and South Zone was scored at an amazing rate over 5.00 runs an over and come to think, theyounger batsmen an prone to score at extremely rapid rate so building an innings takes back seat. As regards to motivation, when the greats like Rahul, Saurav and VVS started off, they did not have too many greats mentoring them but their committment made them reach greatness which sadly is missing these days.

  • Sanjiv on June 12, 2012, 20:10 GMT

    Raina is mercurial at best. Rohit is on his way to oblivion. These guys are not hungry enough and professional enough by international standards. Obviously, they are awesome by BCCI standards!

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