July 13, 2012

Who's in charge of India's resources?

Most sporting organisations have a system that ensures good players are not lost forever. Not Indian cricket, it would seem

Amidst the timeless and compelling beauty of Roger Federer at Wimbledon, and the clinical precision of Spain at the Euro, Indian cricket's short holiday was barely missed. Now another season, and another tour of Sri Lanka, looms, an Indian team has been announced, and familiar issues have been brushed under the carpet. Little changes.

Meanwhile there has been a flood of Tendulkar interviews - more, I suspect, because there was the offer of a trip to Germany for the interviewers rather than any major issues that needed airing. And the selectors have bowed deferentially to a player's choice, seemingly unconcerned about the precedent they set. If there is a long-term plan to ease Tendulkar into a smaller work schedule, it remains a secret.

Indeed, India's selectors have been extraordinarily shy of discussing careers with senior players. No one talked to Rahul Dravid about his plans 12 months ago, and I will be very surprised if anyone has sat down with VVS Laxman or Zaheer Khan or, dare anyone say, Tendulkar, to discuss the length of their services to Indian cricket. India remains committed to a reactive mode of management: not foreseeing situations but handling them as they come.

After a brief and, to be honest, failed flirtation with the allrounder, India have gone back to what they like best - playing with seven batsmen and hoping two or three of those get through bowling ten overs. It is not a new situation. In the phase from 2002 to 2004, when India played some excellent 50-over cricket, Dravid kept wicket, and a combination of Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh (or even Dinesh Mongia) bowled ten hesitant overs. And at the 2011 World Cup, Yuvraj covered that weakness with a blanket. In between, and thereafter, India have tried all three contenders for that slot: the Pathan brothers and Ravindra Jadeja. A solution has been elusive.

Through injury, and poor form, Irfan Pathan has been largely lost to Indian cricket for a few years now. His brother isn't hammering the selectors' door down either. And now Jadeja has been found wanting. Outside of these, not a single player with those skill sets has announced himself in the last few years, and so if India want their balance to be right it would seem that one of the seven batsmen must step up to play the allrounder's role, or that one of these three players needs to be worked upon to raise his game. In effect that is what management is about; not just handling the best but getting those who have to play bit roles to be better than they seem capable of being.

Most organisations have a system that ensures good players are not lost forever. The Pathans and Jadeja may never become Dravids or Zaheers but they are good enough to play a role; a quiet, unfashionable role maybe, but one that completes the ensemble. India has invested significantly in each of the three; who is responsible for ensuring that the investment, like many in recent times in the money markets, is not lost?

I will be very surprised if anyone has sat down with VVS Laxman or Zaheer Khan or, dare anyone say, Tendulkar, to discuss the length of their services to Indian cricket

That, I would like to believe, is the job of the National Cricket Academy, where an expert, resident or otherwise, works with players to sort out issues that might have crept in. A few years ago when Alastair Cook's potentially magnificent career seemed to have stalled, England got a grizzly, hardened man in Graham Gooch to set him right. When Ganguly thought he had a problem he spent a week with Greg Chappell in Australia and came back a better player. Cook and Ganguly are exceptional players but even the Pathans and Jadejas don't need their game dismantled, not anymore. They need someone to tweak them, either the technique, the approach, or indeed the mind. Why, I'm sure a Suresh Raina would benefit from a week or ten days spent with Dravid, a Harbhajan with an Anil Kumble. Indian cricket needs to have a system to rehabilitate as much as it does one to discover fresh talent.

I would like to believe the chief selector would be concerned enough to find a way out, or more likely, the national coach. Someone has to be in charge of player performance, player upkeep and, where needed, rehabilitation. And that person has to be accountable.

Performance is measured as much in actual match results achieved as in whether or not players have grown under a particular regime. In recent years India have lost Munaf Patel, RP Singh, Sreesanth and Harbhajan. The three allrounders I mentioned haven't become the players they could have become. Suresh Raina's and Pragyan Ojha's growth has tapered. That is far too many to allow. India now have no bowlers of any quality to summon, and we saw that coming for a while. So, who's responsibility is it?

And so in the foreseeable future, India will have to play with seven batsmen (or play R Ashwin at No. 7) and hope that the four bowlers have a good day every day because there is no back-up anymore - those guys are busy being the fifth bowler. India will continue to get by in conditions where Raina and Sehwag and Rohit Sharma can slip a few overs in here and there, but to be consistent, India must play five bowlers and that means one of those must bat. But with two new balls in limited-overs cricket that fifth bowler should ideally be a third seamer.

There is an issue with senior batsmen in Test cricket and with allrounders in limited-overs cricket that needs urgent attention. That carpet, the one things keep getting pushed under, has had bulges in it for too long.

Harsha Bhogle commentates on the IPL and other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nandan on July 24, 2012, 10:41 GMT

    Harsha, I agree with you regarding consultation of players with some legends of the game who have been retired.

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2012, 11:19 GMT

    ECB & ACB are planning their cricket in different way and if we don't catch them up now and we won't be able to do it for next 5 years. Just look at response by chief selectors of Australia and England after selecting the team.It gives impression about their plans & strategy. India, like them should look at different players for different format. Potential test players should be protected from T20's and T20 players through International and domestic performances should get nod.

  • Aswin on July 16, 2012, 6:32 GMT

    @ yaa_right you dont need to belong to a particular country to respect great players!!!!

  • Muthuvel on July 15, 2012, 12:58 GMT

    @ jimmy2s casually ignoring the fact that most of the overseas home games of pak are played in flat pitches of UAE.

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2012, 0:39 GMT

    Irfan pathan is the best of the 3 and if he is fit he should play and bat number 7, that would solve the problem, but problem is he has been injured and had dips in form in his career which hav made his career stop start

  • Ashok on July 14, 2012, 23:06 GMT

    @SamRoy:The article by Harsha is about who is in charge? You say Dravid, Tendulkar & Laxman failed because they were too old!. How did Dravid get 3 centuries in the England series if he was too old? Also "Old" Tendulkar led the batting averages in Australian test series. If somebody was "in charge" & looking after India's concerns they would have brought in new guys to open the innings. Right now U.Chand who played for India U-19 & scored heavily in the Asia cup deserves a chance. Also C.Pujara who led the India A in WI & scored quite a few runs needs to be in the India squad selected for SL. Quite clearly Gambhir & Sehwag are failing overseas against pace. Just saying someone is getting "old" - a fact of life - is not enough! What are we doing to replace older guys? Issues which deserve immediate attention are: Replacement captain for Dhoni at least in Tests, 3 captains for 3 formats, developing Spinners & good seamers, Coaching camps, etc.Nobody takes charge of or champions them!

  • Prashanth on July 14, 2012, 22:24 GMT

    Yet another good article by Harsha!! But, we all know that the real problem source has been BCCI. They haven't learned to be professional yet. Our perennial problem has been lack of genuine fast match-winning bowlers. We used have some batsmen who used to make merry at home, but were sacrificial lambs abroad, and some spinners who used to win matches at home. While the lack of fast bowlers remains the same, but we don;t seem to have genuine match-winning spinners at all. Aging batsmen are not replaced, and the we don't seems to have quality replacements either. So, things seem to be getting worse with time. So, would this be the decline of Indian Cricket...at least in Test Cricket...we can hope only for miracles, because BCCI doesn't seem to be working on any plan.

  • John on July 14, 2012, 20:21 GMT

    This is a good article by Harsha. If anything, it doesn't go far enough; India seems to be putting no effort into bringing along players for anything but the IPL. Techniques suitable for the longer forms of the game seem to be missing among India's young players, both bowlers and batsmen. We're still seeing the old mantra 'India is strong at home', but it's hard to see that carrying on much longer. In the next few months India hosts England and that will be a real test of the strength of both sides. If India can win that series, then they are at least still a force at home. If not, the outlook is bleak.

  • I on July 14, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    @g.narsimha casually overlooking the fact that Pakistan play all their cricket overseas.

  • Ravi on July 14, 2012, 14:35 GMT

    Apart from the failures and issues in test cricket, the failing all rounder in the short formats, we also have the A tour which has once again confirmed inadequacy on foreign soil. That also is part of the store under the carpet. There is also the emphasis on flamboyant temperament and substance rather than substance and right mix of temperament. Which also contributes worthy ones going under carpet. Also more clear policy and decision making on the resources for the 3 formats.

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