August 30, 2013

India progresses amid chaos

While the country's cricket administration has been in turmoil, the results on the field have been heartening
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I have long argued, often with hope rather than expectation, that there should be two Indian cricket teams; one that takes the field and the other that works off it but does everything possible to enable players to become the best they can. Sometimes those two teams can be in conflict, as when playing commercially attractive home games leaves no time to acclimatise overseas. It would seem, then, that for the on-field team to do well, the other would need to be in good form too.

But look at what has happened in the last few months. The team that plays off the field has been in turmoil - being in rather intimate contact with courts, election worries, missing funds, jails, conflicts of interest, enquiry commissions… it's quite a bouquet! Those on the field have, playing away, done extraordinarily well.

The Under-19 and U-23 teams have won, the performance of the A team has been creditable, and the senior team has won the Champions Trophy. It could mean either of two things: one, opportunities in Indian cricket are making player development independent of the prevailing state of the administration (though it could be argued that the administration created the opportunities too). Or, two, that there are two sides to the people who make up the board, that the genuine lover of Indian cricket resides within the same entity as the power-seeking administrator. While the first possibility is worth investigating, my very limited interactions with the BCCI suggest the second is fairly accurate.

But this article is about more familiar territory, the game played inside the boundary ropes, where three sets of players have been given the opportunity of playing a level of cricket above what they are accustomed to.

While Sanju Samson caught the eye in the IPL, Akhil Herwadkar and Vijay Zol - his U-19 team-mates - are names we need to watch out for. U-23 players are more familiar, but certain names, like Lokesh Rahul, Manprit Juneja, Baba Aparajith, and Akshar Patel linger.

But you tend to watch the A team performances most closely, especially if the national coach is with the side too. A couple of clear signals have emerged from their trip to South Africa. In the second of the Tests, with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma rested, India A had the option of opening with Ajinkya Rahane. Instead Cheteshwar Pujara went up the order and Rahane played at No. 3, which would suggest that Rahane's future is no longer as an opener.

It has implications for where he plays for Mumbai. He could, of course, seek to open the batting under the widely accepted principle that it is easier to come down the order than it is to move up. Alternatively, he could stay at No. 3, where a slot might just emerge if Pujara is thought of as a long-term opening batsman. Ideally, of course, you look for openers and there are three who have caught the eye: Lokesh, Unmukt Chand and Jiwanjot Singh.

A lot of India's bowlers get marooned in the 125-132 kmph band and even if they do break free occasionally and reach 140, they seem to drift back to 130

The other noticeable signal was that while Dinesh Karthik is India's second-choice wicketkeeper in one-day internationals, Wriddhiman Saha is clearly the nominee in longer cricket. Both played the second A game in Pretoria but Saha kept wicket in both innings. It is another indicator of the depth that is emerging in Indian cricket that so many choices are presenting themselves.

Ishwar Pandey took seven wickets in the first Test, and I remember Kapil Dev speaking very highly of him during the Irani trophy. Pandey has the build, the fluency, and the ability but not the pace yet.

It is something that Indian cricket needs to work on. Unless you can move the ball like Vernon Philander, or for that matter Bhuvneshwar Kumar, there isn't a lot of hope for bowlers who only bowl in the 125-132 kph band. A lot of India's bowlers get marooned there and even if they do break free occasionally and reach 140, they seem to drift back to 130. It is a question that the new crop of Jaidev Unadkat, Mohit Sharma, Siddarth Kaul, Mohammad Shami and Pandey need to ask themselves: do they stay 130 and vulnerable, or strive to reach 140? Or do they become genuine swing bowlers at 135? More crucially, does India have the knowhow to keep bowlers at around 140? Of that, there is little evidence at the moment.

The India A games also suggested that Parvez Rasool is worth investing in. His home association is on oxygen and so India cannot depend on Jammu and Kashmir to help him grow as a bowler. Maybe he needs to play somewhere else, even if that means diluting a wonderful story. Rasool must do what is right for him and for India, and if J&K cricket insists on being in a mess, it should be ready to lose him. I believe, though, that cricket in the valley, like football in the country's north-east, can be a wonderful way of integrating people of the region.

On the field, Indian cricket is looking very promising. Organising these away games suggests that even in the midst of turmoil, some good decisions are being taken.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Raki99 on September 4, 2013, 17:35 GMT

    I think we are way ahead of other national teams. England is only succeeful becasue of their south african imports. Other than that look what they have found in last couple years is only one good batsman joe root, australia is going to be in mess for a long time. west indies is mess for almost last 13 years, pakistan has not recoverd from the waqar wasim exit and have no good batsman in line. new zealand is new zealand. SAffers are also not good when stem and buch gets injured they will be doomed as we have seen them struggling when they don't play. So i think we are way ahead of others, only thing we need to find is couple good fast bowlers who can bowl at 140 and we would be a good team.

  • Naresh28 on September 4, 2013, 7:06 GMT

    @ryanharris - Facts speak for themselves. Just look at where Kohli is today - he emerged as captain of U19, best batsman and won a WC trophy for India. Today there was even better news for him WHEN KIRSTEN spoke highly of this Indian player:- http://www.espncricinfo.com/india/content/story/668183.html They will graduate to next level by playing for India. There are shortcomings in team india - lack of express pace bowlers and this is made up by better batsman and spinners.

  • irishhawks on September 3, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    I don't agree Mr Harsh....Have a look at Test record of India...Shameful...8 straight heavy losses..loses to formidable England at home....defeat depleted Aussies...So we are not invincible at home too...Okay One day record is better...But true measure of Great Team is measured by its performance in Tests..... Frankly speaking we have bunch of good cricketers who are over rated..Thats it... Over rated fast medium bowlers...over rated Off spinner....story goes on and on...

  • jay57870 on September 3, 2013, 2:41 GMT

    A year ago Bhogle was concerned about Indian cricket. He wrote: "Who's in charge of India's resources?" & "India's bowling cupboard is empty, not thinly stocked"! He complained that "A team tours, thoughtful in theory, are being marred by roulette-selections". Now he's singing the praises: "performance of the A team has been creditable". So what happened to "empty"? Well, the "bowling cupboard" was adequately stocked after all, given the teams' creditable performances this year. It did not happen suddenly. It's this mindset of "cupboard" that's flawed: like some static furniture where things are stored & forgotten. Rather look at it as a dynamic "pipeline of talent" that flows continuously into a large talent pool. India is estimated to have a large base of ~550 first-class cricketers. Martin Crowe provides a compelling argument: "It's simple mathematics. The nations with larger player bases (eg India) will ultimately win out, now that the format numbers have increased permanently"!

  • QingdaoXI on September 2, 2013, 10:44 GMT

    The future Indian Test Team Should Be like Dhawan, pujara, Rahane, Rohit, Kohli, Zol/Jadeja, Dhoni, Ashwin/Ojha, Bhuvanesh, Umesh, Aaron/Ishwar/ Ishant, Saha, with Rayudu, Jiwanjot, L.Rahul and Chand in extras.

  • pitch_it_up on September 1, 2013, 18:20 GMT

    While the players from on-field team are penalized and jailed for wrong doings, how can we let off culprits from the off-field team, who are the custodians of the game in the country!!?? We can probably let off players caught cheating, but should not leave corrupt officials...never!! Else, its a big shame!!! And total injustice to the on-field team who sweat it out under the sun!

  • jay57870 on September 1, 2013, 10:30 GMT

    Crowe argues that with 3 formats in international cricket, it's necessary to have a large base to field 3 teams. Selecting teams "with minimal overlap between them, with individuals specialising in each format, you will maximise the opportunity of winning. But if you have to play individuals across all 3 teams, then body & mind will be compromised". He cites the case of Australia where its once excellent 6-team Sheffield competition has now become its weakness. That's why Bhogle's reduced 15-team domestic system proposed for India is fraught with danger. As is his formula of the "best 15 should be in the national side & the next 15 on A tours". It simply does not add up. Look at the demands of 3 formats, 24x7, & associated risks - injuries, fatigue, personnel issues, rotation policies, form, fitness, attrition & weather. Remember the disasters in Eng & Oz. India has hit the bottom & is back on the ascendancy. There's plentiful talent & (yes) "good decisions are being taken", Harsha!!

  • jay57870 on September 1, 2013, 10:18 GMT

    Harsha - Yes, Indian cricket is progressing, because of & (yes) in spite of BCCI! More to the point, the selectors are doing the job well. In fact, veteran Chandu Borde says: "We have so much talent in our country today that we can easily field two teams (of equal strength)"! Coming from a former chairman of selectors (twice), Borde's words carry extra weight. That said, it's not the same as Bhogle's strange definition of on-field & off-field teams. Whatever it means, India is bouncing back - from the disastrous 2011-12 Tests & present administrative turmoil - rather well. These teams - Test, A, U-19 & U-23 - have performed remarkably well in 2013. That's a lot of players! But this large player base did not happen overnight. Credit BCCI for investing & reaching out to all corners of the nation in scouting & developing a large pool of talent for selectors to tap into. India's developed a unique home-grown cricket system that's feeding its talent pool well, with quality bench strength.

  • dummy4fb on August 31, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    That Ajinkya Rahane is not considered as an opener for Tests by the team management was clear when they played him in the middle order and made Pujara to open in the 4th Test against Australia. For Mumbai also he is now playing only at No.3. Unfortunately for him he appeared a bit overawed by the occassion and could not capitalise on his opportunity. But his knock of 86 against S.Africa in a very tough match situation has helped him remain in contention for one of the middle order spots for the Test matches in South Africa but he will have to face tough competition from Ravindra Jadeja and Rohit Sharma.

  • orangtan on August 31, 2013, 5:26 GMT

    Let's not get carried away, the India A team's defeat to SA in the second "Test" was devastating, again an inability to cope with good pace bowling. Iwatched the U-23 team perform in Singapore,and except for Lokesh Rahul, none of the others were convincing' They were humbled by a good pace attack from Afghanistan, and were lucky to find the Pakistani batsmen in prodigal from in the final. Particulary disappointing was Unmukt Chand's performance, barely a year after his heroics in the Under-19 tournament in Australia. Perhaps there was too much hype about him and he could not cope with it ?