BCCI agrees to send players early to South Africa
The BCCI has approved the Indian team management's request to send a group of Test players early to South Africa to get "acclimatised" to the conditions and make up for the absence of practice games before the three-Test series that begins on December 16. It is not yet clear who the concerned players are and how many will be part of the group which is expected to depart immediately after the third Test against New Zealand on November 24. India and New Zealand play a five-match ODI series that concludes on December 10, six days prior to the first Test in Centurion.
Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI's chief administrative officer, confirmed the development, stating the request had come from coach Gary Kirsten. "The plan now is to send some of the Test players early. The team management and the coach expressed the desire that there is a need for acclimatisation in South Africa," Shetty said. In his discussions with the board, Kirsten had emphasised the importance of early preparation and had pointed out India's 1-2 series defeat on their last trip to South Africa in 2006-07. Back then, India were ranked No. 4 on the Test ladder. However, this time, India go into the series at No.1, a ranking they've held on to since beating Sri Lanka in December 2009.
The board's nod is a small victory for Kirsten, who has been busy putting a structure in place as part of his plans for the future. It is understood that as early as February this year Kirsten asked the BCCI to consider rescheduling the home series against New Zealand. He wanted to cull the three-Test series to two. This would have served the dual purpose of giving rest to the core group of seven to eight players and providing them ample time to recover to get an early feel of South African conditions. But the board's response was not favourable at first.
However, immediately after the Sri Lanka series in August this year, Kirsten was informed that a few Test players could leave for South Africa early. Kirsten then sent an email - a copy of which is available with ESPNcricinfo - to this team management. "There is no change to NZ schedule and we will play last ODI on the 10th Dec," the e-mail read. "It has however been agreed to get as many Test players as possible to South Africa early and we will rotate players during ODI series against NZ."
For the ongoing ODI series against Australia, at least five first-choice players were rested in order to keep them fresh for the Test series. Shetty mentioned that the same exercise would be repeated in the five-match ODI series against New Zealand. He said his was part of the drill to keep the Indian team in the perfect shape for the World Cup.
"The process has started already. Except MS Dhoni, no senior player is there in the present ODI team (for the Australia series). Despite that our team performed really well yesterday. I hope this will work because this is one way the team management is working out a plan towards the World Cup," Shetty said. At the same time, he said, it was an opportunity for youngsters to excel and make a point in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Dhoni had recently echoed these sentiments. India play 12 more ODIs before the World Cup, hosted jointly by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, gets underway in February next year, and Dhoni wanted to make sure his first-choice players aren't hampered by fatigue or injury. "In last few series, we have not played with our strongest side and rested most players. Maybe injuries were a bit more concern, we are a bit cautious," said Dhoni. "We don't want our big players to get injured before a tournament especially when it's happening in India. Hopeful everyone will get fit for World Cup."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo