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It will take time, and patience

Earlier posts: intro , 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 4.5 , 5 , 6

Prem Panicker
25-Feb-2013
Earlier posts: intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4.5, 5, 6.
This post is in response to the questions raised in this one -- editor.
Amit, the word 'produce' seems to imply a well-planned system, a well-honed assembly line, a premium on R&D.
When has that ever been the case with Indian cricket? Our feeder system has traditionally been the streets and gullies and maidans, where the emphasis is on batting and where bowling well is important only to the extent that if you could get a batsman out, you got a turn at bat.
Bowlers – and we have in fact produced world-class bowlers, from the spin quartet through the Kapil Devs and Javagal Srinaths down to the Kumbles – have till very recently come up despite the system, not because of it in much the same way plants grow in the desert, their will to live triumphing over the conditions.
There was a time when the West Indies in pace, and India in spin, had world beaters sitting on the sidelines unable to break in, because there were even better candidates ahead of them in line. Both nations presumed, at the time, that the well would never dry up, that they could dip the bucket in at will, and haul it up brimful. Both nations, now, are struggling to produce decent performers in what was regarded as their traditional strength.
That should tell us something – in an era where cricket is a high-profile industry into which many other industries are plugged in, you cannot depend on chance, on happenstance, to create your product. It needs thought, planning, sustained work.
We need to realize there is no magic bullet; nothing you can do that will translate into results next week. With that in mind, a good starting point would be to implement and fine tune a pyramidal coaching structure, with the schools, colleges, maidans and local leagues as the broad base, and age-limit, district and state-level teams the stepping stones to the top.
Today, systematic coaching begins only at age-level cricket, or later, by which point you've learnt all the bad habits anyway, and you've left the coach nothing to do but tinker.
Against that, consider a system where there is one national coach. Under him, and interacting with him on a regular basis, the state coaches; under this second tier, the district coaches; under each district coach, assistant coaches in charge of school, college and league-level cricket.
The benefit of such a system is in uniformity – since each tier works in close cooperation with the one immediately above, players working their way up the ranks won't find themselves spun around in circles, encountering new methods at every step.
The obvious add-on to that is continuity. The direction of a national coaching academy cannot be a political favor handed out in return for votes; surely it is ridiculous that the NCA has, since its inception, had its chief changed after every BCCI election? The director needs to be a paid professional, appointed for a specified duration, given a clear brief, and the authority to carry it out; with that responsibility comes its corollary, accountability.
The academy needs to be a year-round enterprise – a school that functions for a fortnight or a month in a year is not likely to throw up scholars of any quality in any discipline; cricket is no exception to that rule.
The national academy needs to plug in to the others dotting the countryside. Coaching today has been turned into a cottage industry by former players, all lobbying their respective state governments for land and facilities, setting up their own little operations and doing their own thing irrespective. Which is fine – but a national academy at the head of a loose confederacy of such private enterprise could be the logical next step.
You brought up the question of the new crop of bowlers. Even as recently as ten years back, the national lament was that a nation of non-meat eaters would never produce fast bowlers, remember? And a decade before that, a certain Kapil Dev was being told by his coach that an Indian fast bowler was an oxymoron, that taking up pace was a mug's game.
Now there is one popping up every other day, each capable of hitting the 140s. The moral of the story –- and this speaks to your question -- is, it can be done, if we want it done. In this department, we have progressed at startling pace – from producing one quality quick per decade, to producing a few every other year. I'd back the trend to continue – if only because success spurs emulation.
Our real problem is we don't have patience – as a team, or as a country. After every game, we start and keep up a drumbeat of criticism, very little of which is analytical; most of it is on the lines of 'Drop X, bring back Y, eviscerate Z'.
To an extent, selectors too have been victims of the malaise. Take for instance the case of Akash Chopra. After years of lamenting the lack of an opener, the John Wright-Sourav Ganguly combine unearthed the Delhi right-hander. They assigned him a role based on his strength – a role, happily, that the team needed filled.
He was told to be the anchor that counterpoints Sehwag's bludgeon; the result was a series of partnerships in Australia that held the new ball bowlers at bay, cushioned the middle, and created the platform for India's outstanding performance in that series.
He seemed to have most of his ducks lined up – tight defense, compact play, good eye for the single and with it, an ability to rotate strike and relieve pressure. It was a building block in the right place – so what did we do? We went 'Oh, yeah, well, the guy only gets 40s; he doesn't convert them; he doesn't score quick enough…'
So, on the back of far fewer failures than the 'stars' have had, out he went; in came the presumably quicker-scoring Gautam Gambhir – who, having learnt from Chopra's example, took to getting off the blocks like a scalded cat, looking to play shots at pretty much everything… he is now out, and we are back to looking for the next great brown hope.
Team building doesn't work that way – especially in the longer form of the game. The management – and to me that has to comprise coach, captain, selectors and the BCCI – has to have a goal, a vision, and the willingness to think long term.
From that base, they need clarity – and unanimity – about the sort of player they want filling each role in the team; they need to then identify the players who fit, or come closest, to those criteria, pick them, fine-tune them, set them goals – and keep the faith.
It will take time, and patience, and will – but in the end, it will achieve lasting results, where the chop and change policy we have relied on through our cricketing history will produce the odd win based on once in a lifetime individual performances, but nothing more.