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The rotation policy, a distinctly Australian innovation, seems to be spreading its tentacles further afield. Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly admitted in Zimbabwe earlier in the week that he was looking at borrowing the idea. "A rotation policy on the lines of the Australian cricket team could help reduce burden on the players" Ganguly said. "They (fringe players) can grow in confidence only if they perform in the middle" he added. Before getting into the merits of Ganguly's suggestion, let's cast a glance at what exactly it entails.
As practised by the Australians, the policy involves the resting - or rotating - of first choice players from the team during the course of a one-day competition. In the Carlton & United Series in January & February this year, not one Australian played all 10 matches. Last month's NatWest Trophy in England saw only captain Steve Waugh and vice captain Adam Gilchrist playing in every game.
Perhaps there has been no more eloquent defendant of the policy then Waugh himself. "We want to give different players exposure to pressure situations, to see how good they are at this level. We don't want to go into the (2003) World Cup having played the same 12 or 13 players for three or four years. If two or three of your main guys get injured just prior to the World Cup you're going to be struggling," explained Waugh after running headlong into criticism in India. Teams omitting frontline players for dead rubbers is hardly new but the Aussies practise it even when the series is at stake in order to put the bench strength under scrutiny.
It led to the odd hiccup, most notably in India when the visitors copped some stick for leaving out Matthew Hayden for the third game at Indore. Having made 99 & 57 in the opening two games on top of a phenomenal 549 runs in the Test series, he was very much the form batsman and Australia paid the penalty with a crushing 118 run defeat. Hayden himself vocally expressed his support on the decision, saying he was feeling jaded and the enforced break did him good. Indeed, giving deserving players a rest to recoup their energies is another intended benefit of rotation. Australia has, of course, won every series since the policy came into vogue, which has done much to silence the critics.
During the Coca-Cola Cup just gone by, India went halfway towards embracing the 'rotation policy on Australian lines', which Ganguly mooted. All 15 members of the touring party were successfully infiltrated at some point or the other in the competition. However the first choice players rotated, Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Harbhajan Singh sat out only after the team qualified for the final.
The intention may have been merely to allow the bowlers, who put their bodies under greater strain, recharge their batteries for the final. But India is far from ready to go the whole hog and rotate out top players from 'live' games for the presumed benefit of testing out the mettle of reserves. The game in this country is increasingly being modelled on the Australian school, the most notable testament being the National Cricket Academy and its various offshoots, but what's good for them is not always good for India.
Australia can afford to rotate because their sheer depth of talent makes for reserve players of high quality, many of whom can be swopped for incumbents without any perceptible fall in standard. India's embarrassment, on the contrary, hails not so much from bountiful riches but from acute poverty. Many positions in the team already lie vacant and require plugging, several recruits having been tested out with no marked success. Tinkering with the places of established players in such circumstances is hardly advisable. The 16 run defeat against the West Indies on Saturday was India's seventh consecutive loss in the final of a one-day series. It's clear the regulars need plenty of practise themselves in the art of coping with pressure. Until then, rotation would commit the old failing of putting the cart before the horse.