The questions that Amit poses are interesting ones, and I think Indian cricket is nearer to finding the answers than it’s ever been.
Are there enough world-class bowlers out there? Yes, and no. Some of the pace-bowling talent that has come through is outstanding. Provided they can stay fit and enthusiastic, and steer clear of the glamour-laziness route that plagued a couple of their predecessors, Munaf Patel and S Sreesanth will have a lot more to offer. Rudra Pratap Singh has already given glimpses of his potential, and Vikram Raj Vir Singh will certainly improve with time and experience. He certainly has the raw pace to trouble batsmen. The key is not to expect too much too soon.
As Greg Chappell told this writer recently, most of these kids have not played too much high-level cricket, and they will break if too much is asked of them. Someone like Lakshmipathy Balaji – India’s best pace bowler in two consecutive series against Pakistan – still has a role to play, and the larger the pool of talent, the better. With the schedules as they are, none of these young bowlers should be playing more than 10 Tests and 20 ODIs in a year.
As for the next step needed, I’d like to believe that small ones have already been taken. The National Cricket Academy and its feeders, the MRF Pace Foundation and other clinics conducted by the likes of Frank Tyson, are producing cricketers whose skills and fitness are comparable to their peers anywhere in the world. Time was when Indian fielding, with a few notable exceptions, was a joke. No longer. When Chappell reckons that Suresh Raina has the potential to be as great an allround fielder as Mark Waugh, you know that things have certainly changed.
General fitness has improved too. Look at someone like MS Dhoni, and the way he batted in the infernal heat at Jamshedpur. The running between the wickets is purposeful, the youngsters employ methods like relay throws, and most importantly, they look naturals out there.
As for being coach, well, those would be very big boots to fill after the sterling work done by John Wright and Chappell. Firstly, a settled selection panel to replace this ridiculous 12-month system. There’s only one place to look, and that’s Australia. Trevor Hohns may have gone now, but he and the likes of Lawrie Sawle put a system in place.
Secondly, we need to get rid of the celebrity syndrome. Great players don’t necessarily make great coaches or selectors. Most of them are not even remotely interested anyway. I find it laughable when people take potshots at the likes of Sanjay Jagdale because he wasn’t some legend in his playing days. At least he watches cricket, and is passionate about the team’s progress. How many so-called legends can put hand on heart and say the same thing?
The other area with obvious room for improvement is domestic cricket. You do get better contests these days with the Elite-Plate system in place, but a way has to be found to ensure that the best players in the land can play at least the final stages of the Ranji Trophy. If the BCCI really wants to flex its muscles with regard to the Future Tours Programme, these are the kind of issues it should be focusing on. At least have a month in February or March when the top players can play for their sides. You only need to look at Uttar Pradesh, and the presence of Kaif and Raina last season, to see the benefits.
Another thing a lot of us would like to see is transparency. Whether someone’s dropped or selected, all it needs is a line from the selection panel explaining exactly why. It stops the innuendo and the conspiracy theories. When someone like Sourav Ganguly, who led the side with distinction for years, is cast aside, the least he deserves is a good reason.
The last ingredient? Well, something that’s constantly missing thanks to the multitude of TV channels and newspapers who feel a pressing need to create a crisis even when there is none – patience. India has never been the best team in the world, and this team – good as it is in the one-day format – still needs a lot of work. A lot more appreciation of the efforts put in, and a little less effigy-burning, would be a good place to start.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo