Zero – is the number of runs Stuart Broad conceded in the Kolkata Test, which has been his best performance in test cricket for a while. It is also the number of Indians who anticipated a 2-1 score line in England’s favour going into the Nagpur test. It is also the number of test matches Australia, for all their effort, could win against the Proteas at home. It is also the number of 50+ scores that Chris Gayle registered in Bangladesh, against Bangladesh, across 3 formats in 10 innings. It is also the number of test caps that Manoj Tiwary, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra “3 300’s”Jadeja have. Absurdly, astonishingly, the last name on that list seems to be the frontrunner to play his first test, ahead of the other three. Finally, zero also happens to be the number of blog posts I have written over the past 4 months.
Seeking inspiration from Kevin Pietersen and his seamless reintegration into the English side, about which I had written in my previous article all those months ago, I decided to reintegrate myself with my blog and hope it goes as well as it has for KP and the English team. Otherwise, I can always retire like Shahid Afridi, which ensures that I can give you a false feeling of relief and then decide to come back whenever I want to.
|Captain Cool has appeared increasingly clueless of late|
Now to say that things are wrong with Indian cricket is akin to saying Barack Obama is the president of the United States of America or that Ravi Ashwin is India’s most consistent test batsman. It is a fact, it doesn’t need reiteration. Everyone has an opinion on what is wrong and how sacking or replacing one or all of Dhoni, Fletcher and Sachin will put an end to this rut. It may work out that way or it may not. The problem here is that these are all temporary solutions. They may, for now, arrest the slide but it certainly will not halt the decline. Technically, for me, these are top-down solutions. What we really need is a bottom-up solution. We need to stop this rut right at the base, from where it all actually begins. While everyone has highlighted the problems and slammed the concerned stakeholders, very few have actually suggested possible solutions. With my limited knowledge and understanding, I will try and highlight where and how it all actually begins and where it needs to be sorted.
The structure of domestic cricket is the root cause of almost all the problems that cricket, especially test cricket in India faces. Our domestic structure is simply not equipped to produce world beaters. India has produced innumerable talents over the years, but not too many of them can be credited to first class cricket in India. If you need a proof, look no further than the latest selection for the Nagpur test. Harbhajan Singh, who did not even play the Kolkata test, was dropped and his replacement Piyush Chawla, who is not even close to being in the top three first class spinners this season, will now be the third spinner in the India squad. Piyush Chawla, in fact, does not even feature on the list of the top 47 wicket takers this Ranji season so far after 5 matches. It is baffling and worrying in equal measure. It simply indicates that we do not have good quality back up spinners and if something goes wrong with Ashwin or Ojha on match eve, all we are left with is Piyush Chawla who is struggling even in domestic cricket. If that doesn’t worry you, nothing ever will. Ravindra Jadeja is in great form but I don’t know how triple hundreds against Railways and Gujarat on flat tracks can be a yardstick for him to face up to the likes of Anderson, Swann, Finn and Monty. No disregard for him, scoring a triple is no mean feat and he has got two of them this season, but he is a player who has been tried at the international level in ODI’s and T20’s and has not tasted success there as well. So what are the chances of him succeeding at test level? The blame here is in no way attached to Chawla or Jadeja as they do not control the selections, but the blame here is on a domestic structure that produces flat tracks at almost all venues and encourages a team to just chalk out a first innings lead and feel secure. It leads to matches like Maharashtra vs. UP where Maharashtra batted for over 2 days, declared on 764, and UP were stranded on 669 going at nearly 4 an over but still falling short of time to actually overhaul Maharashtra’s total. Such matches are not contests between bat and ball, like cricket ought to be. It takes the bowlers out of the equation and becomes a run fest. In such conditions, in this first class structure, why would anyone want to try and be a bowler? You are certainly much better off scoring a 300 individually, rather than conceding 300 individually on such tracks.
Till our first class system doesn’t prepare sporting tracks and encourage a contest between bat and ball, we are never going to win test matches at home or away from home. Ultimately, irrespective of how many runs your batsmen score, the bowlers have to pick up 20 wickets for you win a test match and in the current scenario, we are a long way away from achieving that. It is far from ideal, that a 34 year old bowler, who is past his prime and almost a liability on the field, is still your spearhead and your best attacking option. Sporting tracks which offer something to the bowlers, even contests between bat and ball, more result oriented matches and a points system with batting and bowling points like County Cricket that encourages fair contests rather than the current first innings fiascos are the way ahead if we have any ambitions of going back to the top of the world test rankings. To produce cricketers who want to emulate Kapil Dev, Srinath, Kumble, Zaheer Khan or the likes of Steyn, McGrath, Ambrose or even Warne, we need to provide conditions that are conducive for them to prosper; not highways or featherbeds where they will be mauled day in and day out.
Another area that needs some desperate attention is the India A team and the India A tours. The real secret of building the best side in the world is not to have the best 11, but to have a pool of about 20 cricketers who are ready to play or step up to the rigors of Test cricket when called upon to do so. That requires a strong development and high performance program which mentors and monitors the “A” team or those next in line, to be ready to step up when the opportunity comes knocking. Again the England set-up with their performance program, the England Lions squad, could be worth emulating. They are always on tours with the senior side and are exposed to a variety of conditions and given the best environment possible so that they can thrive in international cricket when the opportunity arises. Here again, like in the case of the points system, I am not suggesting we blindly ape what other nations do, but if there is a lesson to be learnt, it should be learnt and applied for the betterment of the game.
The India A team recently toured West Indies and New Zealand but the selections and the inconsistencies were so perplexing that it defeated the entire purpose of having an ‘A’ tour in the first place. India’s highest run scorer in the previous Ranji season, Robin Bist was given an opportunity to play only the third of three matches against West Indies 'A' and was subsequently dropped for the NZ tour. Abhinav Mukund, after returning scores of 0, 0, 8, 8, 10 and 20 in West Indies, was named captain for the New Zealand tour. What message was being sent out and what was the thinking behind such decisions, is anybody’s guess.
The way Nick Compton has stood up against the Indian attack in India is a very strong advert for the county game. Yes he has not scored a 100, but he has rarely looked out of place when opening at test level in completely alien conditions. I daresay Cook’s opening partner was a big concern for England before the tour but Compton has allayed all those fears. Yes, it is down to the individual’s grit and hard work but I am sure those heaps of runs in county cricket, season after season have a lot to do with his success at the highest level. If you want to know how much we trust our first class structure in India, ask two people who have scored those heaps of runs just like Compton or a Mike Hussey in first class cricket – Badrinath and Manoj Tiwary. A first class average of 60.57 over 110 matches and 59 over 63 matches respectively, is still not enough for either one to earn a call-up to the squad, let alone play a test for India. That is how much our selectors value first class performances. Unless corrective measures are taken, really fast, the crisis is only going to get worse.
As Harsha Bhogle recently said in one of his columns, “These are worrying times. The cupboard is not bare; it is empty.” All is not lost though, if steps are taken to fill it once again.
|Amul: As usual coming up with the perfect description of the situation|
In the next part of this piece: The administrative problems: the schedule, the IPL, the selectors’ role, captaincy and the lack of communication.