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August 31, 2001

Too much of a good thing

Prem Panicker

I wonder if you guys read this report?

Says here, South African expert Dr Mark Ferguson believes that all Sachin Tendulkar needs to do is make a slight adjustment to his cricketing boots, and all will be well.

???!!!! You mean to say the nation went ballistic about Tendulkar's toe for two whole months, doctors of varying pedigree and reputation came up with such erudite analysis supported, in some instances, with diagrams and charts -- and it was this simple all along?

And further, that Tendulkar had to go from one hemisphere to the other to find out that all it took was a change in footwear? If that is true, it seems to raise questions about the kind of medical backup the Indian cricket team is getting.

Ian Botham It also reminds me, tangentially, of one of the funniest quotes I've come across in recent times. The comment refers to English cricketer Alex Tudor, arguably the most serious hypochondriac among contemporary cricketers, the sort of guy who talks one day of 'a niggle in the foot', on another of 'a little something in the back', on the third of 'I donno, ah, something, there's something in my hip'....

Former all-round great Ian Botham finally couldn't keep his exasperation in check, so he goes, "Damn right he has something in his hip -- it's called a bone!"

Pure Botham, that -- to the point, savage, and side-splitting.

The day also brought another trigger for my memory -- this time, it relates to my grandmother. Who once visited a relative's household, one which contained among other things, a cow. Seems the relative's idea of maintenance was to let the animal loose in the morning to forage for itself, and tie it up again at night.

Grandmom, bless her memory, did for it what she did during her lifetime for her children and for at least one grateful grandchild -- she got into caring mode. Thus, come morning, she'd cut grass and tie it up into bite size pieces which she would meticulously feed the cow, by mid-morning she was mixing a high protein, high carbohydrate bucket of stuff for it to drink, early evening it would get a good rub-down, and so on.

Till the exasperated relative commented, "Please, could you stop? Tomorrow, you'll go away but the damn cow will expect us to continue all this!"

I feel like saying something of the kind to Dr A C Muthiah, president of the Board of Control for Cricket. Of late, he seems to have woken up from a deep dream of peace, and gotten into overdrive with a series of measures that can only do Indian cricket a world of good.

Dr. A C Muthiah Trouble is, at the rate he is going we just might -- like my relative's cow -- get used to all this good stuff. And then, come late September, there will be another election. And if Muthiah loses and some other chappie comes along, we will probably go back to business as usual.

Jokes aside, the idea of sending the team to South Africa a good 15 days ahead of schedule in order to allow time for acclimatisation is brilliant. Or at least, it is normal if you are thinking of the more enlightened teams -- South Africa, Australia, England and, on the famous occasion of the 1992 World Cup, even Pakistan -- have all demonstrated the virtues of acclimatisation. But what is normal for other teams is brilliant for the BCCI, if only because in the recent past the board hasn't shown much sign of thinking of what is good for the team.

It was different in the past, when schedules were drawn up with sufficient emphasis on acclimatisation time and warm-up games. But not after the game became so lucrative -- given the chance, the board has preferred to sneak in one more ODI series, rather than give the team time to settle down to the conditions in the host country.

Even with ref the upcoming South Africa tour, you have to remember that the original idea was for the team to go to Australia, play three ODIs, and then fly direct to South Africa and, almost, drive from the airport to the ground for its first game. Then that series was scrapped, because a section of the board hoped to finagle a Test against Pakistan.

Makes you wonder. Today, Jaywant Lele in his spokesperson's role says that the board has decided there is no point in having a training camp in India, because the conditions in South Africa are different. By that logic, then, how did the selfsame board think of having India play Pakistan in Pakistan, just ahead of the South African tour? Is it anyone's contention that conditions in Pakistan closely mirror what you get in South Africa?

Mercifully, the Pakistan adventure died still born. And as things stand, the board deserves all the credit going for deciding to pick the team early, and give it plenty of time for acclimatisation in South Africa itself.

Now, like Oliver Twist, we find ourselves hoping for more. Here's a wish list:

1) Pick the Test team on September 7, while picking the one day squad. And send the Test players along with the ODI team, so that they too can acclimatise and get stuck into the local conditions well ahead of the three-Test series against the Proteas. Sure, it will cost a bit -- but not so very much if you think about it. After all, airfares have to be paid anyway, irrespective of when the players leave, so the only expense is accomodation -- and a board that can pay consultant Rodney Marsh Rs 26 lakh for making three trips to India a year can surely afford to accomodate a handful of players for a week or so.

2) Send a team of top-flight ex-cricketers to South Africa now, with the brief of liaising with the South African board and ensuring that India gets the best of facilities for its training camp. Said facilities to include practise pitches that are a reasonable facsimile of the ones generally found in Test grounds in that country, and sufficient numbers of local bowlers to bowl in the nets. Get the details nailed down, put on paper, and signed by the UCBSA.

This last thought owes to a memory of India's last tour of South Africa. On that occasion, the Indians were given a three-day practise game at St George's Park, Port Elizabeth -- on a wicket the players characterised as the slowest they had ever played on in their careers. And then hustled, 48 hours later, straight onto the fastest wicket seen in the world at that point in time, at the Kingsmead Oval in Durban.

Similarly, ahead of the first Test, when the Indians turned up for nets, there were no local bowlers around -- creating a situation where the Indians tuned up for taking on the likes of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock by facing the bowling of then coach Madan Lal in the nets.

When the tourists asked for nets bowlers, they were told by UCBSA officials that it being the Christmas season, none were available. But later in the day, when the home team turned up for practise, local bowlers flooded the ground and queued up to bowl.

Dr. Ali Bacher The incident found prominent mention in sections of the Indian media -- including this site -- at the time. And when then UCBSA chairman Dr Ali Bacher was asked about this in course of an online chat programme on Cricinfo, Bacher said that it had in fact happened, and that "there were reasons for it I cannot discuss."

He doesn't have to -- it is called seizing the home advantage, any way you can. And you can't really fault the UCBSA for trying -- the blame, if any, rests with the board officials of the time, who did not care enough to sit with their counterparts and work out the best deal going for their team, in terms of facilities.

In this respect, they could learn a lesson or three from the officials of the Australian, South African and even English boards. If you look at the constant chopping and changing that is going on with respect to the venues for England's upcoming tour of India, and juxtapose these changes against the dates of the various recent visits by ECB chief executive Tim Lamb, you get the picture -- the English board will fine tune every single thing, examine every single venue, and ensure that the itinerary is as perfect from England's point of view as it is possible to get.

The Indian board needs to learn from that. You didn't really expect them to, during their state of prolonged slumber -- but now that someone seems to have woken up and gotten down to doing the right things at the right times, you find yourself hoping they'll go the whole hog.

Yesterday's Diary: We are like this only

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