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Sins of omission

November 28, 2003 23:41 IST

When discussing the doings of a body, it is pertinent to name the members thereof.

Since a BCCI body named 'Tours and Fixtures Committee' is the theme of the day, I tried to get the names of the five members.

A colleague in Mumbai called up BCCI official Anil Dalpat; he, however, did not have the names ready to hand. My colleague then called the board's joint secretary Ratnakar Shetty -- who, too, did not know offhand the names comprising this panel, and would need to look it up tomorrow.

So sorry, therefore, can't name the guys. Take it from me, though, that such a committee exists; that it comprises five men; that all five are honorary officials tasked with nailing down the details of India's cricketing commitments, both at home and away.

In a sense, it is appropriate to refer to them as The Committee, rather than by individual name. Remember the famous definition of committee, which goes: 'A body with no heart to appeal to, and no butt to kick?'

Consider the latest doings of this body. Earlier this week, the Indian touring side played its first warm-up game in Australia. A warm-up game, by definition, is supposed to prepare you for the rigours of international combat; to this end, the venues and conditions need to duplicate, as much as possible, what the touring side will face in the Test series to follow.

India played its first warm-up game on one of the blandest pitches Australia could produce; the obvious intention is to leave the team undercooked ahead of the Test series.

Tomorrow, India plays its second, and final, warm-up game -- against, hold your breath, the Queensland Cricket Academy; which means it does not even qualify as a first-class fixture. How is this supposed to prepare a team for the first Test at the Gabba against the all-conquering Australians?

There is no point blaming Australia for taking what appears to be an unfair advantage. The fault lies entirely with us, and that fault has a name – unprofessionalism.

Teams like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (and it is surely no coincidence that these three are on top of the Test tables?) send recce teams to the host country. Senior officers of the board head these teams; they include a players' representative. And the team travels to every one of the proposed venues; they examine the conditions -- accommodation, practice facilities, pitches and outfields, even the quality and strength of the opposition teams that will play warm-up games.

If the recce team is not satisfied with any or all of these factors at any of the venues, they tell the host country so, and ask for -- and get -- a change. Before the team leaves the host country, every single item of the itinerary is nailed down; every care is taken to ensure that when the visiting team lands in the host country, all that is possible has to be done to ensure perfect preparation ahead of the actual Test series.

Did we recce the conditions ahead of this Australian tour? No. Did we sit with the Australian Cricket Board, to insist on the kind of pitches we needed for our warm-up games? No. Did we examine the quality of opposition we would face in these warm-up games, to ensure that the team would have adequate preparation ahead of a tough Test series? No.

Consider this: On tour, the first real opposition the tourists will face is Australia A, at Hobart. We will play this fixture over three days beginning December 12. By then, two Test matches would have been completed, and the damage would have been done.

Look at India's tour schedule in totality. The team lands in Australia and straightaway heads into a warm-up game on a docile track against opposition that was deliberately kept strong in batting and not as strong in bowling (that India struggled against even this under-strength attack is a different story). It then takes on the young kids of a state coaching academy (anyone reckon Australia, when it comes touring here next year, will settle for a warm-up game against, say, the Mumbai cricket academy, assuming such an entity exists?).

Thus, the team heading into the first Test would not have been really pushed; its batsmen will be underprepared for the sort of bowling Jason Gillespie and his cohorts will unleash at Brisbane and at Adelaide.

And then, after two Tests, when the team needs to go through an easy game, just to sort things out, it will get really pushed by Australia's hopefuls, ahead of the Tests in Melbourne and Sydney.

From an Australian point of view, everything is just perfect. It couldn't be more skewed against India, if we deliberately set out to make it this way. And for this, we have The Committee to thank.

Crucially, this is not the first time the Indian cricketers have found themselves in this plight. Consider this article -- again, referring to a series against Australia -- written way back in December 2000.

Consider the mess-up that was caused then. Did we learn from that? No.

Consider, too, relevant excerpts from the board's statement of expenditure, incorporated in that article. You can safely bet on this -- the latest balance sheet (which I don't have to hand, here in NYC) will certainly show that the disparity between the money spent on cricket, and the money spent on committees, will have grown even more.

The BCCI, it would appear, is aptly named; the acronym expands into the Board of Control for Committees in India.

India goes on tour; India gets thumped; Indian players get flayed alive in the media and by the fans. Do we at any time consider whether the management -- selectors who pick players for reasons other than cricket; committees that don't do what they are committed to do; officials who are there to remind us that 'honorary' and 'honourable' are not synonyms -- has anything to do with the results we achieve? Or fail to achieve? No.

Finally, is there any point to writing all this? Again, no. 'No heart to appeal to, no butt to kick', remember?

Earlier column: Terms of Endearment

Prem Panicker