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February 16, 1999
What a farce!
Indian cricket administration reminds me of nothing as much as a film-set. The facade is wonderfully detailed, superbly authentic -- but when you tap on the 'walls', there is nothing there but cardboard, and scaffolding.
This is borne home most powerfully by the announcement that on February 19, the provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup will be pruned to 19, from which the final 15 will be selected later.
Beats me, this. On the basis of what evidence, exactly, is the pruning going to be done? Barring the regular members of the Indian squad, none of the others have appeared in any one-day tournaments worth the name -- so we are obviously headed for a situation where the selectors will first pencil in the regulars, then play lottery with the rest, to fill up the quotas -- with both selectors, and the Board, peppering us all the while with wonderful sound-bytes about how well the World Cup campaign is getting along.
Throw your mind back to the period September-October 1998, for a moment. Between September 12-20, the Indian team played five ODIs against Pakistan in Toronto. And then flew directly to Zimbabwe, for three more pajama games between the 26th and 30th of that month.
In other words, the team played 8 ODIs over a span of 18 days -- and yet, immediately thereafter, they were pushed into the Challenger Series in Ahmedabad, featuring India, India A and India B, between October 14 to 16.
The reason given? 'The Wills International Cup, with all nine Test nations participating, begins on October 24. It is a prestigious tournament, so the selectors would like to see all probables in action before picking the best possible team for the event'.
Very impressive, this selectorial desire to send, for the mini World Cup, nothing but the very best, and to cull that 'best' from the 33 most likely prospects.
But when it comes to the real thing, the 1999 World Cup in England, neither the Board, nor the selectors, appear to feel the need for any such in-depth effort, do they?
I mean, 30 names are announced. Four days from now, 11 of those 30 will be politely told that they have no further part to play in India's World Cup hopes. And these 11 will have been axed without their having, in the interim, played one single limited overs game.
Four more players from the pruned list of 19 are then going to be axed, when the final 15 is picked -- and those four, too, will be axed for no fault of theirs.
In sum, their selection was arbitrary, their axing will be more so. And that is symptomatic of how we run our cricket.
After all, the World Cup dates were known well over a year ago -- if 'forward planning' formed part of the BCCI's management style, it would have been the simplest matter to arrange for a Challenger Series, or even send an India A team, packed with the probables, to England, or elsewhere, for a short ODI series in order to have a close look at their abilities, and fitness for the biggest stage of them all.
There is, however, one itsy-bitsy silver lining -- once the Asian Test Championship is over and done with, India two one day tournaments: the triangular at home, involving Pakistan and Sri Lanka, followed by a triangular in Sharjah, with Pakistan and England joining India there.
The final of the Sharjah tournament is on April 16 -- and later that month, the Indian Cup team is scheduled to go to England, for acclimatisation and warm-up games ahead of its first game on May 19.
True, conditions in India and Sharjah are the antithesis of what the team can expect in England -- but again, it is a shade too late in the day to be worrying about it.
What can be done, for starters, is to bring consultant coach Bobby Simpson down on, or before, March 22 -- the day on which India plays its first game of the triangular series at home, against Sri Lanka.
As it stands, Simpson is scheduled to join the team in England in late April -- which to my mind is way too late. Once the team gets there, the focus will be on adapting to the cold and to the on-field conditions, not on fine-tuning existing techniques and learning new ones. Which is why it is important that Simpson get here now, and go through with the team -- for starters, he will be able to observe each player at first hand and make relevant suggestions that the players can then put into practise in subsequent games, and for another, there will be a continuity to the coaching effort.
Failing this, we are faced with a situation where Gaekwad alone will take the team through the next two months -- and then, just before the Cup, when the team has enough on its plate to coach with, they will find the consultant joining them and, for all one knows, turning the team's thinking on its head.
The other day, I was watching this television promo, wherein the stars of 1983 get together to hype India's chances in the upcoming competition.
Apparently, the idea is to give the side a morale boost ahead of the World Cup. I guess there is some method in that madness, but I'm damned if I know where it lies -- are the Indian team members supposed to be spending the time between now and May 19 sitting before the television and being inspired by a commercial?
That bit of hype, let us face it, is for us guys who spend our lives before the television, doing our blood pressure a bit of no good as we follow the fortunes of our team.
What the Board could do, however, is to bring together some of the key players of the 1983 Cup-winning squad -- the names of Kapil Dev, Jimmy Amarnath, Sunny Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri et al spring to mind. (As do the likes of E A S Prasanna and Bishen Bedi, the latter holding the cachet of the meanest bowling spell in Cup history, to work with the spinners).
These players should be officially invited by the Board, to form part of a think-tank that will monitor the team's performances between now and the competition proper, point out problem areas as they arise, suggest remedial action and, in general, help the coach(es) and captain get the team into peak shape.
Last year, when the team assembled in Madras for a coaching camp under Simpson's aegis, Kapil Dev had come down for a day. He spent a three-hour session with the players in the nets, and both Srinath and Agarkar later told us that Kapil's visit had been immensely beneficial.
Later that evening, Kapil then got the entire team together, and spoke to them about the 1983 World Cup campaign, about playing in England, about the need for commitment. It was, according to the players, a passionate speech from a passionate cricketer -- the kind that stiffens the spine, that lifts the morale, that infuses in you the desire to perform...
In course of that day, I had a chance to interview the ace pace bowler -- and the most shocking thing he said then was that he was not in Madras at the invitation of the board, but on his own personal initiative.
A week later, Sunny Gavaskar in his column wrote of how he had indicated to the Board his willingness to go down to Madras, to be with the team during the camp, and of how, for four days, he hung around waiting for the board to respond to his offer.
There was, if you need telling, no response whatsoever.
Our cricket establishment displays virtuousity bordering on genius when it comes to ignoring the riches right below its nose, when it comes to wasting our talents.
But with the World Cup around the corner, it would seem to be about time cricket officialdom wakes up and smells the coffee, as it were. Now would seem the time to get organised, to give the team its best shot at mounting a winning campaign.
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