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May 9, 2000

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A lotus in the distance

Harsha Bhogle

Out of evil, the sages have always told us, emerges something good. Remember how often you have been told of how the lotus blooms in the backwater, a symbol of beauty in an atmosphere of filth. And so it is with all of us, out of diversity emerge the noblest thoughts. Happily, this reality has been forced onto the BCCI as well and that is, thus far, the only silver lining to the conduct of the game in India.

Summoned by the minister for sport, and faced with the prospect of an enquiry into their working (and the last thing we want is for the government to have control over the conduct of the game in India), the BCCI promised to produce a five-year vision statement. Isn't that magnificent? Now, will they produce a serious document and put it up for scrutiny by intelligent followers of the game? Or will they do a Chandrachud Report on it? Honestly, at this stage, I donít care as long as somebody puts his mind to it.

The problems before Indian cricket are many. But they are out there in the open for everyone to see. It does not require great intelligence to identify three or four core issues. What it needs is a commitment to implement them and we don't have that at the moment.

But there is a sad, very sad, aspect to this. A 'vision statement', normally one of the first documents that any organisation prepares had to be coerced out of the BCCI. Do you remember having to coerce your mother to feed you? Therein lies the real reason why Indian cricket is so utterly directionless. A vision statement is a document that tells you, and everyone involved with your organisation, where you want to go and what you want to achieve. The BCCI is the mother organisation that nurtures the game in this country. You would have thought they had a five-year plan ready. No, they want time to start preparing one !

Now ask yourself: can you go somewhere if you don't know where to go? Do you get onto a train without a ticket that has your destination on it? Why, even those that don't buy tickets know where they are going to get off !

But the poor man doesn't complain and so we must sometimes look to what we have. We now have a stated promise, if not a desire, to produce a five-year plan. Often, the most successful actions emerge out of a simple thought and this could be the starting point. I believe, a vision statement is staring us in the face, we don't need to look too far to find one. This is what I would do if I were given an hour to produce one, which is actually much less than the time it takes to write this piece!

I would start with the promise that whatever I do will be for the good of Indian cricket and the team that represents it. If you are only a casual observer of Indian cricket, then let me welcome you to the reality that the good of Indian cricket is not always at the heart of most decision making. We have had some terrible managers, incompetent doctors, biased selectors and cruel administrators. Their love did not extend to Indian cricket, it stopped at them.

I would put together a plan for the development of talent in Indian cricket. Unless you have a very small player base, like Zimbabwe or maybe, New Zealand, talent is never a problem. It is what you do with it that separates one organisation from another. New Zealand and Zimbabwe work very hard on what they have and especially with New Zealand, their recent results reflect that. Sadly in India, while we have an established series of age-group tournaments, the talent they throw up is left largely to itself. So when our players compete at levels where talent counts for more, they do well. When more scientific and acquired skills come in, we are lost. That is why our 18 and 19 year olds are among the best in the world. By the time they are 23 or 24, they start looking average.

I would have a scheme where the best 18 or 19 year olds are pulled out and are taught the reality of world cricket; that their talent will soon count for less than fifty per cent; that their athletic and mental skills will become just as important and my academy will concentrate on making them athletes and well rounded individuals. And they will be lectured on ethics and character. Long after they finish the game they will use these two most magnificent vehicles to spread the game wherever they go.

Apart from creating a stream for cricketers, I will create a scheme for coaches. Today our coaches are in a time-warp, they look like they are in black and white movies. And I will not hesitate to bring the best coaches from overseas, not to teach our cricketers but to teach our coaches. We need a fresh wind to carry fresh pollen to our lands so stronger trees may emerge.

And more than anything else, I will look at the way we play our domestic cricket. That is the feeder system and if that is dry, and it is looking increasingly like that at the moment, there isnít a chance that the national team will flower. There is talk now of splitting the Ranji Trophy into two divisions and while that might create a reasonably competitive senior division, it will still leave us with too many first class cricketers and consequently, too much easy cricket. At first class level, you cannot have more than 15 or 16 teams and I would be happy to split those into groups of 8 each.

I would also strive to bring high quality television into domestic one-day cricket. With the top eight teams playing, the quality of cricket would go up, the value of performances would be acknowledged and if beamed all over India, it would add an extra edge to the cricket. But the telecast must not, as in recent times, drive people away. It must hold audiences and that is not really as difficult as we sometimes allow ourselves to believe.

I would cast a very strong look at scheduling so that our team is ready to play anywhere. You cannot have them going to a country like Australia after 8 years and hope to win. I donít know when we go to Australia again, in fact I donít know where we go in the next twelve months. Neither do the cricketers ! We must have a more judicious mixture and the teams that are doing well are doing just that. For example we havenít been to England for four years now. We cannot unless England come here first and that doesnít happen till the winter of 2001. So the next time we go to England there will have been a huge gap as well. We make things difficult for ourselves sometimes !

Finally, I would look at the pitches. Good tracks produce good cricket and that in turn produces good cricketers. We have talked about that and we have done nothing and that is what I worry most about this 'vision statement'. Will it end up being a document to be stored and, if polite, periodically dusted? Or will someone have to review progress every year based on what the statement promises?

I think I know the answer. But I am going to let it be. For momentarily at least, I have seen a lotus in the distance.

Harsha Bhogle

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