Our cricketers are playing more matches than what’s good for them. People have pointed this out before. But with the schedule being at its most merciless this season, it needs to be pointed out again.
Look at India’s itinerary since the World Cup. After returning from the Caribbean on March 29, the players got a break of over a month till their next match (against Bangladesh on May 10). Nice. They needed time to recover from the scars of the humiliation in the West Indies.
But the layoff was a result of India’s early exit from the World Cup and not because the Tours and Programmes Fixtures Committee suddenly turned into Florence Nightingale. Had India, say, reached their projected goal at the World Cup, the semifinals, they would have got just about a fortnight till the Bangladesh tour. <b1>
Post-Bangladesh, it is almost non-stop cricket. In Ireland, England, South Africa, India (two series, against Australia and Pakistan) and finally in Australia from December. It wouldn’t be surprising if the players sometimes didn’t know whether they were coming or Boeing.
Harsh but true
When the Hindustan Times phoned two senior cricket board officials with questions for this article, they refused to talk. They were upset with some of the things written in this series.
But the fact is some aspects of our cricket, like the volume of cricket players have to handle, could be handled better (that said, Indian administrators are not the only ones guilty of driving their cricketers hard). This is not just a media fixation but something the players themselves feel so.
“The schedule is cramped. It’s over-cramped, if you ask me,” Rahul Dravid said during the Bangladesh tour. “At the end of the day, quality is important. As a player, you want to play to the best of your ability and provide people quality cricket.”
In such a situation, you cannot blame people if they think the Board’s focus is on money. Hosting tours shovels in television and advertising moolah.
Nimbus Communications, who hold the telecast rights for all international and domestic cricket to be played in India in the period March 1, 2006 - March 31, 2010, will pay the Board $ 612 million in all. Almost 80 international matches (Tests and One-days) have been scheduled in the period. That means the Board earns $7.6 million per game from television rights.
Away tours are not as profitable. But they are important to sustain the symbiotic relationship between two Boards and ensure that the opposition team plays in India the next time.
But, you might say, the players are party to the circus too. What’s more, they earn money too. True. But most of them wouldn’t mind sacrificing some cash if it meant an opportunity to rest their bodies and spend time with their families.
Some people in the Board refuse to lose sleep over the Indian team’s toss-in-Delhi, lunch-time-in-London, tea-time-in-the Tundra schedule. Others say players always have the option of sitting out of tours once in a while.
That’s what the Big Three – Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid and Sourav Ganguly have done with the Twenty20 World Cup. But they cannot do it beyond a point.
For a variety of reasons - from their form and confidence to their market visibility - most players will not risk opting out of assignments. It’s the Indian cricket team after all, not the London Sightseeing bus. You cannot get off any time and get back on any time.
Where players are at fault
This situation, though, has one negative fallout of which the blame lies with players. Sometimes, they hide injuries, especially those who are not regular members of the side.
A recent example is Munaf Patel, whose less than nippy bowling in South Africa raised suspicions about his physical fitness, prompting Board secretary Niranjan Shah to say, “Munaf should have been honest about his ankle injury.”
Another charge against the players is that there exists a star system in the dressing room. The big names do not like to be challenged.
“It’s a tricky situation,” Sandeep Patil, who was the Indian coach for six months in 1996, said of the job in an interview to Mid-Day in May. “If you are tough, it is not appreciated by the players. If you are soft, the selectors and Board have a problem.”
Idle India ‘A’
But isn’t it true that Indian cricket doesn’t have too many options, even if the stars get starry? Didn’t chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar say that there was no talent in India that could straight away play at international level?
That brings us to the final point in this article – the India ‘A’ team. Everyone knows that bench strength is vital. Australia are in robust health because of their flourishing feeder line.
For example, when Brett Lee did not recover from injury in time for the World Cup, they had a Shaun Tait to go to. The 24-year-old finished with 23 wickets and was joint-second in the wicket-takers chart.
That’s not the case in India. The India ‘A’ tours, meant as stepping stones for those on the cusp of an international break, haven’t taken place with as much frequency. Either that or they have been against weak opposition, thus defeating their very purpose.
The Indian team is going to be out of the country for quite some time now. Guys at the board, it’s an opportunity for you to think things through.
(Do write in with suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Thursday, we look at the player-Board relationship over the years)