Lack of enough practice games is the most widely cited reason for India's catastrophic tour of England. Don't be surprised if the world's most popular cricket team turns up equally unprepared in Australia in December.
To maximise profit and suit its own interests, the BCCI has packed the schedule so much it will be difficult to slot enough tour games whenever India travel to England, Australia and South Africa. A glance at India's upcoming commitments reveals why it's difficult to squeeze in an additional warm-up game before they enter the Boxing Day Test against Australia."In Australia, we need at least three to four side games before the series starts," said former national selector Sambaran Banerjee. "Because our IPL heroes are proven failures at the highest level and because we don't have sufficient reserves, we must plan our international schedule in great detail. There has to be a committee to look after this."
Banerjee was quick to add that, knowing India's incredibly cluttered calendar, it's beyond remedy. "It has become a matter of India's international marketability. Money speaks and everything else is secondary. The team is bound to fail in tough situations if the players have to go through this kind of a schedule."
Former selection committee chairman and keeper Kiran More said it all comes down to priorities. "Yes, there is no time to rest. So you have to identify the series you want to win. An individual can't play everything. The BCCI has to decide what is more important and pick the squad accordingly. You have to leave out someone who you think is not required for a particular series and preserve him for the important ones."
Some ex-players feel this would require a rotation policy. "The IPL and CLT20 are going to be there. Let's accept it," said former India wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta. "It then becomes a question of prioritising. You can't have the likes of Dhoni and Tendulkar play every game."
Former India medium-pacer Paras Mhambrey goes further. "We should have India A touring Australia when the senior team goes there. It will give an opportunity to pick replacements in case of an emergency."
Having its way
According to the ICC's Future Tours Programme (FTP), each team must play Test series against every other team, home and away, over a period of six years, and each team must host two teams every year. The BCCI has been abiding by the second with adjustments and ignoring the first when it's less profitable.
India have never hosted Bangladesh since they gained Test status in 2001, and they are not scheduled to visit India till March 2020. West Indies will tour India in November, for their first Test tour to India since 2002. The home series against these two teams were officially excluded from the FTP in 2006.
"Matches in India featuring low-profile teams don't attract sponsors. We've assured them they can earn enough from TV rights when they host us. We're looking at more games in India against teams like Australia, England and South Africa," a senior BCCI official had said.
ICC plays ball
"The ICC FTP maintains that home and away Test series are mandatory. However, if two boards work things out differently, which don't comply with the FTP without disturbing anything, the ICC is okay with it," an ICC official, who didn't want to be quoted, said. "About 70% of the ICC's revenue is generated from India. We have to allow certain leeway to the cricket board which is so important for us."
When it comes to hosting teams, the BCCI has altered schedules to fit in more Test matches, just before and after the team became No. 1. South Africa's tour of India in 2010 was scheduled to have only five ODIs but that was when India had to play more Tests to become No. 1. So it became a series of two Tests and three ODIs.
And when they needed more Tests to stay No. 1, they converted the seven-match ODI series against Australia last year into two Tests and three ODIs.
No time to rest
However, the BCCI has ended up giving no respite to its players. India have played more than the other leading teams in the last two years. This doesn't include the IPL, which has eaten into the usual off-season.
The impact of Champions League T20 was not felt that acutely in the first two years, but come September, it will kick off a hectic countdown to India's tour of Australia. Unlike the IPL, CLT20 has a slot in the FTP because the boards of India, Australia and South Africa are its stakeholders.
The BCCI knows this. "With India's domestic season and the international fixtures at home to be played between October and March, the CLT20 has to be played in September. Where's the room for a break?" said a BCCI old-timer.
(With inputs from Somshuvra Laha)