Before I write about what ails Indian cricket and what could be the possible way ahead, let me begin on a positive note. It was a great feeling, a dream fulfilled, to see India win the World Cup by defying the odds as no home team had achieved this feat. What Dhoni and his men did will remain etched in our memories for ever. The skipper hitting the winning six in the final and dropping his bat, Yuvraj Singh's all-round heroics, moments like these are rare and should be savoured for ever.
Unfortunately, I must say, we did not let our heroes unwind and celebrate with their friends and families, and instead pushed them into a gruelling IPL schedule in less than a week. I have nothing against IPL, which is an entertaining add-on to the cricketing calendar. But some of our players were injured and badly needed rest, and a situation was created which, I believe, was the first step towards the disaster which has engulfed us today.
I know the money is huge in the IPL and hence the temptation for players to not skip it will be there, but giving it preference over country, that I can't understand. I'm not in their shoes, but I have not played my cricket like this and can't imagine anyone will ever give priority to club first and country later, no matter how much money is on offer.
Time for farewell
I'm saying this because we all know that for the West Indies tour that followed the IPL, some of the key players opted out as they needed rest. It was disappointing for me to see that even a player of Sachin Tendulkar's stature opted for the IPL and took a break from the tour. I hardly need to say that for me, like the rest of India, Tendulkar is the greatest thing to have happened to the game and he is without doubt the greatest cricketer of our times.
That is why winning the World Cup, with Tendulkar in the team, was something even more special, and to my mind, he should have retired from the one-day format immediately. There was nothing left for him to prove and what better way to bow out than when you are on a high? With advancing age the body does slow down and he could have focused entirely on Test cricket, the ultimate form of the game.
I don't know what goes in his mind as he has never spoken on cricketing issues, something which I feel he should be doing. I firmly believe a player should not talk much, but after playing for some years, when he understands the game and himself, he must express himself.
Therefore, it is hard to guess what Tendulkar is planning and why he has chosen to continue playing one-day cricket. I don't think scoring 100 hundreds could be the reason, nor do I think he would be under pressure because of it.
What does he have to prove to the world? Nothing. One more hundred won't make him greater than what he is, nor one less, lesser than what he is. Had Bradman averaged 100 and not 99.94, do you think we would have thought of him differently than what we do today?
Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, like Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly, are the golden boys of Indian cricket and have made us all proud. But age is against them. Being a cricket-loving nation, can we know their future plans, do the selectors know?
Even Dhoni, for whom I have the greatest admiration for how he led the team to the World Cup, decided to skip one part of the West Indies tour after he played the IPL, and that was sad. Post World Cup, one has seen certain aspects of him which are not exactly heartening. A captain should not only be fair but should appear to be so as well. Of late, he has given reasons to raise doubts about him. Why was RP Singh, who had played no cricket for a few months, chosen to play in England? Why is Suresh Raina given such a long rope when he is not in form? Why was Manoj Tiwary not played at all in Australia? Then there is the case of the young leg-spinner, Rahul Sharma. I have nothing against him but how can a player with 15 first-class games and 25 wickets be picked ahead of those who have performed consistently at the domestic level?
If this is the policy, selecting people who have played one-and-a-half seasons of first class cricket and done well in 4 IPL matches, then we might as well demolish first class cricket. What are the parameters for selection? Is Dhoni not getting the team he wants? He should know why such players are being picked. The most disappointing thing for me was in England, where he came on to bowl on the second day of the very first Test. What kind of message was he passing on to his own team and his bowlers? Was it that he did not have fit bowlers to bowl 90 overs a day? If so, why select a team which is so short of fitness? As the tour progressed, he, as captain, instead of inspiring the team, appeared indifferent and aloof. That was not the case earlier. We don't need him to be Captain Cool, but to be involved and aggressive.
The England tour was a disaster because we had a jaded, tired and an injured team battling against a very strong team in its home conditions. Here, the Indian Board needs to take responsibility, it should have planned how much cricket a team should play and how it should to go into a series properly prepared.
The captain, selectors and administrators need to be on the same page to chalk out the calendar. What is the point in playing meaningless tournaments? Is it to make money at the cost of quality? Rajeev Shukla, the board member, made a valid point when he said 'we are not forcing players to play and if they are tired they can take a break'. Well, they can, but do we then want our second string to play in Tests and not want the best to be fit for quality matches?
For the Australia tour, I was happy we sent some key senior players in advance to adapt to the conditions. But it does not help to send half the team first and the rest later. The problem, and I am writing from a distance, was that each member was for himself, concerned about his own form. The team did not appear to be one unit. Here again, Dhoni the captain was listless and uninspiring.
And then his comments against the seniors (on their fielding and rotational policy) in a press conference were not in the right spirit. A captain should not talk like this. The right way to go about it is to convince the selectors what team and which players you want. Having been captain myself I know if your intentions are right and you are performing your duties without bias, the selectors are going to listen to you and give you the team you want.
But this does not give players the right, like Sehwag did, to speak against the captain. Or, maybe we are living in times where anyone can speak anything and against anyone. I also don't understand why players other than the captain, vice-captain or someone who has given an outstanding performance, is sent to press conferences to explain the failures of his team. This is bizarre.
On foreign coaches
People say Gary Kirsten did a great job because of which we won the World Cup and became the number one Test team. If that was the case, how come our team crumbled within months of his leaving? Shouldn't a good systemic work done last for at least 3-5 years?
I won't blame Duncan Fletcher. He inherited this team and had no role in the scheduling of the England series or what went before it. So we should not be harsh on him, but the larger point is that foreign coaches will find it difficult to do a good job here. I know Sourav Ganguly can make a good coach and may be even want to become one. But the Indian players would never want him, or any Indian coach, because they feel he would interfere too much in the running of the team. It is a trend Ganguly started himself when he was captain and now the players would not want someone like him to be coach.
The way ahead
I know money is important for the game and this process was started by (former BCCI chiefs) Jagmohan Dalmiya and IS Bindra at a time when it was needed. But to simply add on the money without promoting the game defeats the purpose. Some of the presidents in the recent past haven't appeared to have a deep sense of the game. The current president, N Srinivasan (in pic), has the administrative capability and understands the game, money and its value. But unfortunately, he is also moving in one direction - money. He seems to be running a one-man show. Now, our cricket for the last 15 years has not changed. We never plan our calendar keeping in mind the requirements of the players and the game. Australia haven't changed their Test schedules for the last 30-40 years. We are willing to take their coaches but not their structure. What is the point in having different sponsors for different tournaments? That gives neither the sponsor any value for his money nor does it lend a sense of continuity that adds to its value in the minds of people. The only brand which we associate with cricket is Sahara, only because it has been a long-term partner. Looking at recent problems, we don't know how long Sahara will continue as sponsors.
A captain should not only be fair but should appear to be so as well. Of late, he has given reasons to raise doubts about him. Why was RP Singh, who had played no cricket for a few months, chosen to play in England? Why is Suresh Raina given such a long rope when he is not in form? Why was Manoj Tiwary not played at all in Australia? Then there is the case of Rahul Sharma. How can a player with 15 first-class games be picked ahead of those who have
performed consistently for years.
It is hard to guess what Tendulkar is planning and why he has chosen to continue playing one-day cricket. I don't think scoring 100 hundreds could be the reason, nor do I think he would be under pressure because of it. What does he have to prove to the world? Nothing. One more hundred won't make him greater than what he is, nor one less, lesser than what he is. Had Bradman averaged 100 and not 99.94, do you think we would have thought of him differently than what we do today?
People say Gary Kirsten did a great job because we won the World Cup and became the number one Test team. If that was the case, how come our team crumbled within months of his leaving? Shouldn't a good systemic work done last for at least 3-5 years? I won't blame Duncan Fletcher. He inherited this team and had no role in the scheduling of the England series or what went before it. So we should not be harsh on him, but the larger point is foreign coaches will find it difficult to do a good job here.