The first man to make assembly lines famous? Henry Ford. And if you ask what relation assembly lines have to cricket, especially Indian cricket, here’s the answer.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has admitted to a crisis in Indian cricket; in the not so distant future, there is going to be an Indian team without Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, and Indian cricket is still on shaky ground when it comes to bench strength.
In light of this situation, the BCCI’s intention to make the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore functional the entire year looks interesting. “We are right now thinking of doing something like this,” said BCCI Chief Administrative Officer Ratnakar Shetty.
“One of the goals is to make it a center for excellence where if a player is dropped or injured, he can go there and work with the coaches, even as young talent is being groomed.”
Where are the coaches?
One of the first things you notice about the National Cricket Academy, apart from its duration of operation (May-September), is that coaches for the age group camps of under-15, under-17 and under-19 are appointed only for the duration of those particular camps.
Mumbai coach Pravin Amre, who was in charge of the 42-day under-17 camp, believes having a head coach and adequate support staff would ensure better results from NCA.
“If a coach is appointed for longer duration, he gets to work with a particular group for a longer period. He can see them through under-17 and under-19 and mark their development,” he says. “It helps the coaches prepare better too. And it makes them more accountable, which is how it should be.”
Out of the NCA...and nowhere to go
“What do we do? At the NCA, the coaches tell us to play in a particular way. When we go back, our local coaches tell us something else. Some of us get picked one year. The next year we don’t. Who are we supposed to listen to?”
This is not a rant. It’s a valid question posed by a young cricketer who was a part of the NCA camp. Once the camp ends and the 25 cricketers return home, there is no way of ensuring that the suggestions made by the coaches to these cricketers are implemented.
The NCA has only recently begun a system of monitoring a player after he leaves the NCA. Coaches in charge of camps are expected to provide reports to the Academy, which in turn are passed on to respective state associations.
As the youngsters return for the start of the season, they are faced with the problem of local coaches trying to impose their methods, which sometimes contradict.
“I was at an NCA camp last year. One of the coaches there suggested I should change my grip if I want to improve my batting. When I came back, the coach here said the older grip was the better one. Then what was the use of going to the Academy?” says a local player.
The problem players face is compounded in smaller cities and towns due to a lack of infrastructure. “Not all players have the best facilities to go back to. If a player hails from a town with no proper facilities in place, where is he going to train?” asks Makarand Waingankar, Chief Executive Officer of the Baroda Cricket Association, who also worked for a brief period as a consultant with the NCA.
“Imagine having to do fitness training on hard grounds that can possibly cause injuries. Also, what happens to a cricketer if he doesn’t get selected for the camp in the next year? How do we follow up on a cricketer we thought had potential, but is not selected to the camp the next year?”
Amre suggested a follow-up camp. “It was a suggestion I had made previously to the Academy, that a week long camp be held after a period of two months to assess the work that’s been done by the cricketers. It has started now, and it gives us a chance to follow the talented cricketers and groom them.”
Onus is on the States
The way to bridge the gap between the NCA and players would be the state academy. The BCCI has made it mandatory for all associations to establish their respective state level academies for relevant age groups, and these would in turn coordinate with the NCA.
Where does a player who is discarded from the national team or out due to injury go to work on his game? His local ground to work with his local coach. Indian cricket seems to lack an important component, the absence of a central rehabilitation facility, where a player’s recovery and progress can be monitored instead of having the players go to a city for a medical check-up every month.
“The NCA certainly has the potential to be a rehabilitation centre. But for that to happen, you also need support staff of that kind. With the coaching courses and training courses for physiotherapists and trainers, it should hopefully work out in the future,” says Maharashtra coach Chandrakant Pandit.
Teething Problems - Still?
Quizzed as to why the Academy wasn’t doing as expected, Shetty said, “We are still facing teething problems. The lack of a stable coaching staff is certainly a problem and that’s something the BCCI wants to improve.”
Amre put it more succinctly. “This is the best we have in the country. And it is important for Indian cricket that we aim at making it work better for the cricketers.”
The Australian Mode
The NCA was set up in 2000 under the guidance of former Australian wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh. The model borrows heavily from its Australian counterpart. The Australian Cricket Academy, now the Commonwealth Bank Centre for Excellence, was set up in 1987 by Cricket Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport.
The CoE has a six week residential camp for 25 cricketers, selected in consultation with state coaches. The academy also offers scholarships to young cricketers for a year, where they work on specific areas of their game, with education taken care of simultaneously.