India’s national selectors – who have just earned a 60 percent salary hike – have to find a balance between short-term satisfaction and long-term vision. To put it in more pragmatic terms, they will have to look at the World Cup at home in 2011 as the goal while ensuring that all series between now and then are competitive and provide enough pointers to the team.
Curators – who have also had a salary hike – have so far excelled in preparing flat, batting tracks for the one-dayers, arguing perhaps that the shorter game is a batsman’s game, and spectators come to watch fours and sixes and not batsmen struggling to put bat to bowl. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Bowlers hasn’t quite established itself enough to negotiate with the authorities around the world.
It is difficult to visualize a change in attitude, and therefore it is incumbent upon the selectors to protect the bowlers. They will have to work out a system of rotation, especially for the medium pacers.
India can no longer afford to define victory in narrow terms, on the basis of matches actually won. It is when substitutes perform well, when the bench strength rises to the challenge that from a long-term perspective it may be assumed that a team is doing well. Australia showed that when they won the one-day series in India with what was in effect their second team, injuries having eliminated many frontline players.
It is not necessary for India to go for broke every time. There is such a thing as building a team. If Virat Kohli, for example, is not ready to replace a top player like Yuvraj Singh or Sachin Tendulkar in the middle of a World Cup, then the selectors have failed. But batting is not really a major problem, although there is a call for ensuring that everyone gets enough rest, and that the replacements can hit the ground running. The World Cup is the making of a player, and if one or two matches in the buil-up are lost while someone is given the chance to establish himself, then that is a fair trade-off.
It is the bowlers who need to be looked after. Some years ago – in fact, before a World Cup – Javagal Srinath, who knows a thing or two about being a fast bowler in India had suggested just such a move. And suggested that India develop a pool of fast bowlers who could move in and out of the national side with little time wasted in getting acclimatized.
It would be foolish to depend on a very small group of players and then discover when the need arises that the replacements are not ready. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni for example, is now forced to miss two matches because of India’s poor over-rate in the Nagpur one-dayer. This means a wicketkeeper who hasn’t kept for a while will have to do the job. Yet an intelligent policy of rotation would have ensured that such a person is ready to deliver. This is not to say that Dhoni should be dropped from the team at regular intervals, only that there should be a plan to introduce one or two players into the team just so they keep in touch.
Successful teams have skillful players both on the field, and on the bench ready to step in at short notice. You do not experiment during a tournament like the World Cup. But during the build-up it is necessary. And sometimes you learn more from a loss than a victory which tends to hide the shortcomingS.