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By Suresh Menon
Should the Indian team be complaining of its workload, pointing to the injuries to key players like Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Sreeshanth, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Ashish Nehra, Gautam Gambhir and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni himself who seems to be battling on despite an injury to his hand?
The fact that the ‘think tank’ has written to the Board (the details leaked to the media omit the names) suggests that it is a matter of concern. It recommends that the three-Test New Zealand series be reduced to two to give the players an extra week to prepare for the tour of South Africa that follows.
Was there such a letter from the Indian think tank? No, says the Board of Control for Cricket in India, we haven’t received anything. Both sides are masters in the art of using the media to make their point, but the sad thing is that there should be two sides at all. Kapil Dev once said that the Board should look after the players the way parents do their children, but such has not been the relationship ever.
In any case, says the Board, we have our commercial commitments, the television rights have been sold and we cannot change the itinerary now. If you want, it has told the players, we will field different teams resting as many players as want to be rested. If Dhoni is overworked, we will hand over the captaincy to Suresh Raina. That sounds like a mild threat, but both sides are used to it, for it has long been an employer-employee relationship without a players’ body to speak up for those who actually play long hours in the sun, travel endlessly and are expected to deliver every time they step on to the field.
Unfortunately, credibility is not the strong suit of either the BCCI or the players. They are both united by the concern to make money, and that’s where all arguments collapse. It is just that the Board is less subtle about it. Only the other day, after India’s elevation to the number one slot in Tests, players were complaining that there were not enough matches to help them retain that position. The Board then went about converting scheduled one-dayers into Tests and inviting themselves over to Sri Lanka for a three-Test series that was fitted in late.
Soon after the World Cup in March next year is the IPL tournament, and if the players argue that they play too much cricket, it would be interesting to see how many will decide to rest during that jamboree.
What is difficult to understand, however, is why the players have no say in fixing their schedules. True, the golden goose is not known for having a say in how and where it must lay the eggs, but surely higher up the food chain we need to have a different set of rules?
A Players’ Association, with the welfare of the players at heart, will make a difference and bring to an end complaints of overwork. Now a couple of senior players decide on these things informally, but the Board is supreme, and if there is a disagreement, the Board’s writ holds. Both sides come across as selfish and focused on narrow goals. A Players’ Association elected by all the first class players of the country, and with perhaps one or two former players (not necessarily Ravi Shastri who is on every committee!) in it could broad-base the discussions.
Players are too insecure to allow a rotation policy, the Board is too money-driven to cut back. A Players Association can throw a bridge across the two cultures.