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By Sunil Gavaskar
The recent working committee meeting of the BCCI understandably did not discuss the current disastrous tour of England, but decided to wait till the team finished the tour after which they would take a call on what needs to be done. Anil Kumble who attended the meeting asked the BCCI to try and arrange some more matches than the one that the Indian team is going to play in Australia before the first Test, but that is not going to be easy at this stage when the fixtures in Australia are settled. Unlike in India, most other boards announce their fixtures almost a year in advance and it becomes difficult to change or rearrange those fixtures. India for whatever reason believes that fixtures can be announced just a couple of weeks before the tour takes place. The West Indies team is to tour India in November for three Tests and three or five one-dayers, and we still don’t know when they are playing and where.
When the BCCI announced that the dates of next year’s IPL a month or so back it was received with surprise, but delight as well. Sure the match schedule will be announced a bit later, but at least the rest of the cricketing world knows when the next IPL is to be played and so can arrange their schedules accordingly. India may not realize it, but a lot of teams have some loyal supporters who travel to see their team play overseas and so need to know the dates and venues where their team is playing, so that they can make their travel arrangements to these venues. It is not just the air travel, but also hotel bookings and if there is any sightseeing that they need to do in between the games. The England team has the barmy army which is recognized by the England and Wales cricket board as a supporter group, and so the ECB tries to get them good hotel rates and airline tickets at a good price. To do that, they need to get information about the venues and dates. The dates for the England teams one day series in India were announced a month back which again was good. Perhaps there is no such pressure from the West Indies cricket board, and so the West Indies tour dates are still unknown. With almost two more months to go before that tour it could be argued that there is plenty of time, but wouldn’t it help everybody if they were announced quickly rather than wait till the last moment.
More than anything the BCCI needs to sort out with its players what is more important? International cricket or franchise cricket? The Indian players hardly ever play domestic first class cricket because of the tight International schedule, or unless they are out of form and need to show the selectors that they are still in good touch. Otherwise they prefer not to play and instead use the free time to fulfill sponsor commitments. This hurts Indian cricket because unless the best players are playing domestic cricket it is hard for the selectors to assess the talent coming through. One thing is certain, and that is players who are fitter than ever before feel the tiredness of travel more than the actual playing.
If one has a look at recent injuries it will be noticed that it is mainly due to the diving and sliding that the players do while fielding. If a player does not dive properly he can do some serious damage to himself, or even if he does dive correctly as Jonathan Trott found out there can be an injury that can cause the player to miss out the next couple of games. Yes, there will be the muscle injury or broken fingers which is a hazard of playing with a hard ball. That is part of the game. The other part is determining, if the player is fit enough to resume playing International cricket. That has to be done by experts and not left to the player. We have already seen in the past how leaving it to the player can be disastrous. I remember when I had a thumb injury and was doubtful for the next Test, how Bal Dani the selector then gave me a grueling fitness test throwing balls at me from a distance of five yards to see how the thumb was reacting, and more crucially to see if I was trying to protect it. It was only after I had taken some fifty catches at that close distance that he reported to the other selectors that I was fit to be selected.
It is of course difficult to test a players match fitness in an off season time as was the case with Sehwag and Zaheer, but if a selector had taken it upon himself to be present and see the fitness test then he would have been able to see how the players were reacting to their injury. Was Zaheer made to bowl plenty of balls in the nets? Was Sehwag asked to throw to show how strong his shoulder is? From what was seen in the third Test at Birmingham he could not throw ten yards and if there is a run-out situation what is going to happen? So the basic tests were not done, and if the players were at the National Cricket Academy and they have been cleared to play, then the one who cleared them needs to be hauled up for quite clearly both were not fit when they came on the tour. The India cap should not be taken as a right but as a responsibility. Unfortunately after the World Cup win the authorities have turned a blind eye to some who have shown by their actions that they don’t care as much for the India cap as they do for the franchise. There is plenty of moolah with the franchise and good luck to those who are getting it, but if they are going to show that they don’t care much for the India cap then they should be left to play for the franchise and instead pick those who want the cap desperately.
It is here that the firm action by BCCI will help send the right message across and once that happens then the rest will fall in place.