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India: What must change
04 Apr 2007
By: Manan Shah


Predictably, after another disappointing performance, the witch-hunt has begun. As expected, people are ignoring the fact that Sri Lanka were simply a better team, and that the defeat at the hands of Bangladesh was the only real 'upset' that India suffered.

Regardless, the calls for Dravid fired have reached a high point and it is highly likely that Dravid will be relieved of his duties, while Chappell has already resigned. They will not look to themselves of course, and place any blame on their own shoulders for running an operation that borders on the criminal, and for doing their best to put an inferior product out for the Indian fans. For cricket to improve, and for India to become a consistently performing team home and away, the following issues have to be addressed in domestic cricket:

Too many teams

For any valid judgment to be made regarding the quality of a player, or of his suitability at the Test level, he needs to have played high quality cricket against good opponents. The first problem is too many teams. As you add more and more teams, there is a greater chance for mediocre players coming through and quality players becoming the exception rather than the rule. It is a widely held view that anyone who plays domestic cricket should have the ability and the temperament to be a potentially Test player. Can anyone say that of our current domestic structure? It is a fact that only 15 or so players can make the national squad, but surely domestic cricket should not be so diluted that the standard of cricket is reduced to such a low level, that it becomes a meaningless exercise when it comes to national selection.

The first thing that needs to be done is to reduce the number of sides in the country to five. Have five zones: North, South, East, West, and Central. You could possibly have a sixth team, if necessary. They each would play every other team home and way during a season and there would be a final with the top two teams. This is an almost carbon copy of the Australian domestic structure, and it is no small part on why their players tend to handle the transition from First Class to Test cricket much better.

There would only be 55-70 top quality players playing at the highest level, so the standard of cricket would be extremely high in the Ranji Trophy. Shane Warne commented that playing domestic cricket in Australia is sometimes more taxing than playing Tests, and there is no reason why we must suffer mediocre cricket with the population of India. In this system, each team would have an 'A' and perhaps even a 'B' team, which would allow the teams to groom young players and give others something to aim for. Both of the levels would compete against similar levels of the teams from other zones. The important thing is to make sure that the top-level competition is never compromised and the highest level of domestic cricket should not be such a huge step down from Test cricket. When you select someone for the national squad, you should be certain of their capabilities against good cricketers.

Allow players to move around if they want, so all teams have a quality pool of players from which to choose their final teams. In addition, and though this is a point of contention in England, each team should be allowed to have two overseas players. More competition is always good, and it is important for the quality of cricket for the players to be exposed to different playing styles, especially if the player in question has Test level experience.

Players Picked Too Soon

The best and most reliable way to judge a player's capability at the Test level is to look at his FC record. If he is mediocre at the First Class level, it will be exceedingly rare for him to do anything at the international level. Furthermore, a player has to experience professional full time cricket, understand pressure situations during games, and learn how to maintain proper fitness and diet during a long and grueling season. A hundred mental and physical things go along with playing cricket, and all of them must be learned. Test cricket is not place where a young player should learn these things. When you pick a player, he should be expected to perform as soon as possible, and we should not compromise our national team with the dubious notion of 'teaching' someone how to play cricket.

Here are the six youngest players picked for India:

1. 16y 205d SR Tendulkar
2. 17y 75d Piyush Chawla
3. 17y 118d L Sivaramakrishnan
4. 17y 152d PA Patel
5. 17y 193d Maninder Singh
6. 17y 265d VL Mehra

Aside from Tendulkar, how is that working out for us? The fact is, you cannot know how someone will perform at the test level that early. It is akin to throwing darts in the dark, which seems to be the method used with picking most of the aforementioned players. Each player as a minimum should be required to play at least three full years of high quality domestic cricket to be eligible for national selection. That will give them enough experience - mental and otherwise - to cope with international cricket. You cannot really judge someone for Test cricket based on how they performed at their high school. You may occasionally get lucky, but in the vast majority of cases this system will fail. Would it really have hurt anyone if Tendulkar had stayed 3 years in domestic cricket and made his debut at 18 in 1991? And it might have saved countless others, and one of those might have actually had a decent career at the highest level.

Fitness Regimen

Our players - as has been mentioned countless times - are nowhere near the other teams in terms of fitness levels. There is no need to wait until the test level to get into shape. Before they are big stars in international cricket - they need to be required to work on their fitness and they must know that it is an important criteria for selection into the national squad. The coaches and the selectors at the domestic level must have the authority to drop players based on fitness or lack of work ethic in exercise and fitness regimes. Professional sportsmen should never be this unfit, and they should never even be considered for the highest level of domestic cricket if they are.

Pitches

It is important in cricket for each country to have its own flavor of pitches. It adds to the excitement and uniqueness of cricket. But a general flavor does not mean it has to be a hard and fast rule. It is important to have some wickets that assist fast bowlers, others that assist slow bowlers and still others that assist the batsmen. When you pick players for the national squad, you should be able to evaluate them on a variety of pitches. Not only will this expose the flat track bullies, but also it will force players to work on their game under all conditions. Who knows? Perhaps someday our players will not be shocked when the ball bounces higher than the knee, or God forbid, actually has variable bounce.

National Team

This section is last because in many ways, it is the least important. While it carries the highest profile, the national team can never be consistently successful unless it is supported by a strong base. We can never be Australia without having Australian style management, infrastructure, and facilities. Changing the coach or the captain may be necessary at times, but making changes at the top while the bottom rots out from under you is meaningless at best. It may have the desired PR affect, and it may make the mob go silent for a while, but it can never be a permanent solution.

As far as India are concerned, changing the coach or a captain is akin to taking Tylenol for a brain tumor. It will never be effective unless many other things change, and the BCCI must revamp themselves and the game at the domestic level if they expect India to be a cricketing powerhouse.

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