If you could start from scratch in a country, in terms of their domestic structure, how would you change it? Pick a country (doesn't have to be yours). Obviously, its all a pipe dream...but if you could, how would you?
For me, in India:
Too many teams
For any valid judgment to be made regarding the quality of a player, or his suitability at the Test level, he needs to have played high quality cricket against good opponents. The first problem is that of too many teams. As you add more and more teams, there is a greater chance for mediocre players to come through and quality players become the exception and not the rule. My view is that anyone who plays domestic cricket should have the ability and the temperament to be a potentially Test player. Obviously only 15 or so players can make the squad, but domestic cricket shouldn't be diluted so that the standard of cricket is so low, that it becomes a meaningless exercise when it comes to national selection.
The first thing I would so is tone down the teams to five sides in the entire country. Have five zones: North, South, East, West and Central. Maybe you can 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 (sound familiar?). There would only be 55-70 top quality players playing at the highest level, so the competition would be extreme for the Ranji Trophy sides. 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. Of course, 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. They would have similar competition against other A and B sides. But the the top level competition should never be compromised. When you select someone for the national squad, you should be fairly certain of their capabilities against good cricketers.
Allow players to move around if they want, and also allow the top team from each zone to have up to 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, and how to handle other on and off the field pressures. There are a hundred mental and physical things that go along with playing cricket that must be learned. Test cricket is not a school where you pick up these things. When you pick a player, he should be expected to perform, and we shouldn't compromise our national team with the dubious notion of 'teaching' someone
how to play cricket.
Here are the six youngest players picked for India:
- 16y 205d SR Tendulkar
- 17y 75d Piyush Chawla
- 17y 118d L Sivaramakrishnan
- 17y 152d PA Patel
- 17y 193d Maninder Singh
- 17y 265d VL Mehra
Aside from Tendulkar, how is that working out for us? Fact is, you can't know how someone will perform at the test level that early. It's pretty much like throwing darts in the dark, which is what we did with each of them.
Each player must be required to play at least three full years of high quality domestic cricket in their respective first teams to even be eligible for national selection. That will give them enough experience - mental and otherwise - to better cope with international cricket.
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 till the test level to get into shape. Before they are big stars at the international cricket - they need to be required to work on their fitness and they must know that it is an important criteria if you ever want a national call up. The coaches and the selectors at the doemstic 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 get to the highest level of domestic cricket if they are.
It is important in cricket for each country to have its own flavor of pitches. I think it adds to the excitement and uniqueness of cricket. But a general flavor does mean it has to be a hard and fast rule. It is important to have some wickets that assist fast bowlers, other 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 it will force players to work on their game under all conditions.
Who knows? Perhaps someday our players won't be shocked when the ball bounces higher than the knee, or God forbid, actually has variable bounce.
As I mentioned in another thread, changing the captain or a coach after something goes wrong is like taking Tylenol for a brain tumor. It will never be effective unless many other things change.