In sport if winning is a habit, losing too can be one! Don’t think need to elaborate what that statement has relevance to the Indian cricket team. World Cup winners, number one ranked test side were attributes you associated with the men in blue not too long ago and you don’t need any experts to say that things are drastically different now. 8 away consecutive test losses, just 6 wins in the last 18 away ODI’s is a record that speaks volumes about the sudden slide the Indian team has experienced. India won the inaugural T20 World Cup, hosts the glamorous IPL and yet the team hasn’t put up a strong T20 performance post the 2007 championship. Bottomline - the team has a lot on its plate with the problems covering the entire spectrum!
It is easy to be astonished the way the team has performed post the grand win in Mumbai; it is imperative we start drawing reasons for such a slide and propose ways to rectify the issues. It is a clichéd argument if you are an avid cricket follower - it is more important to identify the weak links/problems when you are winning. Indian cricket shot up with success in all 3 formats after the disastrous campaign in West Indies in 2007. The success rubbed off both home and away and India was notching up big, positive steps to become the best in the business. This brilliant period, unexpectedly, concluded with the World Cup win. During this period the team didn’t prepare itself for the inevitable - life after the big three: Tendulkar, Dravid & Laxman. The question isn’t particularly valid for the 3 only but for the phase-out policy or the lack of it which the team management doesn’t seem to value. Phase-out policy does not imply progressive retirements only but also ensuring a pool of players who can justifiably replace the void left in the process. India’s problems have been on both counts; the team hasn’t designed a phase-out plan for the seniors and lack of opportunities for youngsters implies inexperience will have to plug the vacant space once that is created. By not preparing for the 3, the problems have compounded, with the team now having to prepare for life after Sehwag, Zaheer and Dhoni as well; in about 3-4 years down the line! While we could argue whether retirement is an individual decision or a collective decision, there is no debate on whether we should phase out the seniors seamlessly.
India has not qualified for the CB series finals, a disappointment in itself; but the cricket calendar leaves a lot be desired. Had India qualified for the finals, the team on a 3 month tour would have had to turn up for the Asia Cup within 5 days! Either the board officials value one international commitment over other or they simply have to include India in all one week/two week one day series. Either way it results in India playing inconsequential cricket too frequently. Too much cricket has been a vocal and affirmative debate over the last couple of years; injuries, player burn-outs, immature retirements have been the fall-outs. What is the way out then? Less international cricket? Maybe not.
Anil Kumble in an interview explained the way the calendar used to be during his active playing days. He advocated for the month/two month break in May/June for he believed it was a period when the player could recharge himself mentally and physically with time off the game. Ever since the IPL has become a routine, breaks for players has been the time in between international series; a practice which does not augur well to succeed, especially on away tours. Yes the international calendar too needs a revamp - less of inconsequential ODI series/2-match test series but at the same time, especially for Indian cricket, a shorter IPL. For example 9 teams could be divided into 3 groups to feature in a round-robin format i.e. 6 games for each team. 6 teams should qualify for the next stage and play one game against the team they haven’t played against: 11 games. This followed by the semis and the finals; shorter and simpler is sometimes better than bigger and complicated. There has been a sense of sameness to India’s performance or the lack of it over the last 6-8 months, which should indicate to a lack of motivation/inspiration and mental fatigue for technically the team isn’t down, the last ODI vs SL at Hobart reassured that. The players need to take some time off the game immediately, but where is the time? The Asia Cup will be followed by the exaggerated IPL season five within 12 days!
The BCCI is like the big boss over the other boards, but this attitude seems to seep through to all activities the board does. The board had a firm stand on the DRS issue, a denial approach on Yuvraj’s health, denial over speculated rifts between team members, vociferous opposition to the Sports Bill, a soft approach towards the prime sponsors - Sahara; these signals are sufficient to indicate the areas of interest for the BCCI. We do not know much about the administration of the board other than the names of people who occupy authoritative positions. That could be left alone but its bossing on technical issues is a cause of concern. The board has a strong disconnect with the fans (the IPL is not an exception, for the connection is with the franchisee but not with board directly), doesn’t feel it appropriate to justify its decisions vocally in the public space and an outlook of ‘cannot-question-us’ about it. For things to change with the board each of the above said aspects need to be reversed as soon as possible.
The team has been bashed, the support staff has been bashed, the board has been bashed, what about the selectors? - the group of people who appear once a while, announce list of selected players, duck questions and vanish to appear when a new series is round the corner. Accountability or the lack of it has been Indian team selection’s big, big problem. While not too long ago we had the Australian chief selector reasoning out Ponting’s ouster from the team and advocating for others chosen, the Indian scene is totally different. Selectors don’t seem to interact with the fans/media too often, leave alone reasoning out team selections. The selection committee needs an urgent revamp with the current system of zonal selectors to be done with. A 3-4 member group should be assigned the job of picking players, with accountability as the parameter. The performance of the selectors should be monitored not by team results but by team performances. For instance a greater win % at home should be less valuable than a good win % against higher ranked teams. Selectors should be given a period of 1.5 years, and judged at the end of that period to merit a possibility of extension.