April 16, 2006

How many more will end up like Tendulkar?
By Gaurav Sethi

After the Abu Dhabi tournament between India and Pakistan, being played for the benefit of earthquake victims, there might have to be another tournament for the benefit of cricket victims - players quaking in their boots from too much cricket. India’s back-to- back series v/s Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan and England might not have taken its toll yet but all the telltale signs are there – two key players in the ODI team, Virender Sehwag and Mohammed Kaif, have all but lost their bearings. And Sachin Tendulkar has had yet another surgery - can’t blame the last six months; must be the incessant madness of the last sixteen years.

But then England has had it far worse – fatigue, stress, personal woes, injury, Delhi belly and the Indian summer have messed with skipper, vice captain, top bats and bowlers, coach and now even a commentator who couldn’t work out his cell phone for weeks. The Ashes win is a distant dream. Come winter, England will have to defend it – though with what, no one quite knows, least of all the English. Right now, it’s two down (Simon Jones and Steve Harmison), two to go (Flintoff and Hoggard).

Fortunately for the Indians none of the medium pacers appear to have been overstretched over the last few series. Both Ashish Nehra and Laxmipathy Balajji, once key bowlers, swung out of action long before this latest bout of nonstop cricket. And under the new regime, even Irfan Pathan got a much-needed break in Jamshedpur and Guwahati. The other young bowlers, although relatively inexperienced, also benefited from a few day’s off. India also had the luxury of trying various combinations, with regular toss- ups between Sreesanth, R.P. Singh, Munaf Patel and now V.R.V. Singh. Plus there’s a definite step to work with youth, keeping the ‘Pathan’ factor a constant (at least till the series was secured) – and even when India’s batting was somewhat depleted in Jamshedpur, old hand Ajit Agarkar was not given another game.

The relative comfort in the Indian camp at Indore was obvious when rookie V.R.V. Singh was brought back for a second spell after being tonked for 26 runs in one over, mostly by Kevin Pietersen. That he went for many more on his return did not deter Dravid – after all, what better place to gauge a player’s character than in the center, in a dead rubber. Had the series been locked at 3 games all, would the young, inexperienced V.R.V. Singh been reintroduced into the attack, and if so, to what extent would Dravid have persevered? It made a travesty of the game, but in a team looking for gains, winning against all odds, appeared more important than merely winning. Dravid, in his attempt to blood V.R.V. Singh, was ready to chase 290 instead of 260. Though when Dravid believed he’d had enough, Sreesanth (man of the match) and Pathan were brought back. Though for once, England did play out all their 50 overs, only to be knocked over on the last ball.

Once the series was won, India could rest key players by rotation – Dravid, Pathan, Dhoni, Harbhajan, and even the out-of-touch Sehwag and Kaif. Imagine the plight of Pathan-crazy- fans in Jamshedpur when they learnt their heartthrob was not playing. The mass hysteria a star-player generates was obvious in the Goa ODI when Raina got out – the crowds went simply berserk with happiness. That after Raina had all but won the game. It’s another thing they were ushering the next man in, M.S. Dhoni. Somehow better judgment prevailed through the series, and Dhoni wasn’t rested in his own backyard (Jamshedpur) and Sreesanth played in Cochin. Naturally then, when all eleven didn’t take the field in Guwahati, the crowds went bonkers.

Now, the ODI format in the just concluded series is not without merit – it’s great that cricket’s taken right across the country. But India is no tiny nation, and no amount of ODIs can satisfy its cricket crazy people. Venues are allotted games via an unscientific rotation policy, and when it was Guwahati’s turn – the rainy season was not an issue. As was the case in Chennai, not long ago, when a match was washed out. Still the BCCI persists with this adhoc rotational policy, wherein games are held in Cochin and Goa in searing heat and humidity, and others are supposed to be played in Chennai and Cherrapunji (don’t be surprised) through torrential rainfall.

As Pres. Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
Given the BCCI’s mercenary hunger to generate wealth, their aim appears to be the latter. And it might sooner, rather than later, take Indian cricket into the litter.

For starters, the BCCI needs to looks at the unrelenting itineraries – reduce 7 match ODI series to 5, if not 3, and then for the player’s well-being, pray, like Guwahati, the occasional game is rained off. Also, in the case of a dead rubber – apply the example of the 3 match finals down under; wherein when one team takes an unassailable lead (2-0 in this case) the third final is forfeited. Implied: after India went up 4-0, the irrelevant games at Guwahati, Jamshedpur and Indore should have been scrapped. That way, there could’ve been more than the paltry two-day break between Indore and Abu Dhabi. England wouldn’t have had to play for pride. And India wouldn’t have played out of boredom.

The finale at Indore, which was anything but that – after dragging on for nearly three weeks (with barely two day breaks between games) the series finally ended somewhat meekly. By the last game, Andrew Flintoff had been rightly rested for a few, and the English side resembled one of those county sides that boast of one star overseas player – in this case it was Kevin Pietersen. Where as India, after the loss at Jamshedpur, and the return of Rahul Dravid, once again looked like a professional unit that had set the record for the most consecutive ODI wins. With the win at Indore, India bettered its world record of most-wins-chasing by one more. Imagine these very same guys were once called chokers while chasing. Then again, they aren’t all the same guys, and nor are the same guys calling the shots.
What has not changed, in essence, is the ways of the BCCI – the board that played Sachin Tendulkar into the ground through 362 ODIs and 132 test matches. Enough is enough.

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