How the mighty fall! These might be the words on the lips of observers of Indian cricket team during the test series. India arrived in England as the World Champions in the shorter format and the No.1 ranked Test team. After a month, at the conclusion of the test series, India enters into the shorter formats consumed by self-doubts and unsure of its abilities.
While the reasons for the test series debacle have been analysed by all and sundry, one point which appears in all these analyses and which cannot be over-emphasized is the fatigue factor. The other stated factors like collective batting failure, lack of fighting spirit etc. have all been indirect repercussions of this fatigue. There is only a limit to which tired and worn-out bodies withstand.
More than the defeat, the manner of defeats, without a semblance of a fight, is baffling according to the legendary Sunil Gavaskar. This series whitewash is the first blot, in an otherwise perfect record, for the Indian skipper. As usual, the skipper refused to blame his personnel for the defeat and preferred to credit the opposition.
Do all these mean that a total overhaul of the team is required? Perhaps not. The current test team had achieved their No.1 status by the same trusted players, so barring a few changes, the team does not require a drastic alteration. The biggest paradox in all this is the announcement by the BCCI that they will look into the test series debacle once the tour is over, little realising that they are the primary reason why the team floundered in the first place.
Whenever the issue of tiredness or too much cricket is raised, BCCI is quick to declare that it never forces any player to play in all tournaments and that players who need rest can opt for it. The very flaw with this argument is that the issue is not with 1 or 2 players. The entire team needs rest. So putting the blame on the players for not asking for rest is stupid, to say the least. Other cricket boards have been proactive in this regard with respect to injury management, scheduling and player rotation. BCCI must ensure that they do away with cramped scheduling to begin with. After every series, a period of atleast a month must be kept free to address injury concerns and player burnout and also to provide the players adequate rest. An additional pool of 15-20 players who are ready to step in is an absolute must apart from the touring squad of 15, so that any replacement in the midst of a tournament is hassle-free and the replaced player is also match ready.
IPL has become a blame station for critics whenever there is a dip in players’ performance. It is not the players’ fault that they play in the IPL. It is rather the mistake of the BCCI to expect its players to be available for IPL year after year. For critics, Where is the question of ignoring the nation for IPL? IPL franchisees are based on cities in India and by playing for the city based franchisees, the players are honouring the nation and not otherwise.
As far as individual players’ performance goes, Harbhajan Singh’s bowling has hit rock bottom in the recent tours. It is time to stop pampering him like a kid and move on to other spin options notwithstanding the fact that he has 400+ wickets. Amit Mishra has also done little to impress us all in the England tour except the fact that he has taken more wickets than Bhajji in the test matches he played here in England. If Yuvraj Singh can be dropped for fitness and form related issues, the same applies to Bhajji. His tendency to pitch the ball short all the time and his sudden reluctance to use the doosra often, has taken the sting out of his bowling. It is time to groom somebody like Ravichandran Ashwin for test matches. Let Harbhajan perform and prove again in the domestic circuit to win his place back. Rotation of fast bowlers is also of paramount importance. The main duo of Ishant and Zaheer must be rested frequently to avoid injuries. Praveen Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar and Varun Aaron must be given enough opportunities to make a mark and establish themselves.
All said and done, the BCCI must not forget that it’s the richest cricket board only because of the players and their performances and their world-wide fan following. If the mindless frenzy to squeeze in as many matches as possible in a year continues, the board will lose in the long run. Its revenues and money from sponsors will take a hit. Irrespective of how India fares in the ODI series and the T20, this is not the time to panic, but the time to cure the ailments in the system.