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Tough Times Ahead for Indian Cricket
Barely a year after winning the ODI Cricket World Cup, Team India finds itself in a soup. Two humiliating series against England and Australia followed by a disappointing loss to minnows Bangladesh in the Asia Cup are not exactly the results a World Cup winning team would want on their CV. Even the harshest of Team India’s critics could not have foreseen such a fall. Apart from the way things seem to be going, one gets the impression that not much is being done to change the situation.
What are the real issues plaguing Team India? While certain challenges have existed for some time, some others have emerged in the recent past. Historically, Indian cricketers have been portrayed as lions at home and lambs abroad. This perception changed in the early 2000s when India posted winning streaks in both Tests and ODIs on foreign soil against cricketing heavyweights that included Australia, England and South Africa. However, the recent Test series white-washes are testament to the fact that Indian cricketers have never really mastered the art of playing in foreign conditions.
The main reason for this failure is the one-dimensional nature of Indian pitches. Being flat and lacking in bounce, most Indian pitches are batsman friendly. Any courses that offer help to pitchers are usually pitcher friendly. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has done nothing to change the nature of playing surfaces in India. As a result, players at the domestic level suffer from a lack of experience in batting and bowling on fast and bouncy tracks. This inexperience is glaringly reflected when they play at the international level. With the exception of Virat Kohli, India’s Gen-Next struggled with an ordinary attack that was a mere shadow of the legendary Australian pace attack of the early 2000s. Gone are the days when Indian players gained valuable information by playing cricket in England. Thanks to the IPL, they no longer have the incentive to play district cricket.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has brought its own share of complexities. A batsman who quickly scores 30 or 40 in a game is highly rewarded in T20 cricket, as is a bowler who is able to restrict the run-rate to 6 or 7 overs. While these strategies can help teams win T-20 Internationals, they are hardly suitable for ODIs and Test matches. The younger generation of batsmen struggled to build innings in England and Australia. It was up to the experienced Rahul Dravid to save Team India in the Test series against England, while Sachin Tendulkar emerged as the highest run-scorer of the Test series against Australia. With Dravid announcing his retirement and Sachin nearing the end of his career, the team is in desperate need of new faces who can adapt to all formats of the game. The only such player is Virat Kohli. Others like Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay, despite having immense talent, have struggled to find their feet in Test cricket.
Another major cause for concern is India’s inexperienced and fragile pace attack. The Indian bowlers could not defend the score of 289 against the second team like Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. With the exception of Zaheer Khan, India’s new bowlers rarely pose a threat to the opposition batsmen. Time and again, the team had to rely on the experience and talent of Zaheer Khan to bail them out of difficult situations. Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel showed occasional flashes of brilliance. Players like Ishant Sharma and Irfan Pathan have not only lost their speed but also their wicket-taking ability. Youngsters like Varun Aaron and Vinay Kumar have not had enough opportunities to prove themselves at the international level. While Zaheer Khan could play for another two or three years at international level, his future replacements hardly inspire confidence.
Player burnout is another cause for concern. Earlier, cricketers used to enjoy a break from the game for a month or two every season. This would give them enough time to rest, recover and prepare for the next season. With the advent of IPL, cricket is now played throughout the year and the players hardly have time to rest. Also, too many matches are squeezed in for no apparent reason. For example, it did not make sense for India to play an ODI series against England at home in 2011, right after playing a grueling Test and ODI series in England. Recently, the Indian team traveled all the way to South Africa to play only one international T20 team. The players returned home after the match to take part in the IPL within a week. Players practically live in airplanes and hotels. Playing cricket 24×7 and traveling long distances on a regular basis, often to countries in different time zones, can naturally take a toll on players’ mental and physical health. The recent spate of injuries in the Indian camp underscores this fact. These injuries not only deprive the team of its best players, but also make match strategies ineffective. Unless the players take a breather, this predicament is likely to persist.
Therefore, drastic changes are required in the way Indian cricket is run and played. If such changes are not made expeditiously, the problems facing Indian cricket would only worsen the dire situation in which the team currently finds itself.
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