I must confess at the beginning that I am no sagacious cricket analyst who pores over hours of footage or reams of statistical tables every day. Neither am I an accomplished cricketer myself, since my only achievement of note is a score of 29 not out in a tennis-ball gully cricket tournament final. Keeping this in mind, I wouldn’t blame anyone who questioned my right to offer a solution to our beloved cricket team.
Yet, I can lay stake to being a critic by virtue of juggling quite a few roles. I am the voice at the tea-stall that engages in long debates about Ashwin’s carrom ball. I am the voice that yells in chorus with others in front of that electronics goods store television when Ashish Nehra makes a mess of the game for the umpteenth time. I am the patriot who doesn’t think twice about missing a party or even a lecture for the sake of watching a cricket match. Finally, I am the cricket fan who is the clap, the chant and the anguished sigh to the Indian cricket team. It is in this capacity that I humbly propose a few modifications for a better future.
#5: Sporting pitches for a better sport
Though many scoffed at India’s dismal record overseas, we always puffed out our chests and asked them to come to India where we were kings. We could produce turning tracks that would gobble up the best of teams within three days and even Steve Waugh, that mighty general, was forced to grudgingly anoint India as the “Final Frontier”. Then, when England visited this year, we denied them practice against spin and designed pitches that were supposed to dazzle the visitors with spin. They had whitewashed us in their land and this was meant to be the perfect recipe for revenge.
Cook, however, had a recipe of his own, and Panesar combined with Swann to beat the lion in his own den. That fateful series will leave its scars forever, but it was also a very timely wake-up call. Cricket is not just about spin. It is about seam, swing, bounce and pace as well. Youngsters who play on tepid tracks in India should know that a ball can shoot up from a good length to deliver a crushing blow, that the red cherry can seam in viciously to blast off the middle stump. Flat pitches can enthral shallow T20 fans but they cannot turn boys into men. We definitely need sporting pitches to compete with the best in the world – no two ways about it.
#4: Don’t give an infinitely long rope to non-performers
Rohit Sharma has had his complete quota of chances plus many more. Ravindra Jadeja seemingly commands a spot in the team by birthright. India simply cannot aim to move forward by continuing to carry the burdens of non-performers. The more the number of matches a young Ajinkya Rahane or Manoj Tiwary languishes on the bench, the higher will their nervousness and self-doubt rise.
Yes, the current BCCI chief happens to be the owner of Chennai Super Kings, the Indian captain also captains CSK and yes, the team is flooded with CSK players as a result. How long can this façade continue though? Is there no concept of meritocracy left in Indian cricket any more? Indian domestic leagues are abuzz with talent and a few brave calls from the selectors are imperative. No player should be made to feel that a spot in the team belongs to him. He should earn it.
#3: Do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs
The IPL brought in a lot of positive changes for Indian cricket. It kept the cash registers ringing, helped discover precocious Indian talent and fortified India’s position as the cricket capital of the world. Sadly, it is turning out to be a Frankenstein monster that is threatening to destroy its creator. Players tired by two months of slam-bang cricket are looking jaded and listless in Indian colours. Many youngsters have renounced first-class cricket ambitions to have a shot at IPL glory. And many Indians these days would rather choose the option of watching Manchester United battle Real Madrid than watch another pointless MI vs CSK tie.
It is time to reduce the duration of the IPL, preferably by half. The “Champions League” seems to have no context whatsoever and needs to be abandoned. The BCCI is not so short of cash that it cannot withstand these cuts. It would only require a slight reduction of greed and ego.
#2: Try a change in leadership
No one can deny the contribution that Dhoni has made to Indian cricket. He came in like a breath of fresh air, made bold decisions, led from the front and India kept winning. Lately though, the spark has been missing from his eyes. There is a tired air about his demeanour that suggests possible burnout. His captaincy is no longer inspiring; rather, it seems to be lacking in imagination and foresight. As excellent as he is in the limited overs format, one can’t help but question whether he deserves a place in the Test squad when there are fresh and talented glovesmen snapping at his heels.
Sourav Ganguly came in as a leader at a time when the sceptre of match-fixing was threatening to ruin Indian cricket. Dhoni himself donned the mantle of captain when the team was in a transitional phase. Perhaps now, when we have tasted eight successive overseas defeats and the aura of invincibility at home is gone, the time for change has arrived again. Virat Kohli, despite his occasional misadventures, seems to have a mature head on his shoulders and his aggression is self-evident. How worse can the team perform if Kohli takes over from Dhoni at this juncture? It is surely a point to ponder over.
#1: Respect the Indian cricket fan
Decades ago, it was hockey and not cricket which Indians worshipped fanatically. Cricket was a sport that was confined to a few urban pockets of the nation. Slowly but surely, the fortunes of the Indian hockey team started declining and the fans started losing interest. Kapil Dev’s underdogs conjured a World Cup triumph out of nowhere and India, like a fickle lover, began romancing cricket. Can history repeat itself for the unthinkable to happen? Can cricket make way for other sports in India?
The signs are slowly revealing themselves to us. IPL TV ratings are declining, stadiums are half-empty for quite a few matches and Indo-Pak matches are no longer the cause for empty streets. This problem is not so difficult to rectify. Do not charge TV channels so exorbitantly that they are forced to edit out the first and last ball of the over in favour of advertisements. Make sure that there are working toilets and comfortable seats in stadiums. Do not run the game with such blatant hegemony that the ordinary fan is disillusioned with cricket. Finally, learn to respect the Indian cricket fan because it is he/she who ensures that BCCI’s coffers are always full.
I conclude with the following quote that seems to fit here perfectly:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
- Viktor E. Frankl