The BCCI’s powerplay will ensure Team India’s winless streak abroad is snapped — by reducing its yearly away tours.
The last time India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni won an overseas Test was against the West Indies in June 2011. Back then, Praveen Kumar used to get the new ball. Today, the swing bowler doesn’t even get an IPL contract.
But why bring up a Test, ODI and T20 discard these days, during talk of the national team’s winless streak on foreign soil? Because Praveen Kumar can illustrate how deep this wound is. Besides he also helps one understand cricket’s unique concept of time. Conventional clocks or calendars aren’t equipped to capture the slow crawl of the last 32 months, the unending period of failure abroad. A lifetime seems to have passed since that Caribbean high. Indeed, it has. This long, agonising stretch has seen precious talent become worthless and also witnessed the gradual eclipse of a mighty halo.
Since that rare win in Jamaica, every Test abroad has seen hopes dashed and reputations dented. Dhoni’s men have lost Test series in England, Australia, South Africa and now New Zealand. It’s taken a heavy toll on Indian cricket watchers. The unending bad news from abroad has multiplied the cynicism at home. The other day, Sourav Ganguly called Dhoni’s captaincy obnoxious. Even some of his die-hard fans have turned foes. They haven’t taken the loss in New Zealand too well. Off the field, too, the skipper has fluffed his lines. When you talk of “plenty of improvements” after losing to the seventh-ranked team in the world, that too in a sport played by eight nations, you aren’t being optimistic. You are testing everyone’s patience.
In these times of disillusionment, here’s an anti-depressant for troubled cricket souls. Look at the world the way the BCCI sees it, and you are sure to spot the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. If you borrow its eyes, you can even see the sparkling sun, clear blue sky and smiling men doing cartwheels on their way to the bank. More on that too-good-to-be-true picture later, but first a reprimand for the teary fans in blue: you’ve got it all wrong. All this while you’ve been following the wrong Team India and watching the wrong tours.
The real Tests were being played in Dubai and Singapore, not South Africa and New Zealand. That’s where India was always winning. Unlike India’s top order, which fails to adapt to lively tracks, or bowlers who fail to seal victories, these tricolour-fluttering men have always hit the ground running and stomped their heavy boots over the opposition, leaving it battered and bruised. The men doing all the damage wore sharp suits with deep pockets and BCCI emblems. They didn’t need a bat or ball to assert their overwhelming domination over world cricket. They were equipped with erasers and pens to rub off the old order and write their own story.
Intimidated by their aura, Australia and England gave in early. South Africa tried playing hardball, but couldn’t match the guile of the wily Indians. Sri Lanka and Pakistan attempted delaying tactics and even sledging, that too of the “son of pigs” kind. They were nothing but sore losers. The N. Srinivasan-motivated and -mentored squad hasn’t just won the boardroom “world cup” by a massive margin, it has run extra miles for Team B, the one led by Dhoni.
After back-breaking negotiations, the BCCI has ensured that this ignominy of serial away losses will soon be a thing of the past. Fans, wipe away those tears. We just need to somehow get through this difficult year, when we travel to England and Australia, where repeats of the away debacles in South Africa and New Zealand can’t be ruled out. But show courage, suffer those last few body blows, as 2015 will usher in the Age of India. The new global order, the one those dashing men with briefcases have cajoled/ arm-twisted the world into following, will see the end of the inclusive itinerary that the ICC used to draw out. The worthless Future Tours Programme (FTP) document that obligated the ICC’s 10 full members to cross swords with each other twice on a home-and-away basis in five-year cycles doesn’t exist any more. Yes, be proud, the BCCI has put it through the shredder.
Now, according to the reforms, India will decide whom it wishes to play, where it wishes to play and when. The BCCI has officially declared that, starting from 2015, the team will travel abroad just once in a season, so that it can hold between two to three “guaranteed bumper income” home series. During the last decade, India has played 55 Tests abroad, and almost the same number at home. In the coming years, going by what the BCCI is saying, for every Test it plays abroad, it will now play two, if not three, in its backyard.
Home games don’t just mean more money for the board — hosts pocket telecast rights is the rule in the sporting world — but more wins and giant strides in the ranking race. In 2008, after years, India hosted three countries. The next year, it was the number one Test side. Conversely, in 2011, India, after ages, flew out for three away Test series. The result: it lost number one status.
Then, our hands were tied, though loosely, by fragile FTP threads. Now, we will decide venues and opponents. In case there is a threat of falling off the podium or there is pressure from fans during a longish slump, we can invite a weak side home or travel to a minnow nation and secure easy points. These days, the world awaits a call from BCCI headquarters and is forever willing to tamper its schedule and present, on a platter, the dates we want. Sri Lanka recently spelled out this harsh reality. It projected its cricketing income for the next seven years: $60 million. But it will fall miserably short of its target if India doesn’t travel to Sri Lanka for a month — those 30 days will see it get $28 million.
This new economics has resulted in the BCCI cutting down on less financially rewarding overseas tours. But its collateral benefits are more interesting. Fewer away tours for Team India means less suffering for fans. Most of the time the team will be at home, so no need to live in a different time zone and wake up at ungodly hours. There will be so few days like the one at Wellington, when we conceded 319 runs and picked up just one wicket. Or like day five at Johannesburg last year, when our bowlers bowled 50 wicketless overs. Watching them, we cringed and cursed. Later, thinking about the missed chance of finally winning abroad, we tossed and turned. Had it been at home, Ravindra Jadeja would have exploited the roughs, Zaheer Khan would have utilised the scruffed-up old ball. Come 2015, we will have few forgettable outings on alien land.
We will have more wins at home, top ranking, time for auctions and an undisturbed IPL slot. We will also have batsmen who score 200s in ODIs, Test batsmen sitting on record run piles and spinners on the top of the ranking charts. So what if the batsmen will continue to show a lack of patience or skill while playing the rising ball and the bowlers will remain one dimensional. We have never won a series in Australia and South Africa, and perhaps we never will. But, thanks to our administrators, we will remain a few rungs above them on the power list. It’s time officials got their due.