Square pegs in all-round hole

Thanks to injury and poor form,a solution for India’s recurring No.7 problem has remained elusive

Written by Harsha Bhogle | Published: July 13, 2012 1:22 am

Thanks to injury and poor form,a solution for India’s recurring No.7 problem has remained elusive

Amidst the timeless,and compelling,beauty of Roger Federer at Wimbledon,and the clinical precision of Spain at the Euro,Indian cricket’s short holiday was barely missed. Now,another season,and another tour of Sri Lanka,looms,an Indian team has been announced and familiar issues have been brushed under the carpet. Little changes.

Meanwhile there has been a flood of Tendulkar interviews; more,I suspect,because there was the offer of a visit to Germany rather than any major issues that needed airing. And the selectors bowed deferentially to a player’s choice,seemingly unconcerned about the precedent they set. If there is a long term plan to ease Tendulkar into a smaller work schedule,it must remain a secret. Indeed,our selectors have been extraordinarily shy of discussing careers with senior players. No one talked to Dravid about his plans twelve months ago and I will be very surprised if anyone has sat down with a Laxman or a Zaheer or,dare anyone say,a Tendulkar,to discuss the length of their services to Indian cricket. We remain committed to a reactive mode of management. We don’t like foreseeing situations,we like handling them as they come.

And so,after a brief and,to be honest,failed flirtation with the all-rounder,India have gone back to what they like best — playing with seven batsmen and hoping two or three of those get through with bowling ten overs. It is not a new situation. In the phase from 2002-04 when India played some excellent 50-over cricket,Rahul Dravid kept wickets and a combination of Ganguly,Sehwag or Yuvraj (or even Dinesh Mongia) bowled ten hesitant overs. And at the 2011 World Cup,Yuvraj covered that weakness. In between,and thereafter,India have tried all three contenders for that slot: the Pathan brothers and Ravindra Jadeja. A solution has been elusive.

Through injury,and poor form,Irfan has been largely lost to Indian cricket for a few years now. His brother isn’t hammering the selector’s door down either. And now Jadeja has been found wanting. Outside of these,not a single player with that skill set has announced himself in the last few years and so,if India want their balance to be right it would seem that one of the seven batsmen steps up to play the all-rounder’s role or one of these three players is worked upon to raise his game. In effect that is what management is about; not just handling the best but getting those that have to play bit roles to get better than what they seem capable of.

Most organisations have a system that ensures good players are not lost forever. The Pathans and Jadeja may never become Dravids or Zaheers but they are good enough to play a role; a quiet,unfashionable role maybe but one that completes the ensemble. India has invested significantly in each of the three so now who is responsible for ensuring that the investment,like many in recent times in the money markets,are not lost.

That,I would like to believe,is the job of the National Cricket Academy where an expert,resident or otherwise,works with players to sort out issues that might have crept in. A few years ago when Alastair Cook’s potentially magnificent career seemed to have stalled,England got a grizzly,hardened man in Graham Gooch to set him right. When Sourav Ganguly thought he had a problem he spent a week with Greg Chappell in Australia and came back a better player. Cook and Ganguly are/were exceptional players but even the Pathans and Jadejas don’t need their game dismantled,not any more. They need someone to tweak it,either the technique,the approach or indeed,the mind. Why,I’m sure a Suresh Raina would benefit with a week or ten days spent with Rahul Dravid,a Harbhajan with an Anil Kumble. But Indian cricket needs to have a system to rehabilitate as much as it does one to discover fresh talent.

I must confess I don’t know whose responsibility that is. I would like to believe the chief selector would be concerned enough to find a way out or,more likely,the national coach. Someone has to be in charge of player performance,player upkeep and,where needed,rehabilitation. And that person has to be accountable. Performance is measured as much in the actual match results achieved as in whether or not players have grown under a particular regime. In recent years India have lost Munaf Patel,RP Singh,Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh; the three players I have mentioned haven’t become the players they could have; Suresh Raina and Pragyan Ojha’s growth has tapered… that is far too many to allow. India now have no bowlers of any quality to summon and that has been on the horizon for a while. So,who’s responsibility is it?

And so in the foreseeable future,India will have to play with seven batsmen (or play Ashwin at seven) and hope that the four bowlers have a good day everyday because there is no back up any more—those guys are busy being the fifth bowler. India will continue to get by in conditions where Raina and Sehwag and Rohit can slip a few overs in but to be consistent,India must play five bowlers and that means one of those must bat. But with two new balls in limited overs cricket that fifth bowler should ideally be the third seamer.

There is an issue with senior batsmen in test cricket and with all-rounders in limited overs cricket that needs urgent attention. But that carpet,the one things keep getting pushed under,has had bulges in it for too long.

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