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Tuesday, August 09, 2022

‘One country, two cricket teams’: The idea whose time has come, again

Miles away from Durham where the Virat Kohli-led Test team is camped, Shikhar Dhawan on Sunday will walk out for the Colombo ODI. This will be the first time in 23 years that India will be fielding two teams simultaneously in international cricket.

Written by Vishal Menon , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: July 21, 2021 10:05:00 am
Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli. (File)

Some time back, Australia head coach Justin Langer had famously scoffed at the prospect of fielding two separate international teams in two different countries, with this sardonic remark: “We’re one country, aren’t we? We’re not two countries. And we’re one sport.” But not everyone is subscribing to Langer’s views. Given the pandemic and the stringent bio-bubble norms, the one-country-two cricket team idea, that has historical antecedent and even modern-day acceptance, might once again be in-vogue.

Miles away from Durham where the Virat Kohli-led Test team is camped, Shikhar Dhawan on Sunday will walk out for the Colombo ODI. This will be the first time in 23 years that India will be fielding two teams simultaneously in international cricket. And interestingly both Indian teams start as favourites.

This move showcases the staggering reservoir of talent at India’s disposal, something that Australia had tried to inculcate into their system during their pomp in the 1990s and early aughts, but was met with criticism.

“This idea of assembling a second Indian team is interesting. What India are trying to do today, Australia did this years ago, but they were not able to be successful in it. India appears to be pulling it off,” former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq said on his YouTube channel, Inzamam ul Haq – The Match Winner.

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Testimony to India’s bench strength

India’s recent Test triumph against Australia was orchestrated by an inexperienced replacement team after skipper Virat Kohli was on paternity leave, and a host of other influential players were injured. A similar narrative played out in the just-concluded Test series against England. Axar Patel had proved to be a like-for-like replacement for the proven match-winner Ravindra Jadeja.

Former national selector MSK Prasad gives credit to the ecosystem surrounding the IPL and the surfeit of India A tours for forking out talented players like Suryakumar Yadav, Nitish Rana, and Chetan Sakariya.

“There have been numerous India A tours during my tenure as a selector. The senior team management, along with the national selectors and India A head staff would sit down and identify fringe players and hand them opportunities for the smooth transition to take place. It’s a process of over 5 years that’s bearing dividends,” Prasad told The Indian Express.

England are another team with the requisite bench strength to field different teams for different formats. Last week, a second-string England team boasting 9 uncapped players trounced Pakistan 3-0 in the ODI series. Lancashire pacer Saqib Mahmood responded to his ‘out of the blue inclusion’ with 4-42 in the opening fixture at Cardiff.

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Historical context

September 1998. India was scheduled to participate at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia, a showpiece event that was overlapping with the big-ticket five-match ODI series against Pakistan in Toronto. BCCI assembled two squads — one led by Ajay Jadeja that bowed out of CWG with just one win, while the other led by incumbent captain Mohammed Azharuddin were skittled away 4-1. While India’s two-team experiment was necessitated due to a rare overlapping of two major series, England had tried something similar back in 1929-30, for an altogether different reason — to spread the game to areas as diverse as the Caribbean and New Zealand.

Noted statistician Tushar Trivedi gives more details. “Freddie Calthorpe captained England to their first tour of the West Indies, while another team under the leadership of Harold Gilligan set sail to Auckland. While the duel against West Indies in Georgetown ended in a stalemate, New Zealand got the better of Gilligan’s team,” he says.

Indian cricket team head coach Rahul Dravid with Shikhar Dhawan during the team’s first training session in Sri Lanka, Friday, July 2, 2021. (PTI)

Stepping stone for fringe players

The limited-overs series against Sri Lanka will hand uncapped players the platform to cinch their spots for the T20 World Cup in October. “Hopefully, people will get the opportunity to put in some really good performances in the process and give themselves the best chance of knocking on the selectors’ doors,” head coach Rahul Dravid said during a virtual press conference. Devdutt Padikkal, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Nitish Rana, K. Gowtham and Chetan Sakariya are the five uncapped players to receive a call-up for this series based on the performances of the last two editions of the IPL. “This tour is crucial for youngsters like Prithvi Shaw, Padikkal and Gaikwad. They would be keen to do well and set a marker for the selectors. Whether they get picked for the World Cup or not, that’s a call the selectors would take based on their plans,” Dravid elaborated.

Is two-team strategy the way forward?

Ahead of the team’s departure to England, India’s head coach Ravi Shastri insisted that two squads travelling to different places at the same time could become a norm in the world of bio-bubbles and the pandemic. “Playing with two squads in different locations regularly is a possibility in the long run,” Shastri said. Such a move makes sense as it will give the all-format players like Kohli, Rishabh Pant, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, and Mohammed Shami the much-needed time away from the game while helping in their workload management.

Having two teams also bolsters BCCI’s attempts at shoring up revenues during these grim times. Besides, staging a bilateral series against India is always a lucrative option for other boards.

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First published on: 16-07-2021 at 08:09:57 pm
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