Ramesh Thakur, in The Australian, 16 January 2011
THE sense of let-down from Team India’s Test performance results from the yawning gap between reputation and results. The humiliation could yet be channelled constructively to address clusters of failures at three levels. Most critical commentary has highlighted individual failures, technical deficiencies and flaws: dependence on ageing superstars, repeated failures by newcomers to stand and deliver, substandard fielding, a casual approach to training and practice, the absence of strike bowlers, etc.
The positions of captain and coach need urgent attention, including splitting between long and short formats. M.S. Dhoni has been brilliant in the one day international format, where the task is to restrict the opposition and blast a big score amid fielding and bowling restrictions. In the Test arena, with the requirement to bowl out opponents twice and build an innings amid testing conditions, he is ultra-defensive and lacks creative flair.
The pace bowlers’ failure to bowl full and at the top of the off stump is an indictment of coaching. But the coach was hired by the Board of Control for Cricket in India knowing his past record.
The BCCI has earned a reputation in cricketing circles for bullying based on market power. The lure of large profits by exploiting the game’s popularity today has drowned out sensible strategy for the development of cricket in the long term. In rejecting the use of the best available technology to assist umpires and rectify the few mistakes they make, the BCCI has also shown itself to be a dinosaur. In effect, the BCCI position is: technology cannot guarantee 100 per cent accuracy, so we will stay with 80 per cent accuracy rather than move to 90 per cent.
Between greed and technologically challenged obstinacy, the BCCI has damaged India’s brand. Hence the schadenfreude about India’s dismal performance. There is a lack of a rigorous standard of competition at India’s highest level of first-class cricket. In the elite innermost circle, there should not be more than half a dozen teams. This will ensure that the best are competing against the best.
Being the best batsman in the country of mediocre bowling and fielding does not ask enough tough questions of technique, temperament and application to enable selectors to pick the best team for foreign conditions.
This should be buttressed by recreating the full range of pitch conditions to assist both pace and spin bowlers, which will be a fairer test again of both bowling and batting abilities. The slow and turning pitches in India do not advertise the strengths or expose the limitations of spinners on less friendly tracks, or the potential of pace bowlers on helpful wickets, or even of batsmen in bowler-friendly conditions.
Several recent matches have confirmed that Test cricket is at its most exciting when there is an even contest between bat and ball. The two-Test series between Australia and New Zealand just before Team India’s arrival was thrilling.
The BCCI could not just accept, but advance the use of modern technology to rebalance the contest between bat and ball. A batsman cannot be out lbw if the ball pitches outside leg, or if he is outside the off stump while playing a shot. This is understandable with human failings. But with modern ball-tracking technology an lbw appeal should be upheld if there is no contact with the bat, and the ball strikes the pads, and would have hit the stumps otherwise.
At the national government level, and in the states, India must appoint a tested political heavyweight as sports minister with the necessary resources to lift sports out of the doldrums and into the 21st century. India must have the world’s worst global sporting ranking per capita. The existing situation should be a matter of intense shame and embarrassment.
Sport is not just whimsical entertainment for amateurs outside work hours. It is a serious business that requires scouting for talent and then nurturing it from childhood to maturity without discrimination on grounds of religion, region, caste or gender and investing in the physical and administrative infrastructure.
Sport is also one of the most critical elements of soft power. The former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries understood this and invested heavily in sporting prowess and success. China does the same today.
International sporting success is crucial to instilling national pride, encouraging national integration, providing a fertile source of inspirational stories, shaping the national narrative, and changing the outside world’s perceptions of a country.
The disparity between China and India’s organisational abilities in the last Olympic and Commonwealth games, respectively, is exceeded by the disparity in their respective athletes’ international performances.
The BCCI embodies most of the ills and failings of governance in India in general, where money and power corrupt separately, and corrupt completely when they intersect.
Ramesh Thakur is Director, Centre for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, at the Australian National University.