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April 15, 1998


Burn out!

send this story to a friend Prem Panicker

I heard that Srinath will be rested for Sharjah, because "we don't want to burn out a valuable player, keeping in mind the upcoming World Cup".

I am very impressed.

I heard, too, that we could be in four a four-nation one-day tournament sometime soon. To celebrate the golden jubilee of the Orissa Cricket Association.

I am even more impressed. Golden jubilees are big things, and of course they should be celebrated. With vim, and considerable vigour.

Meanwhile, I have a table for your consideration:

SeasonVenue ParticularsMatches
1996AwayTour of England 3 Tests and 3 one-day internationals.
1996-97AwaySinger Cup in Sri Lanka 3 one-day internationals
1996-97AwaySahara Cup in Toranto 5 one-day internationals.
1996-97HomeAustralia to India 1 Test match
1996-97HomeTitan Cup in India 6 one-day internationals
1996-97HomeSouth Africa to India 3 Test matches and one one-dayer.
1996-97AwayTour of South Africa 3 Test matches and 8 one-day internationals.
1996-97AwayTour of Zimbabwe One one-dayer
1996-97AwayTour of West Indies 5 Test matches and 4 one-day internationals
1996-97HomeIndependence Cup in India 3 one-day internationals.
1997-98AwayTour of Sri Lanka 2 Test matches and 8 one-day internationals.
1997-98AwaySahara Cup in Toranto 6 one-day internationals.
1997-98AwayWills Challenge Cup in Pakistan 3 one-day internationals.
1997-98AwayChampions Trophy in Sharjah 3 one-day international
1997-98HomeSri Lanka to India 3 Test matches and 3 one-day internationals.
1997-98AwayIndependence Cup in Dhaka 5 one-day internationals.
1997-98HomeAustralia to India 3 Test matches.
1997-98HomePepsi Triangular Series in India 5 one-day internationals.

In this span of time, India has played a total of 23 Test matches, and 67 one day internationals. And visited a record 11 countries -- including the repeat visits, that is. Think, here, of air miles, varying time zones, jet lag, adapting to different conditions, climates, temperatures, types of food et al.

During the span of time detailed in the above table -- May 3, 1996 to April 15, 1998 -- the Indian cricketers have been active for approximately 472 days, if we take into account travel time, first class and other tour matches, et al. (We are not including, here, the domestic engagements the players have taken part in during the same period).

That means, in effect, that the Indian cricketers have been active for a phenomenal 66.10 per cent of the time. More, if you factor in the domestic engagements, masala matches and all the rest of it.

This is, far and away, the highest among all nine Test-playing nations.

Now look at the forthcoming fixtures:
April 17-24: India-Australia-New Zealand one-dayers, Sharjah
May 11-24: India-Kenya-Bangladesh tri-series, in India
June 14-July 3: Sri Lanka Independence Cup
September 12-20: India-Pakistan Sahara Cup series, Toronto
September 12-19: Commonwealth cricket tournament, Kuala Lumpur
September 24-October 12: India tour of Zimbabwe
December 4: Indian tour of New Zealand.
January 16: Pakistan tour of India

At first sight, there seem to be large gaps in the schedule. Lots of time for the cricketers to rest and recoup.

Think again -- there is no such thing. What you read is a tentative schedule. Dalmiya -- who believes in marketing cricket like chips, just flood the shop shelves and sit back while the public buy it all up -- is busy filling in the gaps. With a four-nation tourney that might or might not take place. And you can bet your bottom dollar that by the time Dalmiya and his cohorts in the BCCI are done, there will be a game played every third day, at the least.

More importantly, there is the ICC-sponsored mini-World Cup in Bangladesh to fit into the September-October slot.

And remember, this schedule, tentative as it is, only covers the period up to January. If precedent is any judge, the dates between then, and the World Cup in England, will be filled up ASAP. In fact, the final itinerary will be released following the ICC meeting in May.

So now tell me, what kind of preparation is this for the World Cup? What are we trying to ensure, here? That the Indian team -- even the youngest, fittest members thereof -- will be a jaded, bored, tired lot, grappling with injuries to the body, and tiredness of the mind, just when they need to be at their fittest and most alert?

In the aftermath of India's recent successes, I've been getting tonnes of mail, all optimistic in tone, looking ahead to the World Cup, asking me if I was optimistic about the team's chances of regaining a trophy they won the last time the premier competition was held in England.

The answer -- sorry as I am to say this -- is, no! On the contrary, I think India will do very badly, when it goes up against fitter, better prepared teams from England, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and the West Indies. Heck, on second thoughts, why leave out New Zealand? Zimbabwe?

We already have one instance of how this kind of scheduling is going to affect results (and I am not referring to the injuries to Srinath, to Prasad and others, earlier).

Examine the just concluded Pepsi Cup final between India and Australia. India played cricket by rote, thoughtlessly. Australia came in to the game well prepared, having spent three days watching videos of their games, and that of the opposition, identifying possible strategies, practising them out at the nets, and putting in place a complete game plan.

The result: India lost, Australia won. Simple.

So why didn't India prepare as thoroughly. Simply because the team wasn't there, in Delhi. Aware that within 30-something hours of the final they had to pack their bags and fly to Sharjah, the cricketers decided to go home during the four days they had between the last league game, and the final. They reassembled in Delhi only the afternoon before the big game, had a brief, cursory nets in the evening, and that was that.

Simply put, the team that had stayed together, played and won together, went off the boil during the break. That shows you what can happen if you play cricket with such monotonous frequency.

In course of a chat, once, I brought this subject up with J Y Lele. And got the response you can predict, if you talk to people who have no idea what the grind can be like.

'What is all this talk of too much cricket?' Lele asked me then. 'They are professionals, they are paid to play. Don't you and I work every day of the week all round the year? Why are they special?'

Sure, we work 360 or more days out of 365. Lele, you, me, all of us.

There is one difference the Leles of this world won't understand, though.

To explain, I'll take me as an example. Every day that India plays, I am live, typing non-stop, for 8 hours. Then, an hour and a half later, I am delivering to the upload guys my match report -- which involves typing a further 2,500 words, maybe more, in about 90 minutes.

I do this every day India plays an international match. On the other days, I attend to my regular work, as deputy editor of this site. And all of this combined is a real hard grind, it leaves me mentally dead at the end of the day. There are days when I get in to work, open the site for the commentary, and in back of my mind, go, 'Chit! Not another bloody game!'

Given that this is how I feel before the game even begins, what are the odds I will do a less than good job of it?

In the end, I make mistakes. Credit a wicket to one bowler, when I know another took it. Stuff like that. Mistakes that occur mainly because I am too damned tired to think, too damned weary to go through what I have written before I hand it over for uploading.

My mistakes get a bit of flak, yes. In the mail, on discussion groups, wherever. But the flak is not public, not open, not all-pervasive.

Take, by way of contrast, the lot of the cricketer. The guy, even more weary of playing the game than I am of covering it, makes a mistake. Misjudges length and line, plays a bad shot, gets out. The team suffers.

Next day, the media -- myself included -- are analysing the error in terms of technique. With no allowance made for mental fatigue, no concession given to the fact that he is a human being. Meanwhile, the fans -- or at least a section thereof -- are adding their own spin to it.

This came in mail today: "Didn't you think it was funny, that the captain who could do no wrong, the vice captain who seemed unconquerable, both stuffed up just in the crucial game? The bookies had India odds-on favourites, betting on Australia would have netted them big bucks, don't you think?"

That was the most explicit of the mails I got today. There have been others on like lines.

Ajay Jadeja, after a series when he has outperformed himself, finds people speculating about whether he was deliberately underperforming in the big game. Earlier, once, he talked of how, during a break between tours, he went shopping at a supermarket near his home, checking out among the electronics section for a new pair of earphones. And overheard this: "Arre, why won't he shop for costly goods? He gets paid to play, plus he gets paid by other people to pay badly!"

It underlines my point. We all work 360 days or more. But we work in relative obscurity, anonymity. In the shade, and away from the spotlight. The cricketers, on the other hand, work out there in full public gaze. Accountable to a nation of 950 million people, every single one of whom believes he or she knows better than the 11 players representing them.

Every move of yours is minutely analysed, commented upon. No allowance is ever made.

It is the heck of a burden, that.

And that is not all. We have accounted only for actual playing time. How about the time it takes to train, to practise, to keep yourself at the top of your fitness and form? The time taken watching videos, learning about yourself and your opposition?

How about the pressure of being a public figure? Of having to be friendly and charming to all who approach you, no matter how inconvenient it is just then?

Remember Azhar losing his shirt over his cap getting stolen, earlier this year, during a benefit game? Remember Pat Symcox, recently, getting ragged, finally losing his cool, and ending up not only publicly hauled over the coals, accused of racism and worse, and being fined for not signing an autograph?

All this is part and parcel of being an international sportsman. True. My point is merely that we -- and more than us, the Leles of this world -- need to sit down and think this through. Realise just what it means to be a cricketer, carrying the hopes -- often unreasonable what's more, I mean, we expect our 11 to win every game, forgetting that there are 11 other guys, internationals themselves, doing their damndest to stop you from doing that -- of a nation.

If Lele -- and more importantly, Dalmiya -- did think this through, they would realise that in a country where results are paramount, where cricketers live and die by the result of the last game, they need to do whatever they can to ensure that the team produces more good results than bad.

And the most obvious place to start is to spend some time thinking this scheduling thing through.

The Indian team is not a cabaret artiste, for Dalmiya to use to entertain his especial friends. I mean, what the heck is the senior team doing, playing Kenya and Bangladesh for god's sake? What is this side doing, inbetween the tough Toronto engagement and the mini-World Cup, racing off to Zimbabwe to play one solitary Test and assorted one dayers?

Sure, they all voted for Dalmiya in the ICC presidentship race -- but what have Azhar and his team got to do with that? Why do they need to pay the price?

Nurtured properly, given enough space, given rest periods between tours, made to play against opposition that could test them, help them hone their skills by providing different challenges, this side, with both experience and a healthy dose of youthful talent and exuberance, could do well in England, come mid-1999.

The way we are going, though, I wouldn't be surprised to find that half the key players are on the injured list long before that day. And as always, when the side under-performs and we look for the reasons, we will forget about the Dalmiyas and Leles and their roles in the fiasco.

And content ourselves with wondering which of the players is being bribed.

Stats: Anant Gaundalkar

Prem Panicker

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