Rediff Logo Cricket Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index
May 5, 1998


Kind attention: Mr Dalmiya

send this story to a friend Prem Panicker

Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya, the honourable president of the International Cricket Council, wants to spread the game among the associate nations.

A laudable aim, one I -- as, indeed, almost the cricket playing fraternity -- will greet with fervent applause.

Four days from today, the national cricket selectors will announce the Indian team to play two of the more prominent of those associate nations, namely Kenya and Bangladesh, in a triangular, day-night series at home.

This, we are told, is part of Dalmiya's plan to spread cricket around the globe.

Far be it from me to question Dalmiya's motives; even further to suggest that such tournaments are being staged with two goals in mind: one, to milk the sponsors (in this case, Pepsi) of every penny possible and the other, to reward those countries that stridently supported Dalmiya's bid, a year ago, for the ICC presidentship.

No way -- the tri-series, most definitely, aims to spread cricket as far and as wide as is humanly possible.

The question remains, is such a tournament the way to do it?

I remember the All India Football Association embarking on a similar exercise, in the eighties. "To promote football" in India, the national body invited the Sao Paulo junior side to play a series of exhibition games at centres in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Delhi and Calcutta.

The result? The boys from Brazil, the oldest among whom was all of 17, came down. Played a series of games against the cream of Indian soccer. And thrashed the pants off them, in game after game.

I love football -- and that particular series only did one thing for me: to wit, it brought home in vivid fashion the immense gulf between the game as played in India, and in the top footballing nations of the world. It also brought home to me the folly of this nation ever appearing on the international footballing arena, at least until the quality of play here had improved about 500 per cent.

For the life of me, I didn't however see one single sign of that tour having done anything at all to improve the standard of the game in this country.

I am afraid that as far as the stated goal is concerned, this upcoming tri-series featuring India, Kenya and Bangladesh is going to become a similar non-event.

Common sense -- assuming that Dalmiya is possessed of that uncommon commodity -- should tell him the unwisdom of such games. If the full India side is selected (hopefully, the selectors won't be stupid enough to do that), the other two teams will be hopelessly outclassed. And what does that do to the players?

I remember when I was in my XI standard, and playing for my schools team, being asked by my friend, S T Dilipan, if I would like to turn out for a practise game for his side, which at the time was the champions of the Chingleput District Cricket Association league (a tournament that, at the time, featured top sides like Southern Railway and more importantly, SPIC, then captained by S Venkatraghavan).

I jumped at the chance. And went out there cocky, confident about my own abilities -- after all, I was one of the stars of the school team wasn't I? In fact, I felt extremely irritated when Dilipan put me down at number five, as opposed to my customary number two slot.

My turn to bat finally came -- and I lasted about ten misery-packed deliveries, if I remember right. At the time, Southern Railway's fast bowler, a Dandayudhapani, was on -- and as ball after ball whistled past my ears or just failed to find the edges of the bat I blindly thrust forward, I realised just how much of growing up I had to do before I could actually play in the big leagues. I mean, not everyone can be a Sachin Tendulkar, confidently squaring up to Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram when just over 16 years old, can they?

The outcome of that outing was a serious sense of disillusionment. I figured to myself that I didn't have what it took to make the grade, and that the best thing for me would be to forget cricket altogether. And this feeling, in turn, had a debilitating effect on my performance for the school side, till my coach gave me the proverbial boot in the behind and got me back on track.

This is what happens when you play way out of your league -- you learn nothing, except maybe that your inadequacies are limitless, that you are miles short of being good for the big time.

This precisely the fate that awaits Kenya and Bangladesh later this month, even if the selectors wise up for once and pack the side not with the established stars but with young hopefuls. For the truth -- and Kenya's sensational upset of the West Indies means zilch, in this context -- is that neither Kenya nor Bangladesh is, at this moment in their cricketing development, capable of playing on equal terms against the A sides of most of the nine Test-playing nations.

Sports coaches will tell you that if you play an opponent slightly better than yourself, you will be stretched to your limits and will, thus, improve, push the envelope of your own possibilities further. But if you play a guy several notches above your own ability, you will be horribly outclassed -- and end up merely going through the motions.

I mean, will an amateur flyweight boxer learn much -- except perhaps the limits of his body's tolerance to pain -- by boxing against Mike Tyson?

Further, how does playing a tournament in India improve cricket in Kenya and Bangladesh, for god's sake?

If, however, the ICC president is serious about developing the game -- and not about lining the coffers of the Indian board, or paying back debts incurred during his campaign for high office -- then there are other, better ways to do the deed.

# 1:The ICC could -- should -- make it mandatory for each of the nine Test nations to include home and away tours against the leading associate nations, in their cricketing calendar. Obviously, the national elevens of the Test nations wouldn't undertake such tours -- rather, strong second string outfits, against whom the associate nations can pit themselves on relatively equal terms, would take part in the contests.

Such contests would help the players of the associate nations improve their own skills. And a win or two, albeit against an A team from a recognised nation, will give a fillip to the game in that particular country -- there is, after all, nothing like a win to promote interest in a game.

# 2: How does an individual player learn the nuances of the game? Not by reading out of date coaching manuals, but by seeing videos of games, watching top players in action. More so now, when innovations like stump cam and spin vision help you see things in extreme closeup, and thus enable you to hone your own techniques.

A while back, I wanted to watch a video of a particular game. I checked with the Bombay Cricket Association. Zilch. I checked with Marine Sports, the only sports-related books and video shop in Bombay. Zilch -- they stopped videotaping cricket games about a decade ago. I checked with the BCCI. Zilch -- they don't have any archives either.

Funny -- isn't the ICC, as also the Indian board, missing a bet, here? How much will it the Indian board to buy video rights for all India games, then mass market cassettes of the same? Whatever the cost, the board can easily recover it, and more, by way of advertisements. Imagine, then, a situation where videotapes of cricket games are as easy to buy, or hire, as the latest Bollywood blockbuster -- surely, the immense amount of good this would do to developing cricketers is obvious?

And at a global level, the ICC could do the same -- mass produce and market cricket videos, using sponsorships and advertisement money to ensure that the prices remain affordable. The ICC could flood such tapes in the associate nations, and really boost interest in the game in those regions, even as it helped aspiring players gain access to the necessary know how for improving their own skills.

Or is such thinking too simple for the masterminds who run the game today?

# 3: The likes of Syed Kirmani, Bishen Bedi, Madan Lal, Sandeep Patil, and Erappali Prasanna to name just a few have, in the recent past, coached up and coming youngsters in various associate nations for brief spells of time.

Such initiatives, however, have been ad hoc arrangements, between the boards of the respective nations, and individual players.

Top quality coaching, however, is a sine qua non if playing standards are to improve. And only when the standard of play improves, will interest among the followers really pick up.

To this end, the ICC can adopt a simple, yet extremely effective policy. Every one of the established nations has a huge wealth of talent, in the form of stars who are now retired and no longer active.

Imagine the enormous benefit to upcoming players if the ICC could put together a talent bank of the best such retired players, then send them in batches to the associate nations on sponsored, regular, coaching assignments!

None of these ideas is particularly hard to implement. And there is plenty more where those came from -- talk to any former cricketer, and he will probably give you dozens of even better ones.

You could implement such measures -- all it takes is the will, the desire, on the part of the ICC and its president to really do something to spread the game.

Then again, you can make sanctimonious pronouncements about wanting to spread the game worldwide. And go about organising more pajama matches that mean nothing, and achieve even less.

Now why do I get the sneaky feeling that under its current president, the second option is the one the ICC will go with?

Prem Panicker

Mail to Sports Editor