Rediff Logo Cricket Find/Feedback/Site Index
September 17, 1999


send this story to a friend

A dose of modernity

Harsha Bhogle

When he played cricket many years ago, Rodney Marsh was a hard, blunt man. The passage of time, and a new environment, haven't softened that edge and a recent article published in The Guardian in England suggests that far from being mellow and middle-edged, he is still tough and competitive.

But that is not the reason I am writing about him. In that article, he talks about the development of young cricketers in Australia, a responsibility that he seems to revel in as much as he did keeping wickets to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

It is an interesting article because it makes a few points and makes them bluntly. Not for Rodney Marsh the delicate turn-of-phrase that so many of us strive for to embellish our writing. He didn't play too many delicate shots so I guess that shouldn't be much of a surprise. Instead, like he used to pull a short one, he approaches matters directly.

There are a few points here for our administrators to ponder over. Matters like development of young men and keeping with the times haven't attracted their attention too much in recent times and there is little to suggest that it is in their things-to-do list. But they might want to cast a hasty glance over some of the things he says.

Australia's Under-19 team has just finished a tour of England and those young men will now have to start breaking into the toughest system in world cricket at the moment. This is what Marsh has to say about it:

Obviously it's tougher for our guys to play first-class cricket because, with just six first-class sides, there aren't so many slots available. We are about to introduce a proper second XI competition in which the Academy side will participate to hasten their development. This is because club cricket in Australia is not quite the nursery it once was. Test and state players don't play in it as regularly as they used to.

Having just six first class teams might suggest a much smaller pool to choose from but a wider choice doesn't always throw up more options. At any time a country needs twenty or twenty-five players to choose from and those are easily obtained from an effective pool of seventy-five. If anything, it makes the selection easier because they have come through an initial short-list and so they already represent a higher quality of cricket.

That is why, for example, the best companies go to top management institutes; the job of picking and rejecting has already been done and they can be sure that the person they select has a basic minimum quality. If instead, they had a huge pool to select from, the average quality of each candidate would be lower; the outstanding would mingle with the downright mediocre.

That is one of the problems that England and India have. England have 18 first class teams, India have a staggering 27. In such situations there are too many easy matches and life is quite easy for the best players. But regular exposure to inadequate opposition dulls their talent and when the time comes to make the highest grade, they are perhaps not as tough as they should be. I am not too sure about the situation in England but have absolutely no doubt that we need to have no more than half the number of teams we currently do in the Ranji Trophy. We need to weed players out better and that is what Marsh believes Australia are very good at.

I'm under no illusions that all my side will become significant cricketers. Take the 1991 Under-19 team that came to England. Five of them have played international cricket: Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Greg Blewett, Mike Kasprowicz and Simon Cook (a Victorian pace bowler). Five of them still play club cricket; four of them don't play at all. This suggests that the Aussie system sifts out the good ones more ruthlessly than in England.

The other area in which Australia have gone a step ahead is in product development; in the creation of better all-round cricketers. For years, Australia struggled on the sub-continent until they realised that if they wanted to be called the best team in the world, they needed to be competitive in all conditions. Most teams do well at home, the better teams do well abroad and that is something we have ignored for a very long time now. Here is an example of what Australia have done in recent times.

Once they are in the system we do our best to develop them. For example, we have identified that Australian sides have often struggled in the sub-continent, so last year we sent Matthew Hayden, Matthew Elliot and my son Daniel off to Madras for a week. They are all established first-class players, but the first two could improve their play against spin and Daniel is a left-arm spinner. There, they could train and play in alien conditions with the likes of Bedi and Venkat to lend a hand. We've also sent pacemen there with Dennis Lillee to learn how to bowl in extreme heat on bare grassless wickets. This was a terrific experience for all of them.

Now, ask yourself if there is a comparable effort, or any effort at all, to allow our young batsmen to play against the bouncing ball. I would like to believe that the opportunity exists. I am not so sure about the desire.

Australia are producing the most complete young players in the world today because their backroom planning has been superb. They have made things happen rather than hope that providence will bring the next Tendulkar their way. Let alone a Tendulkar, there is no exciting young opener in the Indian ranks, nor is there a left arm spinner or a back-up quick bowler or for that matter, a slip fielder. Meanwhile the Australians are looking ahead, though I suspect Marsh's tongue was a bit in his cheek when he wrote this.

Australia have a system that works best for them. It may not always work the same way for everyone else since differences in cultures play a part as well. So while importing a system may not always work, importing a bit of the work ethic and the state of mind can do no harm. Maybe we need to import a bit of desire as well.

It is something that A C Muthaiah, who is tipped to be the next president of the BCCI, might want to look into; for he needs to look at Indian cricket in much the same manner he does with his fertiliser plants. Just as he needs to keep up to date with technology and with production processes to remain competitive, Indian cricket needs to be overwhelmed with a dose of modernity. To use an analogy that will be dear to him, Indian cricket at the moment has some pretty good raw material but it is being put through some antique machines and sadly, therefore, is operating at very low efficiencies.

A successful industrialist would cringe at seeing the production processes being used in Indian cricket. So, will Mr. Muthaiah cringe? Will he be an industrialist in the BCCI or will he be another part-time, honorary, well-meaning official?

Ah, well.....we think we know the answer but we would be very happy to be wrong !

Harsha Bhogle

Mail Prem Panicker