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February 1, 2000


India Down Under

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To pay on performance...

Rohit Gupta

And so, another tour is over, another series is lost, and the sense of despair in being an ardent supporter, of Indian cricket, reaches new lows. One common strain that appears in all of the post moertems is a concerted demand for faster pitches back home, so that batsmen can get acclimated to bounce, pace, swing and hopefully a combination of the three.

Let us delve a bit deeper into this mess. India's record in matches overseas has not been the most heartwarming. That we all know. But, is that entirely due to playing in conditions which are alien and non-compromising? Or is there more beneath the surface that we are not willing to accept? Our last two Australian tours have seen us lose seven Tests, the last two South African tours have seen us lose three Tests; this in stark contrast to our performances against the very same teams on home soil. This combined with our losses in New Zealand, West Indies and England have totally proven that we just do not acclimate fast enough to the rigors of international cricket these days.

Well, to begin with, slow, turning tracks at home, make the batsmen adjust in a very different mindset. The benefit which the players of the sub-continent have over the others against spin is entirely due to their day-to-day endurance on dead tracks. Fast wickets can be prepared, but there is a lot more which is needed to generate a similar atmosphere to the WACA, Newlands (Capetown) or the Basin Reserve. We can't replicate the weather conditions or the local support which exists in big matches. We can't judge the intricacies of the ground conditions which essentially gives rise to cautious and eventually sub-par fielding efforts. So making a pitch like the one at Mohali or at Madras, will only be a pre-cursor to foreign sides doing better at home. I doubt if it will really inspire our heroes to prosper in places such as Johannesburg and Bridgetown.

What then? The one thing that comes to mind, is rather radical. But it might bring results sooner rather than later. That is, for the BCCI, rather the cash-heavy BCCI, to dig into its pockets and sponsor players, both regular and those on the fringe, to participate in leagues in Australia, England and South Africa, as opposed to just the domestic season. This will enable our homegrown tigers to learn what pitch conditions are like, what weather conditions are like, etc. I doubt, if our guys would even make state sides overseas, but at least if they play the regular leagues, it is a huge step in understanding the mentality of foreign players and conditions. It enables people like VVS Laxman, who is so talented, to have a sense of what playing at Melbourne is like, not learning it during the three days in the nets after the team lands in Melbourne. Because getting acclimated in three or four days is just not possible.

That brings us to the selection process of who is to be sponsored and on what basis the selection should be carried out. Here, there seems to be an urgent need to change the method of selection and compensation to the team.

How does one justify Harbhajan Singh getting paid the same as Sachin Tendulkar for a match in which the former sat in the dressing room, while the latter spent three torrid days in front of a Brett Lee? How does the now-infamous Devang Gandhi retain his place in the one-day side after his rather pathetic showing in the Tests? There seems to be a call for a system, wherein which players are paid on a yearly basis depending upon seniority and performance, something akin to the Aussie system, and succeeding pay scales are determined by performances in the preceding year.

What this means is that maybe three to five players make the maximum allowable under the system, with the next cut making about 30% lesser and the last cut makes about 50% lesser. This allows the board to sign up about 20 players for the course of the year, with no guarantee that the same players will be in that list the following year. This, however does not mean that those players not in the original list of 20, don't get a chance. Of course, if it so merits, they do get selected and get paid for the duration they are in the side, but unless they manage to perform to the level of their predecessors they do not get contracted into the system for the following year.

This system guarantees no one of their compensation, unless there is performance, which of course, needs to be met with many incentives. It keeps players on their toes and motivates those on the fringe to excel. It removes the fear that, if injured a player loses out on money - since he is contracted for the year. It brings a professionalism to the system, something which is present in every other big-money sport, and has been lacking in Indian cricket from times immemorial.

The quota system which is omni-present in our system is a necessary evil. It is a fair indicator of talent in our domestic stage. But, to have performance be over-ridden by geography is blaspehemy. Fast pitches replacing the more placid ones is but a small factor in generating mental toughness and consistent performance at the highest level abroad. We are not trying to get our batsmen acclimated to pace at the cost of forgetting how to play spin. We are trying to get them into a mindframe wherein they feel comfortable in alien conditions and not awe-struck at the sight of a bouncing ball. We are trying to ensure that the wearing the Indian cap, is a measure of talent and a tribute to the performance.

Having Rahul, Saurav and Anil play in the Counties is but a beginning on a rather long and winding road to parity, let alone success. We need more of them to play in the parks in England, in the sand of the Caribbean, in the elevations in South Africa and of course, Down Under. Not necessarily in the County, Shell, or Pura Milk Cups only, but even in the B or C leagues, where the experience is more vital than the result. This enables the players to share their experiences, learn continuously, and not rely on experiences of a tour many years in the past.

Of course, this takes time, and no one expects results overnight, but if the effort is put in place, only then will we see more competitive efforts overseas. The ball now lies in the rather edgy hands of our BCCI administrators.

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