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September 9, 1997


Stress fracture!

Harsha Bhogle

In a recent issue of Outlook, Erapalli Prasanna - a man who always speaks his mind - has driven home a few truths.

Truths that people are aware of, but which acquire a different dimension when presented by someone who should know. Prasanna's - or rather Outlook's - timing was perfect because a lot of people have been complaining that the Indian team plays too much cricket and that it was therefore leaving them fatigued. And that therefore, India shouldn't really have been playing in Toronto.

"Do well-paid engineers and professionals , who put in 10-12 hours daily throughout the year, complain of fatigue?" Prasanna asks. And follows it up with the key line: 'If our players are indeed fatigued, they should have the guts to withdraw.'

It is a statement that, at once, points at two key factors. Our players, who perhaps play a little more cricket than others (and it is not a hugely significant difference) are not physically well-tuned and therefore, their bodies do not recover in time. It is also true, to be fair, that they lack the services of someone who can lick those bodies back into shape.

But Prasanna also talks about having the 'guts to withdraw'. The key issue here is that players make phenomenal amounts of money playing for India, and that if they withdraw they stand to lose some of it. So, sometimes, they get dictated to, not by the signals from their body but by those from their accountants. In such a situation, Prasanna says, "don't complain of fatigue because if you are tired, opt out of a tour and come back recharged". This is where a player's `guts' or courage is revealed. Maybe `confidence' is a more apt expression.

'Players should dictate terms through their ability, not just hold on to their positions in the side', Prasanna continues, and offers a solution that a lot of us have been pleading for. Introduce a slab system, he says, for payments, and and put in performance incentives. This is as much Prasanna the cricketer as Prasanna the manager speaking. Mohammad Azharuddin cannot receive the same amount of money as Debashish Mohanty. Now, if the BCCI introduces graded payments and signs contracts with the players, their financial situation will be secure and they can, honestly, follow the dictates of their bodies.

The BCCI could then, in consultation with the players, rest some of them from time to time. I think the bottom-line should be Test matches. The rotation should work towards always having the fittest and the best side available for the Test matches. Resting players also allows a lot of talented, but fringe, players to show their worth and ensures that you have a team of at least 20 rather than the 12 or 13 that we seem to rely upon just now. And then, if a key player is not available on the big day, you have a replacement who is not completely raw.

I think it is particularly true of fast bowlers, and just letting them have a tournament off is a wonderful way of keeping them fresh. And hungry. From that point of view, we should be looking at events like the Sahara Cup as opportunity areas rather than, as is being said, just another series that will leave players over-worked.

I got the impression in Toronto last year that the players didn't mind playing there. They were far away from the fanatic supporters who make life difficult for the losing team. And they could have a quiet evening after the game. If the rain hadn't used up almost all the reserve days, they would even have had a fair amount of rest between games. Hopefully, with just one game between a Sunday evening and a Saturday morning, that should happen this time.

Actually, their biggest concern last year surrounded the pitches. They seemed a bit underdone and therefore, not quite ready to take on the load of an international match. The groundsman, a very serious Englishman called Mike Corley, didn't have too much time and in a fairly dramatic sequence, which we displayed on the Inside Edge programme on ESPN, showed how the soil was before he started working on it. He promised us last year that the wickets this time round would be ideal because he had the right soil obtained from the University of Ontario.

And in a recent telephone interview, he said he is happy, that the wickets in Toronto this year are harder, bouncier and that he looks forward to a 'good run chase'. That is how it should be. Otherwise, winning the toss is as good as winning the game, and no serious cricket match should ever be decided by tossing a coin.

I hope we see a lot of good cricket in Toronto. There are a couple of very talented young cricketers making their international debuts there. There is one other man making his debut - the only man to take more than 300 wickets in both Tests and one-day internationals. Wasim Akram's shoulder may have gone for the moment, but that will not stop him from entering the commentary box for the first time in his career.

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