Hit or miss
Harsha Bhogle in Toronto
The big topic of discussion in the cricket world and, therefore, in Toronto as well is whether you should have different teams for
Test matches and for one day internationals.
It's an old debate
really, a bit like an old suit that comes back into fashion if
you hang it up long enough. After Australia announced that they are
likely to field different teams for each form of the game, England
have joined in the debate by picking a very unusual team, a radical
one by their standards, for the tournament in Sharjah this December.
Test cricket accords sanctity to specific cricketing skills: to
batting positions, for example. Or to the ability to bowl long
spells. Like an irreverent youngster, one day cricket sometimes
mocks at them. And it definitely makes them irrelevant.
If you can
maintain your skill over 20 overs instead of 90 overs, for example,
you've done your job. And selectors, and coaches, are realising
that they would much rather have the 20-over man in one-day cricket.
If this trend continues, we could well have a situation in the
next few years where teams play with four batsmen, three bowlers,
a wicket-keeper and three football-style 'liberos' who can bat
or bowl anywhere. The 10-over batsmen and 5-over bowlers -- no use
in Test cricket, but indispensable in the shorter form.
The key behind being able to set up two separate teams lies in
a country having enough people to choose from; and requires that
there should be enough cricket of both forms to throw up sufficient
talent. England can do that because they play an unbelievable
amount of one-day cricket. Australia doesn't play as much, but there
is such a huge bank of talented cricketers that, as a result of
a very competitive structure, they could field a team for
every kind of cricket.
South Africa could do that too, because they have been playing very high
pressure one day cricket for years now. India, I'm afraid, cannot
even think of two different teams (it' another issue whether they
need to) because we do not have a single really competitive one-day
event. As a result, we are constantly asking cricketers who qualiify
through the Ranji Trophy to give the shorter version "a go" - which is one major reason why they take as long as they do to become 'ready.'
We saw that last year when Rahul Dravid, a proper Test match
prospect, was asked to prove himself in Singapore and then in Sharjah.
And we are seeing that now in the selection of Hrishikesh Kanitkar,
who will be asked to become the one-day all rounder (10-over batsman
10-over bowler!) from a background of building innings at the number three slot and being a change off-spin bowler. And, more vitally, having
played very little serious, combative one day cricket till the point when he found himself inducted into the Indian team for the Sahara Cup tournament.
This is one of those curious aberrations to our cricket structure.
We play a phenomenal amount of international one-day cricket and
hardly any domestic 50-overs cricket. The introduction of the Challenge,
three years ago, might have been a step in the right direction
had there been a competitive element attached to it. With no real
team affiliations, however, it has ended up becoming another event of the
kind all of us used to play at school - where captains clasped
hands and chose players one by one.
Of the other tournaments, the Wills Trophy has the most potential
but it has, to my mind, been diluted by the selection of a Wills
XI and a President's XI. If only because these two teams have the pick of the best talent in the nation -- and that makes the other teams in the competition pretty irrelevant.
Funnily, I believe the solution is not a cricketing one but a
media-driven one.The BCCI needs to conceive a really high-pressure
one-day event, played under lights, with every team having regional
affiliations and a complete ban on invitation elevens. If such an event could be televised live, exactly the way one-day internationals
are, (complete with top commentators, interviews, pitch reports
and all the rest of the razzamatazz), then players just below international level will experience the
pressures of playing before a national audience.
From being forgotten men playing on forgettable grounds, they will turn suddenly find themselves in the limelight. And there has never been
a stronger motivator than that.
And the event becomes even more valid only if, and when, our top cricketers play in such events and the government stops invoking the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 to scuttle a live telecast. While on that, I wonder if our distinguished Parliamentarians, who complain of our declining sporting standards,
realise that this single Act has caused more harm to Indian sport
than anything else!)
I am fairly confident that such a tournament will highlight previously
unknown skills, that fielding standards will improve (no one likes
to misfield before a live audience -- it's okay to do that in Bilaspur, but not when the whole country is watching you)
and we could put together a one-day side with a very handy bench
And we could even rest some of our Test cricketers from time to time, then!