Walking wounded

Vinay Kumar has injured his knee and will take no further part in whatever-the-hell cup it is we are playing for in Zimbabwe.

Do we care? No — why would we? There is always Abhimanyu Mithun to whistle up. And if — make that when — Mithun injures some body part, there is always someone else in line. It is not for nothing that we are a nation of a billion-plus people, no?

This morning, there was a news report that authorities at Mangalore airport have ordered that the runway be extended by another 1000 feet. It took what, 170 deaths and many times that number of human tragedies for wisdom to dawn?

By the same token, how many more iterations of this storyline will it take before we realize that the support structure of our cricket is flawed? That the lack of a proper nursery for emerging talent is the single reason our bowlers have less shelf life than fresh milk?

It’s like Mangalore airport, in a way. The length — or lack thereof — of the runway has been the subject of three separate PILs over the past few years, yet nothing got done. In a similar vein, when John Wright was coach of the national team, he worked on his own time to put together a presentation for the board that had a single, simple theme: bottom-up coaching.

John’s thesis, in sum, was this: In the current system, when a player enters the national ranks, two things happen. One, he is faced with a physical fitness regimen that is far tougher than anything he has previously undergone. And two, he is confronted with a workload far greater than anything domestic cricket has prepared him for. These two reasons working in tandem, Wright argued, was why Indian players tended to break down in their first season in international cricket.

The solution, John argued in his presentation, was to create a pyramidal coaching structure with the national coach at the apex. He asked that the BCCI appoint official — and qualified — coaches for each state association. These coaches would work in close concert with the national coach, to ensure that the fitness and coaching disciplines at the state level mirrored the national model. Thus, the argument went, players at the state level were already being physically prepared for national duty, as and when. Weaknesses, both skill-wise and physique-wise, would be identified at the state level, and corrected in time.

Below this second tier, John said, there needed to be coaches for the various school/college systems — and these coaches would work under, and report to, the state-level coaches. Their responsibility would be to ensure that schools and collegiate cricket, where talent is first spotted and nursed, would have proper oversight; talented young cricketers would have the benefit of coaching/physio expertise that would benefit them in two ways: bad skill would be spotted and corrected early [the time to spot a dodgy action is not after a player enters the national side and gets called, for instance] and their physical development would be planned and overseen, so that the emphasis on fitness is incorporated into their cricket from the youngest possible age.

It was a comprehensive presentation, replete not just with theory but with elaborate thoughts on implementation, and it was made by someone who really cared.

The BCCI’s executive committee of the time listened, nodded, spoke of studying the proposal in-depth, and allowed the proposal to gather dust.

Years later, it was the turn of Greg Chappell to make — to the accompaniment of considerable, and considerably misguided, media hype — a similar proposal. Like John, Chappell argued that team building could not happen at the national level. It had to start with schools and colleges, through the leagues and the state teams, with the really gifted players being brought to a peak at the national level, Chappell argued. And like John, Chappell presented an elaborate proposal for how all this could be accomplished. A board committee [including, ironically, Ravi Shastri the current head of the NCA] listened to the proposal, applauded, offered Chappell a post at the NCA, made statements to the media about how wonderful it all was and how it would herald a new era in Indian cricket.

And then promptly forgot all about it.

Between then and now, players have surfaced on our horizon; their ‘promise’ has been hyped; their early forays in the national ranks met with hosannas. And then, one by one, these players have dropped out. Batsmen have been found out to have imperfect techniques; bowlers have dropped off in pace and/or joined the increasing ranks of the walking wounded; fielders rated, on paper, among the best in the world have become fodder for humor.

And the vicious cycle continues: Vinay Kumar plays a hand in a domestic triumph and in the IPL, and is hyped. He enters the national ranks, plays a game, is found out, plays another game, and falls by the wayside clutching his knee. Enter Mithun. Pretty soon, exit Mithun. Enter <insert name of next hopeful here>. Rinse. Repeat.

If any industry handled its product the way the board handles its players, it would have gone bankrupt by now.

19 thoughts on “Walking wounded

  1. “If any industry handled its product the way the board handles its players, it would have gone bankrupt by now”

    Your comparison to any regular industry is not fair. A key element missing here is competition.


  2. your articles have made me view Indian cricket with disdain. thanks for spoiling the one thing i liked about being an Indian.

    now after Sachin is gone, its goodbye to Indian cricket. i’ll probably follow some rubbish like basketball or some such. and Tests. 😛

  3. that’s it. BCCI doesn’t care, cause of the endless supply and secondly it doesn’t care about the players, period.

  4. Well – 1st of all – great article — 2nd — BCCI will not accept John’s reccos because most of the people who need to join state teams & then national need to bribe — 3rd — even if BCCI is reading this article, they figure dat supply is endless — who cares for quality!!

  5. Is it purely a matter of the workload or the step-up in quality that finds Indian bowlers out? An Ishant or a VRV Singh go through domestic cricket being considered ‘fearsome fast’. When they find their offerings being disdainfully deposited in the stands by batsmen of higher caliber, they strain that much more to get their own back and injuries follow. One thing is for certain, the callup to the national level is the full-stop to the development process of young cricketers because there is no time or motivation to fix technical weaknesses (Irfan Pathan is an example whose bowling arm kept getting lower and lower and the exaggerated swing of the white kookaburra led everyone to miss the decline in pace).

    • Of course. Neither John nor Chappell were naive enough to believe it was merely about fitness. Your point was something they had spoken of, too — you get taken apart, you panic, you “try harder” — which, in the case of bowling, means pushing past your muscle memory and thereby moving your body out of its comfort zone.

  6. as usual, PP’s columns hit, hopefully where it hurts the bcci. but then, they need to be shaken out of their lackadaisical attitude. only then, we might have an australia kind of system. if one has noticed, aussies dominate quite a lot of sports on the world arena prolly cos of their support system. when are we reaching there, if at all! 😦

    • u & i might stop watching cricket, cos the bcci doesn’t give a fuck about the cricketers, but with the IPL, they’ve got a cash cow, and that’s all they orgasm for nowadays, apparently.

  7. Can we not bring the Mangalore tragedy into this discussion? The runway at Mangalore is of sufficient length for a B-737 or A-320 to land. The extension exercise is just a political stunt. The cause of the accident, as it seems to be emerging, is that the pilot touched down at a point that was more than 6000ft into the runway.

    • The pilot touched down more than 6000 feet into the runway? Where did that “emerge” from, mate? He touched down 1000 feet on, is what I heard. And how does that change the fact that the length of the runway has been deemed too tight for operational safety, well before the incident? You can measure a runway and say it is “sufficient” — but safety standards across the world mandate extra length as a rule. Incidentally, the airports authority had itself decreed that the Mangalore runway needed to be lengthened for operational safety.

      • Prem, I read (i lost the link) that the co-pilot asked the pilot not to touch down when they were yet to land, and the pilot refused. This is from the voice recorder in the cabin. And when the pilot actually realized that there is a danger, he tried to take off again (there are some clues to this as well- position of some of the mechanism – i am too poor in all these to remeber the names). So, even if the runway was one or two miles more in length, I doubt if the accident could have been averted.

        But I agree with you in principle. Air traffic is not child’s play. You need to go beyond the “sufficient” to ensure safety.

        But why the hell the rules does not include these additional measures if safety is of paramount importance? Dont you think thats the first problem? If runway length of 6000 is sufficient, but only 10000 is going to confirm safety, why not build 10000 into the rule, than leaving it to people’s convenience? I think its a problem with formulating stuff.

  8. “board handles its players, it would have gone bankrupt by now.”
    The BCCI is bankrupt, morally. But who cares they are rolling in the moolah!

  9. Prem – thought Vinay injured his ankle playing footy before the match. Atleast thats what Bhogle had tweeted. Any clarity?

    • That is what I heard, too. Does not make any difference to my point — in fact, it buttresses it. Playing footy is not recreational for the team; it is a way of exercising the legs. Cross-training is in vogue in all sports, and most cricket teams do these things. Not particularly new, either — when S Venkat was coaching my old school, MCC High School in Chennai, he told those of us playing for the school team to play badminton to develop foot speed, and as a form of aerobic activity.

  10. All that John proposes seems to be pure common sense development. But when was common sense common ever? You piece drips with dry and crackling sarcasm. Me likes! But does it matter at all?

    They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
    Perhaps they never will…

  11. All this begs the question that why don’t Indian cricketers form a players association to look after player interests and development. They could very well affiliate themselves to FICA but then our esteemed administrators and multitude of bloggers believe FICA’s singlemost important agenda is to bring down Indian Cricket.

      • Yes they did try to come up with something when ambush marketing was an alien term to most of us. But what stopped these players from refusing to play unless their body was recognised? The danger that the board would move on to other players? How long would the sponsors and tv networks patronised the board if the Indian team didn’t feature Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Kumble, Srinath, etc?

        • exactly. do what the Windies did. if the board knew that results would actually matter to us, they’d go back. its strange that the players didn’t take this more seriously.

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