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.


Is the exercise freak the ultimate bore? Or, as Reid Buckely puts it in The American Conservative:

Would it be possible to invent a more stupefying supper companion than the person obsessed with keeping himself in Phidian perfection of pecs, abs, and buttocks, to the exclusion of mind and spirit? I am speaking of people so frenzied by the infantile desire to cheat time that they become infatuated with their bodies, worshiping them as ancient Hebrews in the desert fell before the golden calf. Are there more narcissistic human beings?