England’s win in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup has made people suggest that India, like England, should keep separate coaching and support staff for red-ball and white-ball cricket. Ben Stokes is England’s captain for Test matches with New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum the coach, while Jos Buttler is captain for limited-overs internationals with Australian Matthew Mott the coach. Both these teams have been wildly successful, so no wonder the cry to follow this policy.
The personnel in the team are usually different anyway. Many of the white-ball specialists are unlikely to find a place in the Test match squads and conversely, some Test match players wouldn’t fit the requirements of the white-ball game.
There will be some, however, who are good enough to play all three formats, and herein lies a delicate situation. If the player is the team’s captain in Test cricket — acknowledged the world over as the highest and most testing format of the game — should he also be the captain of the limited-overs teams? In India, it has invariably been the case that a player good enough to play all three formats is captain for those formats. With the cricket schedule now getting extended, should a player be made captain of either the red-ball or the white-ball game to lighten his burden? Mind you, he still plays all three formats, but in one format, he is the captain, and in the other, he is just a member of the team. Does this lead to erosion of authority? Do the players playing all three formats get confused with the change in the leadership style and approach towards the game?
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Do they worry about their places if they show greater affinity to one skipper than the other? This is likely to happen as the captains may have different personalities. While one may be outgoing or jovial, the other may be of a more serious mien.
In India, captains are also part of the selection committee, albeit without a vote. Players who play three formats are, thus, undoubtedly under pressure to show that they aren’t gelling more with one captain than the other. If, as in Australia, the captain is not part of the selection committee, it does ease the pressure on the player somewhat.
Need for ruthlessness
India’s packed international schedule has already forced the support staff responsibilities to be shared between Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman. These two are not only among the finest players of Indian cricket but also among the very few who are universally liked. Players under them will vouch for the comfort level they feel playing under their guidance. The question, though, is: are they ruthless enough to take the tough calls that are needed for the team? This means telling established players not to take their places for granted, laying down rules for the team as far as training is concerned, and generally trying to ensure that every player is on the same page as far as trying to win for India is concerned.
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Over the last couple of decades, there has been something called optional practice. It means any player not wanting to practice need not turn up at the ground with those who want to practice and hone their skills. Those with families invariably opt to stay back and not turn up for practice. Unless that player has performed brilliantly in the previous game, his absence doesn’t go down well with the others who have to slog it out in the sun or in the cold.
Allowing players to take a break is perfectly understandable, but it has to be the coach and the captain who should decide who should be resting. In the past, before India started carrying extra players — especially bowlers who could relieve the regular bowlers and give them a bit of a rest — there were some bowlers in the squad who hadn’t played for days but would skip practice as they knew that it they went, they would have to bowl to many batters.
Then, there is this new consideration pertaining to bio-mechanics wherein the trainers won’t allow a bowler to bowl more than a certain number of deliveries in the nets. How does a bowler then get used to bowling long spells which may be the need of the hour? Today, a team has a support staff that outnumbers the playing squad, and each of them has to justify his job. In the process, if the player gets conflicting views, it is hardly a help for him or the team.
Indian cricket is in extremely robust financial health, and so can afford the extra expense. But does it actually benefit the team? From the evidence of the multilateral events that India has participated in over the last half dozen years or so, there has been more hot air than any trophies in the BCCI cabinet.