BCCI thinking right on pitch front

THERE is competition for places in the Indian team and I think it is a good sign that the players have realised the need to be consistent. Playing for the country is a great honour for any individual and it augurs well when I see players striving to justify their presence in the side.

I know too many changes will not help the side settle down, but then it must be realised that Indian cricket is in the process of transition. For quite some time the selectors have been scouting for the right men and the process is still on.

I must say that there has been appreciation in cricket circles for the manner in which performances in domestic cricket were being recognised. After all domestic cricket forms the basis of our selection process. It is another matter that the standards have been sliding because of the absence of top stars from domestic cricket.

So much has so often been said of the standard of domestic cricket, but not much progress has been made to improve it. I would like to share a few things here even as the Board gives shape to its new policies to give the game a big thrust in the season to come.

I have come to understand that the Board has taken a serious view of the quality of pitches that are prepared for domestic matches and the instructions are now clear to the staging associations that only lively surfaces should be encouraged. There is also a team of curators working diligently on this. Messrs. Kasturirangan and Dhiraj Parsana - distinguished cricketers of their times, who know what the national team needs - have been focussed on this pitch preparation and I am sure the season to follow will show the fruits of their labour.

Preparing a pitch is a specialised job and it is good that the administrators in India have come to accept this fact. In countries like England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, it is a full-time job. Curators overseas are very professional for the simple reason that the playing surface is such an important aspect of the game. A poor pitch can preclude against a good contest and deprive the spectators of their money's worth.

One has been told that the Board is keen to have bouncy tracks in the country and have even identified the venues. Of course, there are factors like the weather and soil which will determine the preparation of the pitches, but the fact that the first steps in this direction have been taken speaks well of the intention of the administrators.

The Board has had a committee which looks after the pitches but then it has not been able to make any impact. The groundstaff and the curator are often compelled to oblige the captain who wants the pitch to favour his batsmen. The grass being removed from the pitch on the morning of a match is a common sight in Indian grounds and it is this area which needs to be addressed.

By making runs on placid tracks a batsman tends to form a false and bloated impression of his skills. But he loses confidence and becomes disheartened when he fails overseas. To avoid such situations it is very important that you are bred on the kind of conditions you would encounter when away from home.

I have known quite a few curators who have the knowledge required to make bouncy and sporting pitches, but then they often are shackled in their steps. I am sure if the curators are given the freedom to prepare such tracks the standard of Indian cricket would improve by leaps and bounds.

I don't think it would be fair to expect an Indian youngster to excel in hostile conditions overseas unless he has some idea of what is in store. Batsmen who would have plundered runs off the frontfoot here are pushed on the backfoot when playing overseas. The entire approach to batting takes a new turn because the strength in domestic cricket of going on the frontfoot becomes suicidal overseas.

I can tell you from experience that the time to adapt is very little. It can be tough for the bowlers too, especially the spinners, but nothing can match the problems of a batsman. Suddenly he is confronted by deliveries he would rarely have faced in domestic cricket. Of course, it is a test of the batsman's calibre to come good in such hostile conditions. Despite the placid nature of pitches in the domestic arena, India has produced champion batsmen who have excelled in all kinds of conditions at home and overseas.

For the team to enhance its image and acquire the reputation of being a complete outfit, it will have to prepare all-weather batsmen. And that can come only if they are bred on bouncy tracks. It may not be possible to bring about a revolution in pitch-making in the country, but there is a need to bring about a change in the attitude. I am happy the Board is taking every step possible to make domestic cricket attractive and meaningful.

The strength of any country's cricket is indicated by the reserve bench. A list of strong replacements is a must to keep those already playing on their toes. A fight for places can create a healthy competition and there are positive signs that this Indian team is on the right track.

The series against England has given the opportunity to the team management to experiment a little and they can consolidate the position when the Zimbabweans come soon after. These two series should give enough time and thought for the selectors and the team to plan their tactics.