Collective effort pays, ask Railways

I HAVE always cherished a desire to see India on the top of the international cricket ladder. We have had our glorious moments, at home and overseas, but somehow have failed to attain the potential in different eras.

I have heard many grand tales of Indian cricketers' exploits from some of our greats of the past and have always wondered why is that we have never achieved the potential in the last decade. Why have we not been able to emulate the triumphs of Port of Spain, The Oval, Lord's? The answers are not easy to find.

India, at different times, was a force to reckon with but somehow could not translate that strength into a reality. The team has not been able to dominate world cricket despite the fact that in terms of talent, India has never been short of it. I have come across various arguments for and against the manner in which the game is conducted in India. The story of placid pitches producing paper tigers has become old. None can deny that there is competition in domestic cricket and we have to look at ways to spot the right ammunition for our future battles. And they need not come from the star teams. If the National selectors keep an eye, I am sure no talented youngster would suffer for want of recognition.

Looking back at the last season, I must say that I was very impressed by the manner in which Railways rose as a team worth watching. For long regarded as just another team in the zone, making up the numbers, Railways has done very well and distinguished itself by winning the final of the Ranji Trophy. The discipline shown by Railways and the dedication that came with every outing was an example worth emulating.

If you look at Railways, you will realise that it was collective effort and not individual brilliance that took the team to such great heights. It had the right men for the right job and it was made known to the players that each of them would have to perform for the success of the team.

Again this season, Railways has maintained its policy of collective contributions and I was not surprised to know that it topped the central zone standings in four-day and one-day league. It was all a matter of confidence if you ask me. The same Railways team which looked at its opposition in awe is dictating terms today. It is good for the game in India because it will encourage other teams to emulate the deeds of Railways.

In fact, there is an unsung team in the east too. It is a pity that the achievement of Assam has failed to attract attention. A team without stars, it had topped the standings in the zonal one-day league which I think was highly creditable. Pushing back teams like Bengal and Orissa is not easy but Assam managed to reach the top and that to me was one of the most notable performances in domestic cricket so far this season. Having qualified for the knockout in the Ranji Trophy, Assam has shown that it is on the right track and given the right breaks, may be able to contribute a player or two to the national team in the near future. It may not be the hottest team on the circuit but there is a place for this team too.

I would cite the example of Railways again to stress on the gains of a collective performance. With the team making progress, some of the players took the spotlight and here we can see how Sanjay Bangar has made it to the Indian team. Murali Kartik had earlier made it to the national team and with Bangar also getting recognition, it is a big boost to the confidence of the Railways side. If someone like Yere Goud and Amit Pagnis lost out in the race, it was certainly not due to lack of effort.

In order to raise quality players for international battles, we must learn to give due recognition to performances in domestic cricket. Recognition at the right time can only lead to improvement in the overall structure of the game in the country. A player has to have some incentive to develop this strong self-belief. The greatest incentive is the national cap but then not everyone can go on to represent the country.

The 'A' tours can be very encouraging and the one to South Africa will make the players tougher. Playing overseas and doing well can be a very special feeling and that is why I am very keen on following the fortunes of the India 'A' team in South Africa. The team will experience cricket of a very different kind. It will be far more competitive and far more challenging than what they would have faced.

On surface, Indian cricket promises a lot, but then results have not been encouraging at all. There is a growing feeling that the players have not been able to translate their potential into a winning formula mainly because of this lack of international experience. It is one thing to excell at home but success overseas can transform the entire attitude towards the game.

This is one long season with so much at stake. The opportunities for the aspirants are plenty and the need to find tough performers is important because the journey leads them to the World Cup, the prestigious crown every team would love to wear. The Indian preparation for the grand event has begun and I am sure there will be much to gain from the junior tours lined for this year.