Give them a break

ONE of the major points that the Test captains raised at their annual meeting is the amount of cricket that is being played. With Bangladesh being given Test status a couple of years back, the cricket calendar has to accommodate its matches too and it has made it that much more difficult for the countries to plan the kind of rest they want for their cricket teams.

The ICC Test Championship programme also has a home and away series between countries that have to be played within a particular time frame. With India's economy opening up and booming and the TV industry vying to get the rights for telecasting the India matches, the Indian team has become the goose that lays the golden egg. The team, therefore, has a far more hectic schedule than most other teams and, for the last three or four years, has played virtually non-stop cricket either at home or away. Unlike England, which asked for and got a break to go home for Christmas and New Year last year between the tour of India, the Indian players have had to play right through festivals and other holidays during which the families love to get together that one time in the year like Diwali or the New Year.

Sachin Tendulkar did get a 'commercial break', as they say on TV programmes, because of an injury that he did not want to aggravate and will thus not play any of the one-dayers against the West Indies. Earlier in the year too, he had not played in any of the home one-day series against Zimbabwe because of another injury. Whether the little champion does any commercials or TV programmes during this enforced break is not as important as the fact that he was able to celebrate Diwali with his family. He has a young, growing family and these are the best years to spend with your children. Later on, as they grow up and have their own interests and circle of friends, they will not have that much time for the parents and that's why the time spent when they are growing up and especially before they go to school, is really the best one - totally happy and carefree. The break from the game will also help him to recharge his batteries and he will come fresh and eager for the battle against New Zealand when India goes there next month.

In fact, for the one-dayers against New Zealand, players such as Ganguly, Dravid and Harbhajan should be given a break, so that they too get the necessary rest and start fresh for the World Cup in February. As it is, there is hardly any time between tours, for, within a week of the completion of the West Indies, the Indians travel the long distance to New Zealand and by the time they return from there, they will barely get a week or so before they get together for a camp and leave to try and win the most prestigious prize in cricket, the World Cup.

As of now, all the main contenders for the World Cup have a tiring season leading to the great showdown. Australia, Sri Lanka and England will be engaged in a triangular one-day contest till the end of January and South Africa and Pakistan too will be slugging it out till then. Therefore a team that gets to South Africa with an injury-free squad and the players in a mentally relaxed state will have a better chance of lifting the Cup. Any break also allows slight niggling injuries to be treated and taken care of so there is little chance of them recurring at a crucial time. Often it is the pressure situation and the tension that it brings about that causes physical injuries simply because the body becomes taut and tightens up in those kind of situations.

Apart from Tendulkar, the other player currently on the injured list is Zaheer Khan and he is going to be an important member of the Indian team in South Africa. He has improved in a big way and is a potent force, both in Tests and one-day cricket. Just over a year ago there were some adverse remarks about his fitness and more damagingly about his attitude and work ethics. Instead of sulking, he has taken the observations, looked at them and has made a conscious effort to improve in all areas where there were questions asked. He has, no doubt, been helped by the presence of the fitness trainer, Andrew Le Roux, but more than the physical side, it is the mental toughness that he has shown that speaks volumes.

Come to think of it, if one goes by the gestures made by Nasser Hussain, Dominic Cork, Rahul Dravid and even Sachin Tendulkar towards the media enclosure, it does look like the one sure way to get the modern player pumped up is by critical observation in the media.

Maybe John Wright and Sourav Ganguly should think about this if they notice a player not doing as well as they want him to!