In conquering home advantage lies the real test

SOURAV GANGULY'S lament that the tour schedule for the one-day triangular series was a bit too hectic and tiring for his team may well be spot on, but the Indian captain mustn't forget that the home team has the privilege of arranging the venues that suit them. Every visiting team has to be prepared for the fact that the conditions, centres, pitches will be decidedly in the home team's favour and it is in coming to terms with the 'home advantage' and conquering it lies the real test of a sportsperson's skills. There is no point moaning or complaining, for that only starts a negative trend of thought and if expressed by a senior member, especially the captain, can quickly spread to the newcomers and those who are struggling to find form in alien conditions. To get the thought process back on track is very hard and one of the reasons why India have been such poor travellers is because they look for 'home' conditions in foreign climes.

In most countries excepting Pakistan there is no dearth of support for the team. In England the Indian supporters have invariably outnumbered the home fans and that is one aspect the Indians can hardly complain about. Even the food cannot be a problem for there are more curry restaurants than other cuisine in England, which of course begs the question why English teams, who have a training camp prior to their winter tours do not include eating curry as part of the conditioning for the tour of the Indian sub-continent. Yes, the pitches can be different and the weather especially in England and New Zealand definitely so, but there are more good days than bad days in the summer and really the weather should be no excuse. In the West Indies, the Indians played on pitches which were slower than in India. Even the Barbados and Jamaica pitches where they lost were not that quick, for the batting to have crumbled as ignominiously as it did there. The weather in the Caribbean, too, was exactly like in India, so there was no need to get acclimatised to that either.

England authorities have done what is best for their team. Remember cricket is not the number one sport there, so to sustain interest they must have a team that is doing well to bring the crowds in through the turnstiles. So it makes sense for them to schedule the matches in such a way that England do not play back-to-back games and even on a Sunday there has been an India - Sri Lanka game which had a full house. England didn't have to travel long distances after the matches or when they did they had time to do so, but that is good planning and it would be foolish to look at it as a ploy or a tactic.

If one has a look at the travel schedule for teams visiting India, then one will know what traversing the length and breadth of the country means. In the olden days when visiting teams had to pay for the internal travelling too and the foreign exchange situation was not as good as it is today, it might have been a case of helping the country earn a bit more hard currency, but today it would be far more practical to arrange the itinerary in such a way that the travel is minimal. It is not just the players but the TV and the accompanying media personnel who would appreciate such a move. The equipment that TV production requires is to be seen to be believed and a special cargo plane ferries it from centre to centre. The rigging of the cables and the other equipment that helps beam the pictures around the world and then the derigging and that too after a match and a day/night match at that is utterly exhausting. That's why when they find that they have to go from the East to the South and then come back to the East they are perplexed as to why the venues chosen were not used to play the successive games instead of travelling up and down so much. Also for the players, most flights in India originate pretty early in the morning, so there is hardly any time for proper rest and sleep and if it's a day-nighter then it's even more tough. With the kind of scheduling that India has ahead of it before the World Cup, it is important that at least for the West Indies tour of India, due care is taken to see that the players do not have to travel long distances.

New Zealand have already announced the dates and venues of India's tour there in December-January but the Indian Board is still to let out the dates and venues of the West Indies tour of India scheduled after the ICC Knockout tournament in October. Therein lies the difference between officials who are paid to do a job and those for whom it pays to be in the position. If accountability is to be applied to those on the field then those off it also should be under the same umbrella. After all charity begins at home, though in India it has a different meaning altogether!