Making performance as inevitable as possible

Within 24 hours of Steve Waugh announcing his retirement as Australia's Test captain (after the India series), his successor, Ricky Ponting, had been named. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-Within 24 hours of Steve Waugh announcing his retirement as Australia's Test captain (after the India series), his successor, Ricky Ponting, had been named. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES

TWO countries faced tumultuous events recently.

TWO countries faced tumultuous events recently. One of those, possessed of robust health and sound planning, leapt over it. The other, seeking to move ahead but shackled by the past, is caught up in a tangle that is doing its image no good at all.

Australia woke up one morning to discover that its beloved captain, and a rugged street fighter, had decided he had had enough of cricket. Coming soon after an emotional, for some embarrassing, defeat in the World Cup rugby final, it couldn't have been the best news. It was clear that Waugh was in his last year, that he had a difference of opinion with the selectors about how much longer he could play, but the suddenness of the announcement brought Australia face to face with reality. Within 24 hours, Waugh's successor had been named, which meant there would be no unpleasant debate in the media and within the side, and the game began moving on.

Sadly, back home in India, the Abhijit Kale issue is in court, the media is magnifying it no end and the cricket establishment is looking a bit silly. The Kale issue, even if by some other name, was bound to come up and I'm surprised it took so long. It was inevitable, the milk had been on the burner for a long-time, and it simply had to boil over. If you drive a car with a wobbly gearbox, it will pack up some time.We need to set that gearbox in order, not just keep pushing the car along. At a time when all attention must be focussed on India's cricket team in Australia, the `A' series at home and the Ranji Trophy, we are stuck with a bribery allegation.

Any architect will tell you that if you want to build a skyscraper, you must build a strong foundation and have firm walls and floors. Once the base is strong, you can make it look as flashy as possible but you cannot fool around with the order of events.

Tragically, we saw that in Ahmedabad during the earthquake when people thought that a rosy exterior could hide a defective base. We have further proof of that in Indian cricket now. We have grown enormously but haphazardly, instead of looking like a prettily cropped plant our cricket resembles an unkempt creeper. If Australia are stronger than India today, it is because their cricket is organised better, not because of the air they breathe or the water they drink.

It is easy to hide behind hope and generalisation and say that a former cricketer will necessarily pick a good current cricketer. It is a hypothesis that has been proved wrong several times and will continue to let India down. If you know that a square wheel doesn't work, you must find a round wheel. It is not much use getting more people to push the square wheel! And so the first sentence in this paragraph needs to be amended. An honest, well-paid former cricketer is likely to pick a good current cricketer. If you go by sentiment, by emotion, and talk of the honour of being a selector, you take integrity for granted. It makes for great poetry and fables and little else. In a largely honorary set-up, you might still get people with integrity but that cannot be the assumption for a system to work on.

Look at the Kale issue. He made around Rs. 11 lakhs for being in the team to Dhaka in April. He played one game and had little to do in it. Go back another four months. Rakesh Patel made around Rs. 15 lakhs for being in the team to New Zealand when it was clear to everybody that barring major injury problems, he would not get a game. In neither case was the selector paid anything other than a daily allowance and, possibly, an honorarium. Now, it is possible isn't it for a selector's eyes to light up a bit, for him to consider a proposal that will benefit two people and injure Indian cricket only a little? He may or may not say yes but the system is designed for that eventuality. It is like a manager building an organisation on the assumption that all his salesmen are honest and therefore saying he doesn't need to check expense statements.

"Jagmohan Dalmiya is a fine administrator, shrewd and capable, and a dashing leader. But he must surround himself with managers who are in the same league as he is in, not small men who make him look larger than he should." — Pic. REUTERS-

That is why we need paid selectors whose first, but not only, qualification is integrity. That is why we need managers who will look upon cricket as a product that will do well; who will, for example, sit with coach and captain two months before the tour to Australia and ask if they need a bowling coach. If the answer is yes, the bowling coach is appointed a month before, he takes a look at his bowlers and gives them ideas they can work on before arriving in Australia. He takes a look at the schedule six months in advance and tries to see how he can organise a camp where foreign conditions are simulated so that players are fairly ready before they land rather than by the time the series is over.

Infosys, for example, would do that. They would never sign a contract, send their software engineers abroad and suddenly discover that the exchange rate is different from what they thought; or that their engineers can only get a three-month visa for a six-month project. Indian companies are only now beginning to take on global competition and they are doing so only because of sound planning. With that as a base they are building on their strengths. Indian cricket must do that now. They have a dynamic leader but he leads a system mired in chaos; a system that has encouraged chaos so that control stays in the hands of those who can find their way around it. It has hurt Indian cricket and it continues to do so.

But some good can still come out of this. Indeed it must. We must immediately overhaul our selection procedure, make our cricket smaller and more controllable and not have everyone rushing to Jagmohan Dalmiya for every issue like a child might to its mother. Dalmiya is a fine administrator, shrewd and capable, and a dashing leader. But he must surround himself with managers who are in the same league as he is in, not small men who make him look larger than he should.

A man's strength can become his greatest weakness and it is on such issues that the future of Indian cricket rests. It should not have to rely on a Tendulkar to come good on a particular day.

That is like hoping Dalmiya takes the right decision. Instead, the planning must evolve around making performance as inevitable as possible. That is what Australia do.

The Abhijit Kale issue is a symptom, like a fever, of something deeper. We need to heal the disease, not just bring down the temperature.