Players must overhaul their attitudes

Tendulkar and Dravid and Kumble understand sweat, own a sense of history and comprehend the idea of teamwork: As their careers wind down, teaching these virtues to their younger peers could be their finest gift to the Indian game.-AP

The Indian cricketer is a decent fellow, of mostly reasonable talent, functioning under a till-now comatose system and burdened by the severest pressure. Yet he has failed to figure that audiences can stomach losing, what they cannot digest is a lack of effort, a dispirited side, which is what we often see, writes Rohit Brijnath.

The coast is clear. That Chappell fellow is gone. His process incinerated. Now, we will play good cricket? Fuse into a team? Or, wait, is there something already wrong with the next coach, the same captain, the new set-up?

If that is cynical, then so be it. Indian players, rightly, want the "system" taken to a workshop and renovated, and there is at least the sound of new policies being hammered out in the background. But part of the complete overhaul of Indian cricket must include their own attitudes.

Yes, the fans can be unkind, some of the media has become a tittering, titillating wreck, Chappell left abrasions on their egos and the captain might have led more commandingly.

Anil Kumble... a perfect role model for the youngsters.-V. GANESAN

But where in this all is the player? Is he just a victim of poor leadership, a blameless, rudderless millionaire? Or the great survivor, waiting for the din to stop and normal service to resume, his overthrow of a regime complete?

It's interesting that players arrive on television to insist team spirit is not bruised and all is fine. Fine? How exactly will they play when team spirit is not so fine?

Instead of breaking his silence to say he was "hurt" by the innuendo surrounding the team, admiration for Tendulkar would have amplified if he told us why Indian cricket was hurting and how, in his wisdom, it might be fixed.

Tendulkar is a decent man and a once-grand player and must be wary of lesser players who loll in the protective shade of his giant shadow. He, and Dravid, and Kumble, understand sweat, own a sense of history and comprehend the idea of teamwork: as their careers wind down, teaching these virtues to their younger peers could be their finest gift to the Indian game.

Years ago, in 2001, I asked John Buchanan how he motivated his Australian team. He said, "You don't". He meant that if they needed to be pushed along, they'd never arrive at their position of excellence. Their desire came from within.

Greatness is the privilege of only a few, but there are many destinations between it and mediocrity. A "good" cricketer, whose effort is evident, who exploits his talent, is to be admired. One may not be excellent, but capable of making an excellent bid to realise one's potential, or as athletes continually tell us: "I want to be the best (cricketer/footballer/runner) I can be."

Many India players tend to fault selection, captaincy, coach, system, and they will not always be wrong, but absent often is their own personal drive to excel, their own sense of accomplishment? The truth that many players will keep extending slightly worn careers suggests they are content for their standards to slip. It is not that India's players do not work hard, or do not try, for that presumption is both cruel and false. But do they try hard enough? Scoring 100 not 80, crafting 50 not 30, stopping a ball in the field as opposed to merely getting to it, demands not just hand-eye coordination but a certain sacrifice, a considerable suffering, in gym and nets. The honestly good player is often revealed as a masochist, for there is almost no price he will not pay for improvement.

We need to keep the bar high in Indian cricket, yet we tend too often to start low. When two players, over the last year, lost weight, one was even congratulated in sections of the media for returning to the team a sleeker, fitter model. Alas, few asked why they were overweight, un-sleek, in the first place. This is professional sport. Excuses don't count. It is telling, for instance, that in the ruckus over the World Cup, rarely did a player, even under the cover of anonymity, take ownership for poor performances, for not showing leadership.

You wonder, occasionally, if middle-rung, mid-career players ever consider how they'd like to be remembered, are ever reminded how abrupt athletic careers can be, that second chances are few and the time to make an impression fleeting? There is no sin to craving riches, we all do, but at some point the cricketer must know that the memory that matters is not a Pepsi advertisement but a hardy innings when the team demands.

Public pats on exhausted backs and the captain's whispered word of encouragement to the downcast competitor cannot be underestimated in sport. To fail, and be jeered, in front of millions, requires a strong heart and even the bravest need a helping hand. Yet when a fellow is selected for India he surely does not require constant reminding to give his best, to believe selflessly in the team.

In 1999, when they reached four Grand Slam finals, fractious doubles duo, Paes and Bhupathi, were rarely exchanging a civil word off court. Yet, on court, subconsciously perhaps, they pushed one another by playing well, not wanting to be the one to let the other down; perhaps they also figured that it was in their best interests for the other to play well. Alone, irrespective of how brilliantly one was performing, they were nothing, together they had a chance. In cricket's diverse dressing room this is less easily accomplished, but surely not out of reach. In all the bickering, the "mafia" talk, the "factions", the pushes for captaincy within, players do nothing but demean themselves.

There is too much noise about "cultures", about the absurdity of transplanting an Australianness into an Indian dressing room, about foreign ideas not fitting into a "unique" Indian environment. Firstly, cultures can learn from another. Guus Hiddink went into the hierarchical, inflexible world of South Korea, a unique Asian culture like ourselves, and did things his way.

As Ernst Bouwes wrote on ESPN: "It took him two years to get rid of the bad apples, to find the hidden qualities in some others and to sign those who would improve the team." It was hard work, he got his way, the team flourished. Cricket is not football, and the coach is not as pre-eminent, and perhaps Chappell anyway was not the right messenger. But we will never really know because no team assumes greatness in the time allotted to him.

But, truly, the only "culture" that is relevant within a team is the "culture of excellence" and it is mostly absent. Foreign coaches have tried, Indian coaches have tried, and the result has not altered: even when India has improved, it quickly falls back, as if it lacks gumption, stamina, belief. As if greatness is too arduous a proposition.

The Indian cricketer, if the generalisation can be allowed, has become comfortable, and slow to rouse. He is a decent fellow, of mostly reasonable talent, functioning under a till-now comatose system and burdened by the severest pressure. Yet he has failed to figure that audiences can stomach losing, what they cannot digest is a lack of effort, a dispirited side, which is what we often see.

A flailing cup effort has, unfortunately, given officials (who wear no responsibility) the advantage. Already there is nonsensical, dangerous talk of players' endorsements being limited. Already there is unfair rumour that a particular player's contract rewards him for time spent at the crease. Already players are being pushed around. Few people these days are on their side. But that can soon change. All it might take is playing with desire, and for each other.

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BCCI president Sharad Pawar (left) along with other office bearers, Ratnakar Shetty (centre) and Niranjan Shah arrive for the working committee meeting in Mumbai.-AP

What the board decided

The following are the decisions made by the BCCI Working Committee after its two-day meeting in Mumbai recently.

Rahul Dravid retained as captain. He will lead India in the coming tours of Bangladesh and England besides a one-day series in Ireland.

Zonal representation in the selection committee to be abolished and replaced by an all-India panel.

Player contract system scrapped. Players to be paid match fees with bonus for each series win.

Players' personal endorsements restricted to three products and not more than two players to endorse a sponsor other than those contracted to the Board. No player to endorse a product two weeks before and after a series.

No player to have exclusive contract with the electronic or print media. Only the captain shall write columns.

A Cricket Advisory Committee to be formed with the Board President as Chairman and including seven former captains _ Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Chandu Borde, S. Venkataraghavan, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri and Krish Srikkanth _ and Board office-bearers as members.

All India players to play a stipulated number of domestic matches when not on national duty.

Players must undergo fitness test before every tour.