Things are changing for the better in Indian cricket

SURELY sitting in the wicker chairs placed on the field at the CCI ground at Brabourne Stadium after a hard day's play or practise is one of the most enjoyable times of cricket. At least that was my feeling as I sat with the other coaches at CCI's Cricket Academy when we finished one afternoon session with a delightful group of 14 to 16-year-old youngsters.

For decades now I have been sprouting that if India could only get their act together they could be the strongest nation in cricket.

Deep down though I always felt that this probably wouldn't happen, due to the deep divides in Indian cricket. Now after a week in Mumbai I have hope that things are changing. A CCI Academy has always been the dream of their popular President Raj Singh Dungarpur.

Raj and I have discussed this for many years with the view of me acting as a consultant.

While I always knew that with Raj's drive this would happen I hadn't fully appreciated the full vision he had.

I had always thought that it would be an exclusive CCI-Mumbai Cricket Association concentration on local players.

I was delighted to find out that it wasn't and invitations were sent to all Ranji Trophy Associations asking them to nominate two players each for trials.

All States in a spirit of goodwill submitted names and these youngsters were duly brought to Mumbai and housed at the CCI.

All costs were initially borne by the CCI, but I am delighted to see that Complan, a division of the giant international food company, Heinz, have now come on board as a sponsor. From the 40 trialist, 20 have been chosen to attend a two month camp.

All players were chosen on merit with no local or political interference.

Such a gesture by Raj Singh and the CCI has in my view been one of the healthiest gestures I have seen.

This great club, one of the finest and prestigious in the world, has shown that they wouldn't allow petty politics and parochialism cloud their vision to try and improve Indian cricket.

This should not have come as a surprise for the CCI were a founding member of the BCCI and have always had open arms for all cricketers. Their gesture to cast the net wide was my first glimpse that raised hopes that a wider view and less parochialism may be in the wind.

A few days into my visit I was invited to the MIG cricket club.

I had first visited this club 22 years ago when it was a tiny ground with 40 yard boundaries and a shack as a club house.

I was amazed to see, thanks to the drive and passion of Pravin Barve, the Hon. Gen. Secretary of the club and the person who invited me in 1980 that it has grown into a huge one with facilities which would be the envy of any club in the world - a field big enough and with quality pitch and outfield good enough to host both Ranji Trophy matches and practise sessions.

Like Raj Singh, Pravin Barve's vision is pitched wider than his club and invites outsiders to attend his academy and use the facilities of the club.

To me these two clubs show that there are people in Indian cricket who understand that Indian cricket will not improve unless a bolder and more co-operative approach is displayed.

It is my joy and passion to view talented youngsters.

They are the life blood and future of the game. There was great talent on display at the CCI Academy and particularly amongst the spinners.

I have said publicly I would like to pinch three spinners, two left hand finger spinners and a right hand leg spinner - take them back home and have them naturalised Australians.

They have great natural talent, but I won't name them here for they would become the target of much media attention and as a result too much expectation.

Suffice to say at this stage they have great natural talent and flair. They all give the ball a big tweak and have wonderful natural flight which troubled all the batsmen as they tried to judge the length.

All of them have lovely natural unencumbered length, a sure sign they haven't been over coached.

Two of them are quite small and the other quite sturdy. Their big problems will come as they grow and if coaches try to interfere too much and meddle with their actions.

Growing taller could well alter their flight. As only smallish boys they have to give the ball more air to get the ball up and on a good length.

This has given them the wonderful flight they now have. As they get stronger and taller they will have to guard against bowling too quick and flat and thus void their natural gift of flight.

The boys have been under the guidance of head coach and former India captain Nari Contractor and former wicket-keeper K.S. More, plus six other coaches.

I have tried to instil in all the coaches to enhance the naturalness of the youngsters rather than "left elbow up and all that chappie."

While it is noticeable that fashions, fads and theories are all ready apparent with many of the batsmen, with almost all batsmen using bats both too heavy and with too many grips and initial commitment in foot movement rather than initial movement, to help batsmen move quickly into the right position, most of the batsmen showed they have good wrists, timing and the ability to listen. Eventually I hope that this academy will be commonly known while all ideas will be closely monitored and much use will be made of technology. With video replays all ready proving useful most emphasis will be concentrated on the basic fundamentals of the game.

All good coaches in every game, I have known insist that the correct basics are the strength behind every great player.

The boys have now been in camp five weeks and have three weeks to go. They will leave the camp with a video clipping of their bowling, batting and fielding with an audio describing their strengths and weaknesses and what needs to be done to overcome the shortcomings.

They will also leave with 12 reports to fill in on a monthly basis, which will show how many runs and wickets they are getting, progress on their physical fitness training and what advice they are receiving amongst other things.

The latter is vital, for it will allow the CCI Academy coach to monitor what is happening and whether it conflicts with the advice they have received in Mumbai.