Two can play the itinerary game

Sourav Ganguly could have played for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy after being dropped from the third Test.-V.V. KRISHNAN

THE England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) got the itinerary it wanted as soon as the BCCI power equation changed.

THE England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) got the itinerary it wanted as soon as the BCCI power equation changed. It was quiet backroom diplomacy that did the trick and it is now quite clear that's the way all problems should be solved, rather than go screaming to the media. Of course, the amusing part was that even without knowing the ground conditions in Goa, the ECB was happy to play a game there simply because it is known as a tourist destination, even if football is the main sport there and not cricket. The outcome of this is that India also should be able to get the venues it wants when it is its turn to tour England in 2007.

The reasons that the ECB gave for objecting to some venues should be applicable to India as well when it gets the itinerary. Just as the English weren't too keen to travel long distances, so also the Indians should insist that there is no travel for more than three hours to any of the venues in England. Most teams travel by bus when they tour England and these journeys are quite tiring, with players having to make do with food from motorway cafes, which is mainly junk food and not healthy food as the team nutritionists would want.

In the past, teams have travelled for five or more hours on a tour of England, but with recent developments, the BCCI now can insist on ensuring that this will no longer be the case. Players need to rest too, and it is hard to travel for more than three hours, then reach the next county at around midnight and then play a game the next day. Since the ECB was also concerned about its band of supporters getting good quality accommodation and thus wanted to avoid certain venues and the BCCI has obliged in the same way, the ECB should now ensure that India's matches are at venues where there are five-star hotels and not some motels or inns where the only way in and out of a room is sideways. Yes sir, we have stayed in some hotels, where that's the way to get in the rooms — so small have they been, and if that can be the case with a small-stature person, then one can well imagine how it would be a for a big guy. And not to forget that teams move now with more baggage than before, and so the rooms have to be spacious to accommodate these as well. There is more than a year to go for the tour and the ECB is known to chalk out its itinerary for its domestic matches more than a year ahead. Therefore, India will get to know its venues soon, and so can ensure that its team gets all the comforts as well as for its growing band of supporters.

There was also the aspect of the warm-up matches that the England team is going to play before it plays the Tests and One-Day Internationals. There was a report that in one of the games, all England players will be allowed to play. Now with the England tour party to Pakistan comprising 18 players as well as support staff, does that mean that there will be only FOUR Indian players in the opposition team?

Matches, whether they are warm-up or not, are first-class matches, and first-class rules should be applied. These games are also a great opportunity for the domestic performers to showcase their talent against a touring team and stake claim for a place in the Indian team. So, even as one understands the necessity of practice games, it should not be at the expense of Indian players. If England want more time to acclimatise, they should come earlier and play against other teams as well. As it is, after the tour of Pakistan, they will have more than two months off, and so could do with more practice games, especially seeing the way they have performed against the Pakistanis.

England, Australia and South Africa have a fixed list of Test venues and though, of course, there aren't as many venues as India has, it still makes sense for the BCCI to follow that system and have at least a few venues where every season there will be Tests held irrespective of the quality or ranking of the visiting team. The old traditional venues in India have been Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata, and they should always have at least two of these venues in every series every season.

With the Asia Cup being called off by the two Superpowers in the subcontinent, there is also enough time for the Indians to play in their domestic cricket, though how many will actually do so is the moot point, especially if they have had a good tour of Pakistan. Yes, all the India internationals use domestic tournaments only if they are out of form or want to make a point, but otherwise show little interest in the very tournaments that have got them the India caps. It would have been good to see Sourav Ganguly, after he was dropped from the Test side, show the initiative to play for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy, particularly as at the time they were leading the points table, but by staying at home, he hasn't done Bengal or himself any good, for if he had got a big ton like he did in the opening game of the Ranji Trophy, that would have been a signal to those who matter. Maybe he was waiting at home to get a call from the authorities after the hullabaloo created by his omission from the team for the third Test, but surely he would have shown how much of a team man he is by opting to play for Bengal than sit at home awaiting developments.

The matter has taken a political turn at the time of writing and will not die down so easily. Normally, once the Test starts, any selections are forgotten, but with Tendulkar also scoring his 35th ton, there is not that much interest in a series that has turned out to be as one-sided as the one-day series. Indian cricket is never far from controversies, and it will take all of Sharad Pawar's renowned political savvy to ensure that Indian cricket emerges stronger rather than weaker from the latest one.