June 14, 2007

Indian cricket takes one more step back

H Natarajan

There is one prominent figure in the BCCI who is speaking the truth – truth that is unpalatable but brutally honest. That man is none other than Raj Singh Dungarpur, the former chief of the Board. Dungarpur, who is close to the higher echelons of the board, voiced the feeling of the masses by calling the Graham Ford fiasco as the most embarrassing episode in Indian cricket history. But Dungarpur has always stood out for speaking his mind and heart. That has not always endeared him to the vast majority who believe it’s a virtue in speaking half-truths and plain lies when confronted by the media.

The present dispensation of the Board began their tenure in office on a progressive note, raising hopes of heralding Indian cricket into a new era of professionalism. The early promise, however, was short lived as Indian cricket now finds itself in a tailspin.

The impression that the progressive world is getting is that Indian cricket is not for die-hard professionals. The sensational flip-flop of Ford has, as usual, left people guessing why in the absence of official explanations. Speculations for Ford’s unexpected pull-out range from his unhappiness over the tenure of the contract, dissatisfaction over emoluments offered for the job, priorities for family, using the contract offered by the Indian board to strike a better deal as director of coaching of for the Kent Cricket Club, etc. But it’s quite possible that Ford was unhappy with what he saw for himself on arrival in India. Maybe, he did not want to risk his professional reputation in such a climate.

John Emburey, the other contender who came to India, has also expressed his disinterest in the job. Emburey said: "I have just got my teeth into a big new challenge at Middlesex and want to stay to complete the job and extend my 36-year association with the club." If that was the case, why did he travel all the way to India to be interviewed by the BCCI?

India has made itself the laughing stock of the world ever since it exited from the first round of the 2007 World Cup. Early indications suggested that Greg Chappell’s hands would be strengthened, especially after he was devastatingly forthright about the senior players, the attitude of some he likened to a “mafia”. But slowly the table turned and Chappell was made the fall guy.

Even while Chappell was in the saddle, the name of Dav Whatmore kept coming up as the likely successor, once the former’s contract tenure ran out after the World Cup. And once Chappell was out of the reckoning, it seemed almost a formality that Whatmore would fill in the vacancy after India’s away against Bangladesh. But again, for reasons typically mysterious, Whatmore was no longer in the frame. The possible speculation is that he would have been a tough pro, even if less aggressive than Chappell, which was not exactly to the players’ liking.

The players wanted somebody who was not a disciplinarian like Chappell. Ford fitted the bill. And in trying to keep the players happy, the board has found itself in another imbroglio after the Whatmore botch up. The inordinate and unprofessional delay means that the Indian team will embark on its second successive tour with a stop-gap coach in the garb of “manager”.

Chandu Borde is the man. The former Indian captain appointment as the Indian cricket team manager has come as a surprise choice for the team’s tour to Ireland and England starting in a week's time. Not for a moment I doubt Borde’s unquestionable credentials. Having known and interacted with him, I respect his cricketing intelligence and his likeable nature. While he has been a cerebral cricketer and respected figure in Indian cricket, it’s a highly debatable if he is the right person for such a demanding and high-pressure job at the age of 72. Surely there are equally intelligent and respected men in Indian cricket who are much younger than Borde. And by virtue of being comparatively younger, they are likely to be fitter and in touch with today’s brand of cricket than Borde who made his international debut 48 years ago.

While modern coaching has gone from art form to science, with specialists in all forms offering highly-technical inputs, Borde came on one of the news channels on Tuesday to say that players do not require coaching and saw himself more as a motivator. Clearly, that’s a jarring note in today’s world.

In my opinion, Indian cricket has slipped considerably on many counts – and the fall has been swift and steep. Till not long, men like Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan were match winners. Today, all three are gone, despite getting extended favours from the team management and selectors. Ashish Nehra and Laxmipathi Balaji were two more who offered much hope for the future, but they disappeared into the oblivion. Munaf Patel is more out than in. Mohammad Kaif was seen as a potential captain, but he too has fallen by the wayside. The once famed batting line-up is ageing and far from convincing.

If Sachin Tendulkar has been named vice-captain, it’s a very sad commentary of the team’s next generation. The master batsman is on the threshold of retirement, his unhappy tryst with captaincy becoming history years ago, yet he has been given the job that logically should have gone to a younger person with the idea of grooming him for the future.

The Sehwags and Kaifs should have been the candidates for taking over the reins, but their exit has created a scary vacuum. If there is one act that speaks volumes of what the selectors think about the younger crop of Indian cricket, it’s Tendulkar appointment as vice-captain.

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