x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

How do you solve a problem like India?

As the feeding frenzy intensifies and the decibel levels get ever more shrill, solutions to India's cricketing woes are conspicuous by their absence.

Depending on which other publications you have been reading, you would have spotted these observations more than once over the past two weeks:

- India's cricketers are fat, unfit and lazy.

- They value their Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts more than they do a national cap.

- The Indian board does not much care for Test cricket, as evidenced by the team's dismal preparation for the current series against England.

- India's batsmen cannot play the swinging, bouncing or seaming ball.

As with many black-and-white arguments, there is a kernel of truth in all these accusations. Many of them have come from within the Indian media, which turns on its own with rare ferocity when things go wrong, as they have from day one of this tour, which has brought consecutive Test defeats.

The criticism and slurs have been plentiful, but where are the solutions? Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, made it clear after day one of the third Test at Edgbaston in Birmingham that he did not have any ready to hand.

As the feeding frenzy intensifies and the decibel levels get ever more shrill, solutions are conspicuous by their absence. Acceptance would be a good first step. England have been exceptional in this series, especially with the ball. While it comes from the realm of speculation, it is doubtful whether even a full-strength Indian XI could have kept them at bay.

It has not always been one-way traffic. On the fourth morning of the first Test at Lord's, and again on the first two days of the second Test at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, India had great opportunities to ram home an advantage. On each occasion, they were rebuffed.

That was not just coincidence or luck. The better team, the one with greater self-belief, invariably prevails when it comes to such pivotal moments. India, who edged two incredibly tight Tests against Australia last October, know that as well as anyone.

So, where do they go from here? Short-term fixes are no answer. Neither are short memories.

If India's administrators and fans forget these Test debacles on account of their success in the one-day arena, assuming there is any, then they clearly do not deserve a team at the top of the five-day tree. A witch-hunt solves nothing either. Many of these very players have excelled for years. One bad tour does not make them chumps.

Ranting about the IPL also is not an answer. Professional athletes have always sought to maximise their earnings. Carl Lewis once ran in a meeting in New Delhi in the late 1980s. It was not out of some altruistic motive. It was because a big cheque changed hands.

Many cricketers choose to play in the IPL because it earns them many times over what they would get playing a full season of international cricket. Until and unless the remuneration patterns associated with the game change, players will gravitate towards the league. That is human nature.

All Indian cricket can do is ensure that the league's survival and growth does not impact on the national team's performances.

The problem is not really the IPL, it is an itinerary that is as haphazardly put together as a toddler's Lego house.

England and Australia have defined home seasons. India don't. They also have traditional off-seasons. India's vanished with the advent of the IPL and the Champions League Twenty20.

Redrawing the schedule is one way to keep everyone happy. Start the home season in December rather than October. Play the IPL in April and finish it in early May. After some downtime, younger players who struggle in more challenging conditions outside the subcontinent could even play a bit of county or league cricket in England.

Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan both enjoyed prolific county seasons in the last decade and both have spoken of how much they benefited from the experience.

The IPL may swell the bank balance, but it certainly does not prepare you to fight it out under overcast skies on a seam-friendly pitch.

It would also help if players stood up for their rights, instead of taking the IPL money and quietly toeing the line.

Playing 125 days of international cricket in a 12-month period, as India will in 2011/12, is no way to ensure peak performance. A balanced schedule would see no more than 12 Tests, 25 one-day internationals and five T20 internationals played in a year.

The board should also not see a couple of months off as an excuse to shoehorn in a tri-series or one-day marathon somewhere. The sponsors may be queuing up now but if performances dip and India slide down the rankings, they will take their money elsewhere.

With Formula One, football and other sports making inroads into urban India, cricket certainly cannot afford complacency.

The media can play a more responsible role too.

India were never as good a side as some within the country suggested. They are also not as bad as some are saying they are now.

Perspective does not lend itself to provocative headlines, but for the sake of the big picture, a period of introspection and toning down would not hurt at all.

 

sports@thenational.ae

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