x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

BCCI's schedule packed full of errors

Poor planning by the board and tempting riches luring players to ignore the fatigue factor is reason for India's woes.

With the money on offer to play Twenty20 cricket, players such as Munaf Patel have been risking playing despite injury like he suffered in England at Cardiff.
With the money on offer to play Twenty20 cricket, players such as Munaf Patel have been risking playing despite injury like he suffered in England at Cardiff.

All the way through India's one-day series in England, a strange man kept popping up on television screens to spoil our viewing pleasure. And apologies for using that "p" word; with all the rain and just one team playing cricket, pleasure is not the most apt word here.

Back to that man.

He laughed hysterically, clapped in a crazed manner and kept babbling: "Ab hoga asli muqabala [the real contest starts now]". It was an advert and he was referring to the Champions League, which started last week and, for most games, has struggled to draw the crowds.

But wasn't the "real contest" meant to start sometime in July, the battle for the top of the Test rankings in the England versus India series? Oh yes, that was far from a contest, with one team scoring 2,809 runs in six innings of the four-Test series and the other managing 2,044 from eight. One team took all the possible 80 wickets and the other got 47.

Welcome to the twisted world of Indian cricket then, where the cracked walls are adorned by the most expensive paper that money can buy.

This is the world of "Total Recall", of ugly realities and grand delusions. Who cares what happened in England? Being the No 1 in five-day cricket does not pay your bills.

It is the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Champions League that do.

"We are making over Rs100 million (Dh7.5 million) over three years for playing in the IPL for a few days," a senior Indian cricketer was quoted as saying by Outlook magazine. "But when we play for India, we make Rs3-4 crore a year. This is why the IPL is important for us."

So welcome to the Champions League. And that man is back on television, urging you to be there "at 8 o'clock and don't be late o'clock".

What timing!

One can only wish he had given the same advice to the Indian cricket team before the tour of England. The International Cricket Council kept waiting for them at the annual awards night and the Indians fans kept hoping they would turn up ... for the Tests, Twenty20 or the one-dayers, but it never happened.

A lot of them kept taking the flight home though. It is pure bad luck, you know, that not one, not two, not three, but 10 players were injured during the series. Nothing weird about it. It happens with every other team. Nothing to do with playing too much cricket. Honest.

"We have compared the itinerary of the other countries and there is not much difference," said N Srinivasan, the new president of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). "Also, it must be mentioned, the question of workload doesn't arise as only a few players are playing all the three forms of cricket."

Looking at the schedules of the top teams this year, India have played eight Tests, 24 one-day internationals and three Twenty20s; England have appeared in eight Tests, 25 ODIs and five T20s; Australia have played four Tests, 22 ODIs and four T20s and South Africa have just a lone Test, 12 ODIs and one T20.

So except for England, India's international schedule has been busier than others.

But the English have played two series at home, and India have travelled across four continents during this period. They have also played in the IPL, just after the World Cup.

On paper, 67 days of international cricket, not counting the IPL, across nine months may not seem a lot. Football players turn up every week, or even twice, and they hardly complain about fatigue.

But they usually get to return home at night, or the next day at most. They do not have to spend months on the road.

The tennis players do that and you can see that injuries are also plaguing that sport.

Injury-forced breaks aside, most Indian cricketers have spent no more than a fortnight at home this year. Yes a whole two weeks, those "spoilt brats", and yet they dare to complain.

The BCCI could have organised a full five-match one-day series in that period, and added a couple of Twenty20s for some spice.

But they did not, for they "care" about the players and the game, just like their counterparts in international tennis.

The top tennis professionals are threatening a strike. But would Indian cricketers ever entertain such a thought? Or would they dare miss the cash cow of the IPL and Champions League?

If Munaf Patel had not been carried off the field, in full public view, he would have probably been bowling for the Mumbai Indians, just like Harbhajan Singh and the others from the tour of England casualty list.

Rahul Dravid has retired from ODIs, but he continues to play the IPL. Sourav Ganguly played in the tournament long after his international swansong, until he was snubbed at the player auctions this year. It may not be about the money for them, but just to stay relevant. It could be the appeal of the floodlights and the glitz.

So what are the chances of younger players keeping away?

Only a diktat from the board, or even the coach, could force them to stay away. England's Andy Flower decides when his contracted players can play for their counties. Can Duncan Fletcher do the same in India?

It can only happen if India acknowledges there is a problem, but at the moment, we seem in a distant galaxy from reality.

There is no need to plan for the post-Harbhajan, Tendulkar and Dravid era. We have the IPL and the Champions League. This is where the big boys play. It is the coliseum of gladiators. This is real cricket ... well, no, it is Indian cricket.


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