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Anyone thinking about the Oz tour?

When the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) wanted a grand home farewell for Sachin Tendulkar last season, they invited the West Indies for a two-Test series.

When the West Indies team pulled out of the one-day and Test tour this year, they called Sri Lanka.

That the men from the Caribbean came again this year for their third India tour in four years is another matter.

In these times, when television rights deals are critical to the financial health of the game, this is understandable but it does not evoke acceptance from those who feel that India should be preparing thoroughly for next month’s tour of Australia.

Australian paceman Ben Hilfenhaus (L) celebrates dismissing Indian batsman Virat Kohli (R) on the fourth day of the first Test match between Australia and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), in Melbourne on December 29, 2011. Pic/Getty Images
Australian paceman Ben Hilfenhaus (L) celebrates dismissing Indian batsman Virat Kohli (R) on the fourth day of the first Test match between Australia and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), in Melbourne on December 29, 2011. Pic/Getty Images

While this ‘be-our-guest’ credo will keep many stakeholders happy, how is it helping Indian cricket to earn on-field credibility?

The hastily-arranged series against Sri Lanka doesn’t even help the islanders, and their enduring champion batsman - wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara was not coy to tweet his displeasure (“Our 6 weeks of pure fitness work ends abruptly. Have a week to do a months requirement of skills work before India. Planning ahead anyone”) Sangakkara is almost one of a kind, for cricketers are the last ones to speak their mind over warped scheduling.

What was most interesting to read was the England and Wales Cricket Board’s interest in sending their limited overs team after West Indies withdrew, a classic case of pouncing on a financially rewarding situation. Unfortunately, for them Sri Lanka had already confirmed their participation.

Indian cricket bosses ought to be thinking about the forthcoming tour to Australia and making their home season more meaningful. What is India going to gain from playing a series of meaningless limited overs matches against Sri Lanka? There could be a view that these games would stand the Indians in good stead for next year’s World Cup, but it must not be forgotten that there is a one-day triangular competition in Australia after the completion of the four-Test series and that is a good tune-up for the premier event.

Bishan Singh Bedi reckons this was a good opportunity for a boot camp to be held before the team departs for Australia, and the camp would have served well to get some bonding going in the squad. Bedi knows what camps can do and the one he supervised in Bangalore, before he managed Mohammed Azharuddin’s team to England in 1990, is still remembered by the players. Kiran More recalled how the players worked endlessly on their skills and physical fitness, and the city of Bangalore provided the right kind of environment to prepare for the English tour, where India won the one-day series before losing the Test series 0-1 without being disgraced.

The Board somehow doesn’t believe that camps help anymore. Nor do the rulers of the game make their regular stars play the longer form in domestic cricket. It’s almost as if the Duleep Trophy is not meant for regular players at all.

There was a time when the Duleep Trophy was a selection tournament for an important tour, and Bedi wants to see this great tournament - named after a great batsman - resurrected.

Sure, India must make every effort to retain the World Cup in Australia next year. They can still do that, as well as prepare well for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Tests. The last two editions of this event have proved to be one-sided. India lost 0-4 in 2011-12 and Australia lost by the same margin in India during the 2012-13 season. This is a poor reflection on both teams’ ability - or rather inability to win overseas.

Team Director Ravi Shastri will not allow any lack of self-belief to flood his team’s mindset. How he goes about preparing his team for Australia even as his team tries to win at slam-bang against the Sri Lankans will be a challenge before a challenge.

Now that Sri Lanka are all set to tour - and they even got thanked by the BCCI Working Committee in Hyderabad on Tuesday - the groundsmen would do well to prepare tracks loaded in favour of pace bowlers. For, you don’t want a situation where the batsmen walk away with honours on flat tracks and then struggle to cope with the Australian bounce a few weeks later.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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