Sow now to reap in July!

Feb 27, 2014, 08:30 IST | Clayton Murzello

Quite clearly, this is Indian cricket’s most crucial year in Test cricket in recent times

Quite clearly, this is Indian cricket’s most crucial year in Test cricket in recent times. The thought of playing five Tests in England and four in Australia could send shivers down the spines of players trying to find their feet in the toughest form of the game.

However, some will view it as a great opportunity to prove that they belong to international cricket.

Extend partnership: With the England tour in June, the time is ripe for an Indian manager to help coach Duncan Fletcher

The challenge in England can never be overplayed and the Indian team, despite being armed with a coach who knows what it takes to win back the Ashes from an all-conquering Australian outfit in 2005, need additional help.

It’s time to appoint an established former player as manager of the team — Consultant if the term adds glamour to the post — and try everything possible not to endure another disgraceful overseas tour.

These appointments have worked far more often than they have flopped for India, not very long before Duncan Fletcher took over as coach.

The Zimbabwean may feel a bit insecure with this arrangement, but then he doesn’t have great success to establish that he deserves to be the shot-caller in the coaching department.

Let me get back to the times it has worked for India. In 2001, the BCCI then led by Dr A C Muthiah and driven by Raj Singh Dungarpur, appointed former Test opener Chetan Chauhan as manager who did an excellent job during the 2001 home series against Australia and the tour of Zimbabwe where India won their first Test outside the sub-continent after 1986.

Chauhan helped infuse some good old values in Sourav Ganguly and John Wright’s team. Wright welcomed Chauhan and praised him in his book Indian Summers: “It crossed my mind that another of Chauhan’s tasks was to keep tabs on me, but we hit it off immediately. He gave the players good messages — ‘bat like you’re the last man’ — and I wish his appointment had been permanent.”

In 2007, when the Indian team were reeling under the ruins of their World Cup exit, Ravi Shastri was appointed as manager for the rewarding tour of Bangladesh followed by Chandu Borde on the tour of England where India won a series for the first time since 1996. Borde, I am told, had a good influence on the batsmen while Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh toiled away with the bowlers and fielders respectively.

A lot of former players are in the media so the BCCI won’t be moved to appoint them as manager. Sandeep Patil, the current chairman of selectors would make an ideal manager and can stay away from deciding the final XI which is the prerogative of the team management. If Patil can manage to be away from home for two and a half months, he would be invaluable to the young guns. He has a good deal of experience touring England as a player and coach and will ensure a happy dressing room.

Doubtless, the Indian team won’t be helped with a ‘too many cooks for a soup’ situation, but they must identify few right people.

Why can’t UK-based Dilip Doshi, the Indian spinner, who has had many years of county cricket experience, be asked to have a few sessions with the spinners? One of the best analysis on the ill-fated 2011 tour of England came from Doshi, who I spoke to after the series was lost in Birmingham, but his first words were: “We must analyse fairly, actively, rather than take the players to the cleaners. As a former cricketer, my responsibility is greater in analysing positively — more constructive, rather than destructive. It is not my idea to bring someone down.”

Cricket matches are not won through a doctor-like prescription. It’s never easy, but the Indian team can go into the first Test at Nottingham on July 9 thinking, ‘We’ve done our best in terms of preparation. Now, let’s play our natural game.’

Sure, the present priority is the Asia Cup and the World Twenty20. Then comes the Indian Premier League, the greatest tournament in the world in the opinion of some. But we can’t lose sight of overseas Test challenges. The time to lay the foundation stone for the English summer is now.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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