The Indianpost

India’s board counts the cost of complacency

Listen carefully and you might just be able to hear the squawking noise of chickens coming home to roost in the offices of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
The failure of the BCCI to ensure the welfare of its elite players, while creating a system that ensures the next generations fit seamlessly into the system when the time comes, has culminated in the truly appalling performances in the Test matches this summer, India’s claim to be the best team in the world exposed as little more than a masquerade.

Success in the forthcoming one-day series, in which it is England rather than the World Cup holders India who must start as favourites, will not adequately camouflage what has preceded. Indian cricket, through the sort of complacency that brought West Indies to their knees after the glory years, looks to be on a downward spiral from which, in Test terms anyway, it will be difficult to pull out.

It is not being unduly pessimistic from an Indian viewpoint to believe that in the next 18 months to two years they could be at least fifth in the Test rankings (about which, whatever anyone may subsequently say, they cared very much before this tour), behind England, South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka, and possibly lower still.

Quite how much the BCCI cares about this remains to be seen, but it would be advisable not to try holding breath unless the emergency services are on hand. When England, cock-a-hoop after their success in the 2005 Ashes, went to Australia for the rematch and were ritually humiliated to the tune of a whitewash, the response of the England and Wales Cricket Board was to commission the Schofield Report, the essence of which recommended root-and-branch restructuring of the way England approached touring, preparation, selection, fitness, the lot. We have seen the result over the past two years.

Now, in the aftermath of their defeat last winter, Cricket Australia similarly commissioned an independent review, the recommendations of which, released a couple of weeks ago, largely follow the England blueprint. It will take a while for the implications of this to become evident but at least there is recognition of institutional failure and the evidence of commitment to putting things right.

No one would expect the BCCI to announce such an investigation before the tour has finished, but all the indications are that no such review will be necessary. It is all a temporary blip. There have been injuries, players are tired, and of course England played very well in their own conditions (and just wait until they come to India). This is the stuff of ostriches. There comes a point when even the most brilliant players near the end of the playing road, and contingencies ought to have been in place a long time since. One coach, Greg Chappell, tried to do that five years ago, but was considered too authoritarian in challenging the superstars. Instead, we have the bizarre decision to give a debut in a Twenty20 international, considered to be a game for athletes, to a 38-year-old. That says nothing for the ability of the Indian Premier League to develop talent even at the level of cricket’s shortest international format.

But Indian cricket will not change unless there is a will to do so and this ought to start with an acknowledgment that what has happened in England is not just an aberration, but a perfect storm that has been brewing for some time. The BCCI makes great play of having a balance sheet that is the envy of the cricket world, but key to this is using the money wisely.

Firstly, though, India needs to decide what it is it really wants, and this is seldom clear to outsiders. T20, for example, was rejected out of hand in India at a time when others were embracing it on the basis that it shortened advertising time on TV and so reduced revenue streams. A flukey win in the first world T20 and it all changed so that what we see now is the IPL, a huge generator of income for the BCCI.

Now that India have lost their top ranking in Test cricket, is there an imperative to regain it, or will the initiative just move elsewhere? Here they will need caution, for Australia were the World Cup holders when England trounced them last winter, but are champions no longer.

And what of the IPL? There is no doubting its success or attraction, but never forget that the standard is elevated largely through the import of foreign cricketers. Some of this may rub off on domestic players but do not bank on it producing internationals to compete with the rest of the world. If evidence be needed, then look no further than the Premier League in England, see the level of excellence, and then recognise how little itactually contributes to the development of the national team. India were complacent when they came to England this summer, and complacency can be contagious.

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