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    BCCI needs to plan India's revival in Tests

    Tuesday Aug 26, 2014 at 11:36

    Now that dust has, for the moment, settled on India's Test series in England, it is time to see what went wrong in India's dismal performance in the series.

    However, it will help to have a glance at how Test matches have gone recently. In 2013, when Australia toured England, England beat them 3-0. When England went to Australia, Australia whitewashed them 5-0. Practically, same members played in both the series with results that astounded pundits and laymen.

    Let's see how India fared in the past in England.

    In 2011 when India went to England, the visitors were swamped 4-0 in a four-match series with the legends still part of the team, including Sachin Tendulkar who was searching for his 100th international century. In fact, Sachin was in London well before the series trying to adjust to the English weather and pitches, but still the century eluded the great man.

    The total number of Tests played by the squad currently in England, most of who had never played a Test in England before, was far less than the players who were part of the 2011 tour.

    How did India fare on England tours in the distant past? In a four-match series in 1952, India lost 3-0 and in 1959 the visitors were flattened 5-0.

    In 1974, with some of the top cricketers in the team, India were shot out for their lowest ever score of 42, with only Eknath Solkar reaching double figures. Fast bowlers took all the wickets, with Chris Old taking five and Arnold four, while Chandrashekar didn't bat for India. This happened when Indian players had started playing the entire county seasons in England.

    India always had problem playing in England and facing up to the fast and accurate bowlers like Freddie Truman, Brian Statham, John Snow, Chris Old and now James Anderson. So this abject surrender is not something new.

    It was only in the '90s, when Indian batsmen had had a fair degree of experience through county cricket that they started adjusting to playing swing bowling in English conditions. They learnt to tackle Matthew Hoggard, Darren Gough, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones et al much better than in the past.

    This being the case, how could youngsters in the present team, who already have the onerous task of filling the big boots of legends like Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly could negotiate Anderson & Co having brought up on a heavy dose of IPL, ODIs and T20s on the docile pitches on India.

    Pitches in South Africa and Australia offer more pace and bounce which our players have gradually become more accustomed to, but the swinging ball in overcast conditions is a different story. You can get away in ODIs nicking it through the slips with the commentator crowing: "Four! It doesn't matter how it comes!" But in Test matches, it goes straight into the lap of the slip-cordon or gully fielder. Similar situation awaits Indian batsmen, as in the past, if BCCI or the batsmen themselves don't take stock.

    The current team is accused of giving in cheaply and not fighting back. To some extent this may be true but intent alone will not help much when technique is lacking in conditions that are alien. Overconfidence against an obscure spinner quickly turned to lack of confidence when survival became a huge question against an attack that was relentless and exposed the chinks in India's armour.

    One astonishing factor that emerges is that Indian cricket is full of legends who are part of the decision-making process as advisers, commentators or in governing councils. How have they advised the board in planning cricket tours? Couldn't they foresee through experience and help the board take corrective action with regard to preparation?

    Another reason for the failure is allegedly attributed to the presence of WAGs (wives and girl friends) with the players.

    Germany's World Cup-winning football coach Joachim Lowe partly attributed the success of his team to the WAGs who accompanied the team during the matches.

    When India beat England at Lord's just a couple of weeks before the last Two Tests, weren't the WAGs present? How could players do so well such as to create a century partnership for the last wicket, a record for India, and a seemingly ineffective injury-prone bowler Ishant Sharma bounce the English bowlers with a haul of 7 wickets, his best ever, with WAGs travelling with the team?

    It would help players if BCCI identifies the crux of the problem rather than make comments that will hurt the players even more.

    Isn't it time to think how effective are our Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy formats and pitches that facilitate record-breaking triple hundreds and double hundreds routinely? Such pitches do more harm to the players and development of cricket in the country. Probably BCCI should tap the expertise of players like Manoj Parbhakar, Kapil Dev and Mohinder Amarnath, who are some of the finest exponents of swing bowling, and use the expertise and experience of past cricketers in preparation of pitches. Why does not BCCI consult other players too to get different viewpoints - be it pitches, DRS, etc.?

    It is in the Ranji and Duleep Trophy matches that places for Test matches have to be won by the budding players. Can't we have the five teams from the zones play round-robin matches on pitches that help fast bowlers? We can also have the under-19 and India A teams play this tournament other than teams from the five zones. Those who shine in these tournaments, along with top performers from the Ranji Trophy matches, should form the main list for selection to play in Test matches.

    A side that travels to England from India has always fared poorly. The tragedy is that past experiences are quickly forgotten and sought to be camouflaged by playing easier series at home with a fair certainty of victory.

    It is time to involve a body of past cricketers who have excelled in Test matches to share their experience and plan the domestic season to prepare players who are better equipped for tougher Test matches in difficult conditions.