Indian Cricket – Time for “One Nation, Three Teams”!

Another ICC Cricket tournament got over this Sunday and it was yet another disappointment for the millions of Cricket fans in India. For the uninitiated, this time it was the ICC T20 World Cup which is the shortest of all the formats in Cricket that took place in Australia and India got knocked out in the semi-finals. A few months ago, India lost the ICC Test championships, a format in which it is the number one ranked country. To cut the tale of agony short, it is now 9 years since we won an ICC tournament. The last win was at the ICC Champions Trophy in the year 2013.

Unlike other sports, in Cricket, India always gets into a tournament with a chance of winning.  Even in this T20 World Cup, India did top the table among both groups. But that sort of put a black cloth on the patchiness of its performance overall in the run-up to the semi-finals, where it got exposed badly by a belligerent England which eventually took the T20 World Cup. The pulsating win over Pakistan in the group match amidst high drama anchored by a super heroic innings from “King” Kohli sort of blinded us to believe that we can win from anywhere.  Of course, the 360 Degree toying of the bowling by Surya Kumar Yadav in the league matches only accentuated the mirage of India’s invincibility till England virtually knocked us out of the park in the Semi-Finals. In short, we flattered to deceive. Yet again.

Naturally, the daggers have been out on the Indian team, its management, and the administration ever since the Semi final rout against England on Thursday. In a country where one starts to think about Cricket from when in the mother’s womb, almost everyone has ideas or solutions for some of the ills that India is beset with, in the game of Cricket.

Foremost has been the call for the sacking of some of the senior players including the captain. Then there are suggestions on who should be playing in the team moving forward.  India now hosts the biggest T20 league in the world called IPL, where players from other countries come and participate. But players from India do not participate in leagues in other countries. So, there is a suggestion on letting that happen, so that Indian players get the experience to play in foreign conditions and with foreign players more often. Then there is chatter around India’s batting approach in the T20 World Cup – starting sedately and going for the charge in the last 5 overs which is now decried as very old-fashioned. There are those Ex-Cricketers like Gavaskar who questioned the need for a 20+strong support staff! And there are calls for sacking the Head Coach Dravid as well.

While some of the ideas or comments mentioned above deserve some consideration, in my opinion, what is required is a radical change and not just “Band-Aid” solutions. Like the opposite of what we have been following in India of late on many issues. On Taxes, we have moved to “One Nation, One Tax” with GST. For the armed forces, we have implemented the “One Rank, One Pension” (OROP) scheme.  The “One Nation, One Ration Card” program is on the way. In a sense, a unifying approach.  But in Cricket, for us to be successful, I suggest that we go the opposite way.  Let me explain.

I propose that for each of the formats we have in Cricket which are Tests, ODI, and T20, we have three completely different teams turning up to represent India i.e., a “One Nations, Three Teams” (ONTT) formula. The upsides for this approach are as follows:

  • This “Horses for Courses” approach allows the selectors to pick specialists for the specific format which in turn allows the players to focus and specialize on the format they are supposedly strong in. The players have to just “Stick to the knitting”.
  • Every time in a series or a tournament, when a different team turns up for different formats, we can expect the players to be fresh, and eager and not carry the baggage from the previous match/tournament or series where we might have won or lost. Each of the teams will have fire in the belly to win and prove itself unlike now where for example, once a big Test series win is secured, some of the players may lose intensity when they show up for the ensuing ODI series or T20 series.
  • This helps in balancing the player workload and therefore fatigue and injury management which seem to be key issues for teams these days with the hectic travel and game schedules.
  • It will help to get away from the irony of accommodating an out-of-form senior player while a promising junior player is left out of the team.
  • Since the nature of the game in each of these formats are different, the players once identified with a format need not worry about changing or tinkering with their batting or bowling techniques back and forth.
  • For key ICC tournaments, the respective teams can travel early and start getting used to the conditions overseas thanks to their less cramped schedules.
  • The “ONTT” approach will help democratize the game further in a country like India where we have a huge talent pool since we will have about 50 players donning the India cap at any point in time across the three formats. Players playing in IPL are in addition to this.
  • The success of the English team recently in all formats may be attributed to this approach which they started a few years ago. But even there, the three teams are not completely different. What I am proposing is completely different teams with different captains and even different coaches. Only the supporting staff in terms of medical, physios and so on can be the same.
  • This approach will eliminate the “Star” player concept since there will not be any player who will turn up as part of all Indian dressing rooms.

Some could argue about the duplicity of expenses in the above approach when different teams have to travel and so on. Today affordability is not an issue for BCCI as much as demonstrating success on the world stage is. Compensation will have to be worked out considering the frequency of the format so that there is a fair distribution of remuneration.

With a new BCCI team that has taken over recently, this is the right time for it to consider some radical ideas to improve our strike rate and frequency of winning Key ICC tournaments. And “One Nation, Three Teams” is one such killer idea.

The Cup ended, not the cup of woes!!!

watch-cricket-world-cup-onlineOne of the supposedly grand event of Cricket – the ICC One Day World Cup ended today in a whimper. What was built up as an epic clash between the 2 Trans Tasmanian teams – Australia and New Zealand in the finals today turned out to be a boring one sided match with the Aussies ruthlessly grounding the Kiwis depriving them of their maiden World Cup win. And for us Indians, post our rather meek surrender to the Aussies in the Semifinals, today’s final was more of a side show. Not just the match today, but If you look back at the rather drearily long World Cup in the last 40 odd days, right from the league stages to the knockout there were hardly 4-5 matches which were exciting. The Semifinal match between South Africa and NZ must count as one of those matches which brought viewers to the edge of the seat I would reckon. Most of the other encounters were either one sided or falling to a predictable pattern. And more so, all the India matches were drab affairs though as long as the team was winning we had no qualms of the same.  But as an avid cricket enthusiast, for a major ICC event as the World Cup, there were very few matches which would be subject to post mortem again and again during water cooler talks in offices and paan shops in the coming days!!

I guess this trend has not just started with this World Cup. Over the years, the One Day format though extremely popular has been slowly entering a coma. But the just concluded World Cup I reckon has sort of hastened the Rigor mortis. It will be interesting to look at the possible causes for the same:

  • As a format, is it getting stuck between the Classic Test Match and the glamorous T-20? Test match cricket has its own old world own charm. A battle between the bat and the ball looks more engaging in a Test match. Even today, while a cricketer can earn by being a T-20 specialist, he still have to yearn for recognition until he proves his mettle in Test Cricket. On the other side T-20 with a soccer kind of format demands less time, is fast paced and throws open enough mauka (in this season how can I miss a mauka to use this term?😜) for innovations. In this – is the One Day Game with its tiring predictability losing its charm? You could just watch the last 10 overs of the 1st inning, then may the last 15 overs of the 2nd inning and still would not have missed the gist of the match!
  • Is the ICC in its quest to popularize Cricket killing it? Today we have a clear Class divide among the teams. One bunch are the established teams which are strong. Then we have the other bunch which are the “Associate nations” which are the emerging teams. They don’t get to play competitive games often and are a deprived lot. When both the groups are bunched together, most of the league matches turn drab where the established walk over the emerging. While it is true that the weak teams must get exposed and get opportunities to play the stronger teams often, in a World Cup most of these matches are boring affairs. One solution could be to have a pre-qualifying stage league matches among the Associate nations and get the top 2 to be a part of the established teams and go through with the league and knockout phases.
  • As in many other games like Tennis for example, Cricket is also going the “Powerplay” way! Ofcourse this has nothing to do with the format. But increasingly in the One Day format – the domination of bat over ball due to sheer power has left everything else redundant. So the team batting first routinely amasses 300+ scores these days and walks away with the match. That also means that the skill of Cricket is pushed aside by the captain’s skill of calling the coin right at the toss. Well, most of the times. (Like in the India Vs Australia Semifinal match in this World Cup, the loss of toss by Dhoni turned to be the 1st nail in the coffin). One can argue that in the Test match format there is still room for a batsman with elegance, a spinner with guile and players with skill but in One Day and the T-20 formats – increasingly it is “Power” which is at “Play”. So the urgent need for may be bowler friendly conditions and an even-steven contest between the bat and ball.
  • It’s a no brainer that any game becomes interesting if the course of the game and its outcome are unpredictable. But frankly today in the One Day format the only unpredictability is when there is rain and the two gentlemen Duckworth and Lewis come into play 😄😄. The D/L method is so intriguing that it many times it has turned a docile match on its head and turned it interesting. It’s another matter that my friends from South Africa will have a different view on this 😄.
  • To be fair to ICC, they have been introducing a few innovations into the One day format like Batting Powerplays, Bowling Powerplays… to bring in some twists to the game. But just that these are few and far between and have not been able to shift the dial.

So for the ICC, the “Cup” must have ended but when they do an honest assessment of the recently concluded World Cup, they would realise that their “Cup of Woes” has just begun.  Which is to find ways and means make the next World Cup really engaging, interesting and exciting and not a 2 month long dull and drab affair with very few “rewind worthy” moments!!! And make (One Day) Cricket live up to its original cliché of “A game of glorious uncertainties!!!”

Postscript: After reading this, if you felt a “No, no, these grapes are sour” sense omnipresent in this piece after India’s #Wont Give It Back became history last Thursday– it is purely coincidental 😜😜