BETWEEN WICKETS Suresh Menon

It is important to begin with a clear goal

Cricket is a vast subject and no one person has all the answers

The coaches, the captains, the chiefs of selection committees, and the physios meeting for a “brainstorming” session is news only because such a step was never a part of the Indian system. The various personnel did speak to one another, of course, but seldom in an organised manner and seldom with a collective purpose in view.

India had played international cricket for at least three decades before the idea of a players’ team meeting took root. The reason is easy to understand. The feudal system ruled, with clear hierarchies within and outside the team, and there was always an element of the Shakespearean command: ‘“I am Sir Oracle/And when I open my lips, let no dog bark!”

There were no national coaches, the Maharajahs reigned, and the junior players had no platform to air their views or grievances.

When they led India, Nari Contractor and his successor Tiger Pataudi did have team meetings, but these were irregular to begin with, and attended mainly by some senior players who discussed strategy over a drink or a meal.

Today all that seems archaic. Team meetings are held regularly, and the junior players are encouraged to speak up. There is too the team building exercise and of more recent vintage, the “buddy system”.

All that for the players.

Long time coming

Yet, it is only eight decades after India first played international cricket that an equally important meeting has been organised. For long the senior coach and the junior seldom exchanged notes, which might explain the occasional lack of continuity in a player’s progress. Likewise the senior selection committee chairman and the junior. The odd telephone call or a quick chat at a social function is no substitute for a reasoned discussion over a player’s future.

When Anil Kumble said after he took over as the head coach that he would be focusing on communication, it wasn’t just communication among players that he was talking about; he meant communication among those whose job it is to pick the right men, track their fitness and plan strategies.

Since coaches and selectors are former players, this means a purely cricketing discussion, without pressure from the officials or focus on the non-cricketing aspects. The BCCI’s general manager ‘Doc’ Sridhar was in attendance too, but he is a first class cricketer with a triple century to his name. For once a BCCI meeting wasn’t about votes, personal strategies to stay in power or discussions about how to make more money, but one that was focused on the game itself.

It is important to have this group on the same page always. And it is important to begin with a clear goal — in this case, getting to the No. 1 spot. The cynic will tell you that a few old friends sitting across a table and talking shop does not count for much. But this is where ideas are generated. This is where the best path to the future is laid out. This is where the inessentials are whittled away.

A more valid criticism might be that too many cooks spoil the broth. Don’t forget there is already a Cricket Advisory Committee in place.

This is where the personality of the head coach comes in. If it is decided that all ideas are funnelled through him, there can be no confusion. The division of power must be clear: the coach for everything off-field, the captain for everything on it. This is both practical and sensible.

Commonality of purpose

The decisions will not always be unanimous, the dissenting voices will not always be gratified. But a meeting such as this will at least ensure that everybody is pulling in the same direction — and everybody knows what needs to be done.

Clearly such a meeting cannot — and should not — be held too often. In the current season, for instance, India play 17 Tests including 13 at home. One meeting or perhaps two a season is all that’s needed.

India are fortunate that two of their all-time greats, Kumble and Rahul Dravid have taken up coaching assignments with the national teams. Add to that the likes of Venkatesh Prasad, Woorkeri Raman and Sandip Patil, besides M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli and you have a Dream Team.

India’s many drawbacks — injuries to fast bowlers, the vast gap between domestic and international cricket, pitches in domestic matches, lack of quality spin bowling, disappointing record abroad — are interconnected. The temptation in the past has been to attack the symptoms rather than deal with the malady itself.

Nothing prevents this group from having other meetings, informally with other players and stakeholders who have sound ideas. In fact, this is how it has worked in the past. The final decisions regarding selection, coaching, fitness must of course be left to those in charge of these areas.

It is amazing, really, that this most obvious of moves is merely making its debut now. Cricket is a vast and varied subject and no one person has all the answers. In recognising this, and doing something about it, the BCCI has served the game well.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 2:28:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/suresh-menon/It-is-important-to-begin-with-a-clear-goal/article14475930.ece

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