Between Wickets | Columns

Time for a rotation policy as another full year looms for India

Indian skipper Virat Kohli has suggested that players need to be spoken to and consulted before tours are finalised.   | Photo Credit: PTI

England’s policy of rotating their players is one that India should follow. In the two important series recently, in Australia and at home against England, rotation was forced upon India by injuries. Only Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane played all eight Tests.

The IPL is set to commence on April 9 and before the next round in 2022, India are scheduled to play 14 Tests (six away), 12 ODIs and 22 T20Is. These, besides World T20 in India in October. If the Asia Cup is held in Sri Lanka in June, India might send a second string team which is as capable of winning as their first as the recent matches have shown.

All that is a lot of cricket. It is particularly harsh if quarantines and secure bio bubbles remain. Managing players’ workloads will have to be priority. Skipper Virat Kohli has suggested that players need to be spoken to and consulted before tours are finalised. “Otherwise,” he has been quoted as saying, “it will be a case of who can last through difficult times like these.”

Through a combination of well-planned bubbles, player discipline, and good fortune, India played through the pandemic year without casualties, and without, so far as we know, significant mental issues. But the pressures of playing in such conditions cannot be exaggerated.

India discovered some fabulous performers in this period, and whatever the format, a newcomer did enough to leave the management with the comfortable feeling that the conveyor belt is moving smoothly.

Back on the comeback trail

Already some heroes of recent seasons — Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav — have had to move on to the comeback trail from the clear path they had made for themselves. Wriddhiman Saha, till recently the No. 1 wicketkeeper, has had to stand behind Rishabh Pant in the queue as both ’keeper and batsman.

So well have the newcomers from Axar Patel to Mohammed Siraj and Shubman Gill to Ishan Kishan performed that it is difficult to decide which is the country’s first eleven in any format. That regulars like Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja were hardly missed is a tribute to the Indian system which seems to be training specialists in the manner of a superior professional college.

Yet, it is when things are looking their best that we tend to get complacent and believe that the conveyor belt will never stop. As Kohli has hinted, good things do not happen by accident. They have to be planned for.

The fact that replacements are readily available means that players will be reluctant to take a break mid-series. The think tank, consisting of the coaches, captain and selectors will have to chart out a rest-and-recuperation plan and communicate this to the players to win their support for the scheme.

India have been playing as a team for a while now, but some individuals — as has been traditionally the case — are more equal than others. You only have to imagine a Test match (or any match) without Virat Kohli. Television and sponsors (and later, spectators) will actively discourage that. And if India don’t win, there will be hell to pay.

When Ed Smith, the England selector, first proposed rotating the players (although other have talked about it but given it up when it came to the crunch), there were misgivings. As I am sure there will be should India decide to take that route. But players need to be looked after. Jimmy Anderson is convinced that the system has extended his career. From ‘Anderson and (Stuart) Broad’, England are a team of ‘Anderson or Broad’.

Crucial

In times of pandemic and uncertainty, the rotation policy is especially crucial. As England’s head coach Chris Silverwood said, “We have to look after our players. I don’t think it’s acceptable to push somebody until they break and then try and pick them up.”

Jonny Bairstow was probably speaking for the players when he said, “The benefit is that you get to go home, sleep in your own bed, cook your own food, be with your family, and have a complete mental refresh. You know how tough it is not being able to leave the hotel, dining at separate tables…”

Indian players have traditionally been wary of missing a match, sometimes even hiding injury in case the chance never came again. A system of rotation ensures a bigger pool of players to choose from, greater care for those chosen and longer careers. It is acknowledgement that cricket is a team game, and individual records are not as important as team performances.

It is useful to remember that none of the bowlers who won India the final Test in Australia (Brisbane), and maybe a couple of batsmen too might have played had the full team been fit and available. You can’t know these things till you know.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 7:03:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/time-for-a-rotation-policy-as-another-full-year-looms-for-india/article34200779.ece

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