TalkPoint: Did the BCCI’s home series against Sri Lanka hurt the Indian team’s preparation for South Africa?

Illustration by Siddhant Gupta

Indian batsmen crumbled in the face of South Africa’s lethal bowling attack. The bouncy pitch at Newlands in Cape Town contributed to their downfall.

ThePrint asks: Did the BCCI’s home series against Sri Lanka hurt the Indian team’s preparation for South Africa?

It’s economics, stupid!

Prem Panicker 
Journalist, editor and consultant

“India did not have sufficient preparation time in South Africa,” say the cricketing cognoscenti parrots after the first Test against South Africa on a spicy Newlands track. As insights go, this one has been around ever since the mid-90s, when Indian cricket discovered it was a money-making business.

Four months ago I’d written, inter alia, about the farce of scheduling a Sri Lanka series in late 2017 just ahead of a seminal tour of South Africa. But never mind that: Virat Kohli, in a noticeable departure from the mealy-mouthed ways of his predecessors, voiced his strong objection to the scheduling as far back as November.

You judge us when the results come in, Kohli said in precis, but you don’t give us the preparation time to ensure we are at our best. “It should be a fair game where we get to prepare the way we want to and then we are entitled to be criticised.”

The question is not what happened, but why it keeps happening. And the only way to understand this is to think of the BCCI — and this is true whether it runs itself or is run by a Supreme Court-appointed team — as a money-making machine. It will look after its cash cows (the players), but in return it will dictate terms. And that is non-negotiable.

The BCCI’s biggest source of revenue is TV rights. Star India shelled out Rs 3,851 crore in 2012. In return, it needs the team playing at home as often as possible, never mind against whom. Those rights expire in March 2018, so the November-December period was its last remaining window to create programming.

The BCCI, having taken the money, has to oblige. Therefore, from its point of view, an Indian team spending a month in a camp preparing to take on the best bowling attack in the world is non-monetisable activity.

This is why cockeyed scheduling is the longest running trope in Indian cricket; it is also why it is the most futile of debates. Because it is the economics, stupid!

Like the fight for remuneration, players should also have fought for better preparation

Kirti Azad 
Former Test cricketer, 1983 World Cup winner, and MP

Every team needs time to prepare when touring abroad. The players need to prepare themselves mentally and physically while encountering pitches and conditions that are very different from the ones they’re used to back home.

Unlike Indian dodos, South Africa has lively pitches, and a tough side. It is but obvious that the team should have been given enough time to prepare for the tour. The BCCI calendar is so clogged that a player does not even have time for his honeymoon, let alone practice matches.

Playing a Test match straightaway was not the most advisable move; at least one or two four-day matches should have been fitted in the itinerary before the first Test. In a three Test series, getting blown away in the first Test has been happening with monotonous regularity – in England, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Without facing quality bowlers in the initial matches, the Indian team is tested in trying conditions by classy pacers directly in the Tests.

Coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli did not insist on having match practice before the first Test. Even the two-day match scheduled before the Test was surrendered. And yet, one could discern the hurt and annoyance in their voices after the Test — both of them rued the fact that the team had not been provided the opportunity to acclimatise to the pitch conditions.

Fighting for adequate remuneration is fair but insisting on proper preparation is also necessary. They must learn to assert themselves, when necessary. Surely, one cannot expect players to adapt overnight.

The meaningless matches scheduled with Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and India were not the best way to prepare for the testing South African conditions. The Sri Lankans currently are a very weak side and their bowling is pedestrian to say the least. Beating their bowlers to pulp could not be the yardstick to overcome the South African challenge.

The Committee of Administrators appointed by the Supreme Court is not really listening to players – maybe the Future Tours Programme is not allowing them to change the schedule. Sadly, the Indian leg of Sri Lanka-India matches was seemingly meant to cater to the interests of the broadcasters more than the players, or even the public, who are the lifeline of Indian cricket.

For BCCI, the lust for money guides what matches the team gets to play.

Get real, BCCI will be BCCI. Defeat was down to selection and approach

Shreyas Sharma
Assistant editor, ThePrint

We, the Test cricket-loving people of the world, are a bunch of hopeless romantics. The pristine whites, the red ball, the green of the ground on the first morning of a Test set our hearts racing. And, as with every other kind of love, this love entrances us to the point where we lose our minds and any remaining connect with reality.

Practice matches? Preparatory camps? In case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t the 1980s with snarling fast bowlers in comic mullets and headbands. And it ain’t never coming back, so move on, sister.

Instead, let’s see what the Indian team could’ve done differently in the real world – the one where BCCI bean-counters run the show.

For starters, it could’ve played the right combination. In hindsight, everyone agrees that dropping Ajinkya Rahane was a mistake. But captain Virat Kohli insists it was all thanks to this mystical “current form” thing that Rohit Sharma was in the team. The same Rohit Sharma about whom a friend remarked “he’s the greatest advertisement for Make in India”.

All the specialist batsmen in the squad (except K.L. Rahul) had gone to South Africa on India’s previous tour at the end of 2013. In two Tests against the same attack (Steyn, Philander, Morkel, and with the retiring Kallis featuring in the fourth seamer’s spot), Shikhar Dhawan scored 13, 15, 29 and 19; Rohit’s returns were 14, 6, 0 and 25. Rahane, on the other hand, scored 47, 15, 51 and 96.

Current form against Sri Lanka at home or in Sri Lanka, versus a guy who scored almost double the runs of Dhawan and Sharma put together in these conditions four years ago. Call me a romantic too, but why on earth was Ajinkya Rahane, vice-captain, technically proficient batsman, sitting out in favour of two flashy players who rarely do well in seam bowling-friendly conditions?

Then there was the question of approach. When India had South Africa on the ropes on Day 1 at 12/3, A.B. de Villiers counter-attacked, throwing India off their game. It turned out to be a match-winning partnership. Then, with India on the ropes, Hardik Pandya’s counter-attack saved the blushes in the first innings.

On difficult pitches, either you have the discipline and technique of Rahul Dravid to try and bat out time, or you counter-attack smartly. Not mindless slogging, smart counter-attacking. None of that from India.

So, frankly, blaming lack of preparation time for selection mistakes or an incorrect approach isn’t worthwhile. The old firm of Shastri and Kohli must figure out that the problem lay with them, because the BCCI will be the BCCI.

Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, Journalist at ThePrint.


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