Challenges for Indian Cricket in 2018

The year 2017 was very productive for Indian cricket. The Indian side had success on their tours to the West Indies and Sri Lanka, and they handsomely demolished England, Australia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at home. While India became the number one side in the World in Test cricket, they were just a point away from being ranked the top One Day International side as well. In Twenty20 cricket, the recent series victory over Sri Lanka has put India in the third spot in ICC T20 rankings. The only blemish that the Indian cricket team faced was the loss in the Champions Trophy to Pakistan in the finals.

Similarly, the Indian women’s side played some thrilling cricket to beat Australia in the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup, to finally lose to England narrowly in the finals. The Indian women’s cricket with this performance has now got a strong following in India. They have finally achieved a status of their own.

The epicentre of world cricket is now India and it has become very much the responsibility of Indian cricket help it flourish. The year ahead will naturally bring fresh challenges that will need to be faced defensively or attacked head-on. There are some extremely challenging issues on and off the field that need to be ironed out. The 9 critical ones are:

The first and foremost challenge for India will be to keep their number one Test ranking. India has had the fortune of playing the top cricket sides at home in 2017 and the coming new year will enable them to embark on a journey to conquer the cricketing world outside their shores. They will be touring South Africa in January/ February. Thereafter, they will have a long series against England and then finally end the year against Australia.

They would not only need to beat three of the top sides in a calendar year, but will also have to fight to retain their reputation of being the best. Never before has an Indian side played under such high pressure and in such an arduous schedule. This to me will be the greatest challenge for Indian cricket in 2018. Record machines, Virat Kohli among the batsmen and Ravichandran Ashwin from the bowlers, as well as the others who have had a merry time scoring runs and capturing wickets in their backyard, will need to perform exceptionally well to keep their pride intact.

The concern areas for the support staff and management would be — the team’s close-in catching, their technique to play in unfamiliar conditions and ensuring the players remain injury free, as well as mentally and physically fit.

The Indian cricket team is on the verge of greatness, especially after their success in 2017. Their performances in 2018 would be an indicator of their quality against some of the earlier great sides that have etched themselves in the history of cricket. India has never won a Test series in South Africa and Australia and this young Indian side, under the captaincy of Virat Kohli, seems to have the potential to come back victorious.

The popularity of Women’s cricket in India has escalated substantially. In 2018, the T-20 Women’s World Cup is scheduled to be played in the Caribbean Islands. Indian women have now established themselves as one of the favourites, especially given the way some of their hard-hitting batters played in the World Cup 2017. The BCCI needs to conduct tournaments and camps to ensure that the women’s team is adequately prepared for the battle ahead. The enthusiasm, fan following and popularity that women’s cricket has generated needs to be sustained.

This can only be done through good performances on the field. The women superstar cricketers have now established their own identity and 2018 will be a challenging year for the women cricketers and the administrators to keep the momentum accelerating ahead.

“Off the field”, the important issue that Indian cricket needs to sort out, is for the Supreme Court to put a closure to the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) pending case. The court appointed Controller of Administrators (COA) have to be given a clear cut actionable order by the SC to implement the Lodha Committee’s proposals on the basis of the judgement given by them over a year and a half ago. The SC has been postponing its final verdict, and without a concrete direction the BCCI has not taken any notable action.  One of the reasons has been that the COA, who were given the task to oversee the implementation of the Lodha proposals, have failed to understand the importance of the State Associations and their involvement in the operation and administration of cricket in India. The COA unfortunately, therefore, has wasted time in trying to change the BCCI rather than the Associations. They needed a bottom up implementation plan, rather than a top down one. At present, the BCCI is functioning in an interim ad-hoc manner. It is now imperative that the apex body for cricket administration is reorganised expeditiously.

The unnecessary delay has completely disrupted the BCCI and a very unhealthy situation has arisen between the existing BCCI committee members, the COA and the executive level BCCI employees. The Lodha Committee proposed restructuring of the Associations, the formation of new committee members, the various executive committees which are all mammoth tasks that must be done in 2018. The cricket committees at the BCCI and the Associations are presently dominated and controlled in most cases by individuals who’ve firmly established their strongholds and rule them like their personal fiefdom. The Lodha reforms will make most of them and their followers redundant and not eligible for their current posts. Deloitte in one such report has shown how the finances have been usurped by most of these individuals in the running of their cricket establishments. The challenge for the new members, if and when they do finally get elected to the post in 2018, will be to take control and get the administrative machinery to work in their favour.

Domestic cricket is the backbone of the game in India. The scheduling of matches is an important part. The Ranji Trophy has been restructured well this year. Similarly, the Duleep Trophy needs to regain its importance and become more competitive. The original zonal format was perfect and perhaps it is time to go back to it once again. The senior Test cricketers have to be a part of the domestic competition and the matches must be scheduled so as to accomodate them. The quality of cricket needs to be improved rather than the quantity of matches and tournaments. The Ranji and Duleep Trophy should be given more importance than any of the other tournaments in the selection of players for India. The selectors need to change their mindset of rewarding successful IPL performers over the consistent domestic ones. The present cricketer is more concerned about getting into an IPL side rather than in playing for his state. Similarly, the U-19 players are getting a fast track to recognition, even though they have not proved themselves at the senior level. Domestic cricket needs to get a pride of place in Indian cricket, be it at the Junior or Senior level or among all the categories of age and gender.

In 2016, the BCCI had a plan to revive university cricket. Unfortunately, university and college cricket have lost their significance in India and the revival package that was to be structured was conveniently shelved. The sad fallout of this is that a talented cricketer pursuing his education at the college level has very little scope to play cricket for the country. This needs to be looked at very seriously in 2018, as Indian cricket in the past has had some exceptional players emerging from universities.

The conventional form of cricket, “Test cricket” is losing its sheen among Indian cricket followers. The Indian cricket itinerary in 2018 is a golden opportunity for the BCCI to educate and excite the young cricket lovers about the traditional form of the game. Test cricket needs to be kept alive and the battle royales that takes place between India and South Africa, England and Australia are just the platforms to get it ignited. The BCCI along with the concerned multi-media channels need to highlight the history and the importance of Test cricket through exciting content and programmes.

The BCCI is planning a state-of-the-art National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. This is a fabulous initiative and needs to be finalised at the earliest. At present, the uncertainty due to the Supreme Court’s much awaited final judgement has kept the implementation on hold. Indian cricket needs modern technology and facilities to progress in today’s competitive environment. The new facilities at the NCA, one gathers, will have 8 cricket grounds with different soil and wickets. Modern machines for strengthening one’s physique, stamina and analysing one’s condition will be installed. The BCCI also proposes to have the latest cricket facilities to analyse and improve the players’ batting, bowling and fielding. However, one hopes that the Board has also looked at one very important area — education. It will need to tie up with a well reputed school and college in the neighborhood to ensure that youngsters complete their education while honing their cricket skills. Without such facilities, most Indian parents will shy away from sending their children to the Academy. The Academy should not just become a rehabilitation and a recovery centre for established cricketers or a camp for short development programmes. The NCA should primarily be an institution for helping talented youngsters become good cricketers.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a very important tournament financially for the BCCI. The league has become very popular and has millions of cricket fans following it. The IPL is being considered as one of the fastest growing sports event in the world. It has become a show piece for India. Furthermore, it has also become a template for other sports in India to follow. Indian cricket and cricketers have also benefited immensely from the IPL. The Star group has committed a large amount of money in making viewership a memorable experience. They have put in place a plan to come out with novel, innovative ideas to make the viewership of the IPL interesting and exciting. This will be a challenging initiative in attracting even more cricket fans and making cricket further popular.

The BCCI needs to overcome some very critical issues that have tarnished its image in the recent past. A transparent and a strict code of conduct with regard to cheating, betting, gambling needs to be enforced. Cricketers, officials and the administrative staff need to be informed thoroughly of the consequences and a zero-tolerance policy towards followed towards those found involved in any wrongdoing. These are issues that need to be formalised and enforced in 2018 to rebuild the image of cricket being a gentleman’s game.

(The author is a former India cricketer)

Columnist: 
Yajurvindra Singh