The phrase, “no rest for the wicked” seems to describe the situation the Indian cricket team finds itself in. Having just completed a grueLling series in South Africa, the Indian side will leave shortly for Sri Lanka to play in the Nidahas Trophy. The tournament is being played to celebrate 70 years of Sri Lanka’s Independence. This tri-series is between the 3 Asian cricket playing tigers, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The matches will be played as a 20-20 format. This may look for a viewer an easier option, but for a cricketer the intensity and pace of the game makes it far more tiring mentally and physically.
India have rested not only their captain Virat Kohli but also their front-line bowlers. The second-grade Indian team, as they are being described, maybe good enough to combat their opponents, but to me it is depleting the aura and essence of what India stands for presently in cricket. The team is playing under the Indian colours and being an official recognized International tournament, India should and must field the best side. This is precisely why, the finaliing of the cricket itinerary by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needs to be more concerned about the welfare of their players and their own reputation. Charity, as one says, begins at home and Indian cricket need not be charitable for the benefit of the other cricket nations. The Nidahas Trophy tri-series is not the issue as regards India’s participation, but if Indian cricket needs to stand tall, they need to ensure that their best side leaves the shores on every occasion. The Indian tricolor is at stake and participating for the sake of goodwill is a thing of the past. A victory for the lowly placed Sri Lankan and Bangladesh side in world ranking maybe a boost for them, but for India, they will be playing to keep their reputation intact.
This then brings one to the selection of the Indian side. Players who normally would not have adorned the Indian cap become International Indian cricketers. The India cap, as I have emphasised repeatedly earlier, should only be recognised when one plays Test match cricket. India plays plenty of limited overs matches in a year and the sacred Indian cap has become an easy reach for cricketers. A sad tale for the honour and prestige that it once stood for in the past.
The irony of shuffling so many players around in the year and then going back to the established performers does not augur well for the replacements who have done extremely well.
Cricket has many uncertainties along with its ups and downs. The ideal situation for a player is to be selected when in form. To be playing for India is the dream that every cricketer aspires for. He works very hard to establish himself in the side and the last thing that he would want is to give his competitor a chance to take his spot, even after performing well. I wonder what the selection verdict would be in the future if Rishabh Pant or a Mohammed Shiraj perform extraordinarily well in Sri Lanka and then be dropped because Dhoni and the rested Indian pace attack are back. The perennial excuse by the selectors is that you will get a opportunity over time. A cricketer has no choice but to listen and bear, although he knows the possibilities of uncertain form and injury could make him redundant in the future.
There have been many examples in the past and therefore, the case of the most consistent batsman in the Indian domestic season this year, Mayank Agarwal’s exclusion must be very painful for him. He deserved to be in the side to Sri Lanka having scored umpteen number of runs in the domestic tournaments. He has been categorically spoken to by the selectors and told to wait his turn. Maybe he will get to play in the future or just remain as one who missed being there. For him to replicate his present performance could be a hard task. One does feel sorry for him and for the other consistent domestic performers, as there seems to be a very distinct thought process in the minds of the Indian think tank. They have mentally decided on players for the respective positions in the Indian side and no matter what the others accomplish the elite lot will get back. This practice needs to be stopped, as one cannot have a reservation policy in a competitive world.
The other questionable issue is that of players getting generalised as a Test, One Day or 20-20 player. A good batsman and bowler can adjust in any form of the game. A Ravindra Jadeja is a forceful all-rounder in all the formats and a Ravichandran Ashwin is a world class bowler. For them to be sidelined, as well as Cheteshwar Pujara, because of their past history, is quite unfair. Cricketers can change and skill themselves and one cannot make a concrete assessment for the convenience of eliminating them. The BCCI should make a very clear decision about the matches and tours that the Indian side has to play in a season. India is the shining star in world cricket and in order to keep the glow, they need to ensure that their best side is on display on every occasion.
The BCCI faltered in not giving the Indian touring side time to acclimatise themselves before the Test series in South Africa. They may also rue the teams visit to Sri Lanka if they come back without success. Cricket politics would have then scored, whereas Indian cricket would have suffered.
(The writer is a former India cricketer)