Thursday, October 12, 2006

The smaller but deeper worries

There was a time when 600 plus runs in an innings were a norm in Indian domestic first class matches. As much as a reflection on the pitches, it was also an indication of a cultural imbalance: India produced far more quality batsmen than quality bowlers. The just concluded 2006 Irani trophy match missed the services of many top cricketers in the country, all of whom are busy preparing for upcoming Champions' trophy.

Consequently the UP vs. ROI clash literally ended up as a contest of the reserves. The outcome, specifically the 2½ day finish, hints at a specific area of concern regarding the future of domestic long duration games: that old imbalance is showing signs of getting reversed, and an equilibrium is not necessarily the likely destination of that reversal.

The ideal state to achieve would be a balance between bat and ball. At present though while the bowling stock is improving since the bygone years, the batting reserves are getting pitifully thin on quality. Pratyush Khaitan highlights this area in his Irani trophy review
here. The trend is supported by the dwindling fortunes of our senior squad in Test matches over last couple of years. If the improvement in bowling means we can think of going into a Test match armed with the confidence of taking the 20 opposition wickets, we will still need runs on the board to compete.

Well, we always knew this vacuum as a distinct possibility for the international side once those 3 greats born within a year of each other and another barely 2 years younger than them sealed all the available middle order slots for better part of a decade with the BCCI going to sleep on the back of brilliant performances from the famous four with no proper plan of succession in place. [I know what you are thinking: Had Sourav Ganguly received better treatment and a decent exit route, I would have believed that Ganguly's ouster was indeed part of a succession plan.] Players like them are difficult to replace, and it is understandable that the process will take some time.

But a similar void at the first class level is a far bigger worry. Who do we replace Sachin or Dravid with when it is time to move on? For that matter, are we developing enough ready substitutes for even the fledgling Yuvis, Kaifs or Rainas in the event of their non-success at the Test level? Hope we are headed the Australian way (who bounced back from a temporary mid-80's trough by identifying the need to plan, develop and select with a vision) rather than the West Indian one (still smarting from loss of great players thru the 80's and 90's, with no plan on the horizon as yet).

It must be said that Greg Chappell the national coach can take some credit for the BCCI waking up to a need to have good bowlers for producing consistent results. It remains to be seen if Greg takes the same pains for the willow wielders of the future.

P.S. I just heard Greg's closest ex-competitor for the post Mohinder Amarnath howling in laughter after reading that last line and calling me a joker. Fair enough; try staying sober after reading
this scorecard from a Ranji final he played in nearly 25 years back - lack of runs was hardly the problem there. Those were the days folks...

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