Thursday, April 5, 2007

Chappell or Sachin: Who's the bigger problem?

[This is from my article at the DNA website.]

To reduce a team, which was once considered the Aussies' only serious challenger, to the state it is in today, takes a multitude of factors, and Greg Chappell may have been one of them. But to blame it all on Chappell now would be to again brush everything under the carpet, and miss the opportunity provided by the World Cup debacle which has forced a hard, critical look at fundamental problems, including that hitherto sacrosanct one of Sachin Tendulkar's impact on this team.
Take for example the matter of Tendulkar's fitness, which has been one of the great pre-occupations of Indian cricket, to the extent of making everything else secondary. In 2004-05, when the Australians arrived in India to conquer their "last frontier", almost the entire cricket establishment was caught up with the rehabilitation of Tendulkar, who was recovering from his 'tennis elbow', instead of focussing on helping the team to tackle the Aussies. Tendulkar was even picked for the first Test in Bangalore, although there was no chance of him playing. Then it transpired Tendulkar needed to be with the team so that the physio could work on him. Instead of carrying an injured Tendulkar around, the selectors could have given a leg up to players like Badani, Sriram and Ramesh who were scoring runs by the ton in domestic cricket at the time.
Tendulkar himself once acknowledged the untapped potential of one of these players after a Challenger Trophy final when he refused to accept the sycophantic award of 'man of the match' and handed it over instead to the one he felt deserved it more - Sriram. But such magnanimous gestures do not amount to much if opportunities to groom young players are lost because positions in the team are not vacated by senior players even when they are injured. And while India fussed with Tendulkar's elbow in the 2004-05 series, the Australians under Buchanan were plotting how to turn the tables on the Indians. They came up with the match-winning tactic of getting Michael Kasprowicz to bowl off-cutters which turned into fast off-breaks on the rough pitch in Bangalore, thus getting the Indians' own conditions to work against them. This was a team not pre-occupied with McGrath or Warne; they built their strategy around Kasprowicz who was the man for these conditions.
So the real challenge for the Indian board is not replacing the coach. That's a relatively small matter compared to that of putting the needs of the team above that of individual stars. That cannot happen in a culture where a Tendulkar can walk in and out of the team after an injury break without having to prove his form and fitness in domestic competition. What moral right can anybody then have to insist on current form rather than past stats as the criterion for selection of other players? Besides, nothing can be more of a demotivator for young players than to see a senior player getting special treatment.
Tendulkar put forward to the media the way he was always joking around with the younger players as a testimonial to the bonhomie between seniors and juniors. Surely, it would take concrete action more than funny words to build up team spirit. What is the responsibility that a player of Tendulkar's stature has shouldered, apart from batting? Even on the ground, until recently, he used to hang around in the outfield, instead of taking up the more vital close-in catching positions where he would also have been in the thick of the planning and action. Only now he has come into the slips because it suits him -- he has a dodgy shoulder.
When the team loses, the ones taking the rap are the coach and captain, a position that Tendulkar gave up. And yet, he now takes up the cudgels for the senior players against the coach, like a godfather!
So the bigger problem for Indian cricket is to figure out what to do with a superstar like Sachin Tendulkar whose rich endorsements make it infinitely worth his while to continue to give his "heart and soul" to Indian cricket, regardless of whether that translates into victories for Team India. Tendulkar may be only 34 but he started young at 16 and 18 years of international cricket have taken their toll. He has struggled with one injury after another which have clearly affected his performance and even altered his approach to the game which is now more workmanlike than dominating. What he probably needs is a long break to be able to work on his game in domestic cricket, like Ganguly or Jayasuriya or Hayden or Lara before him. But will he have the courage to do that at this stage of his career? Or will the board have the courage and vision to take that decision for him?


Rita said...

I tried to comment on the DNA site, but could not - So here it is --
Yes, this is the kind of truth that Indian cricket must face up to,

and not the sychophantic balderdash of our so-called "expert

commentators", and tawdry outbursts of our so-called stalwarts like

Tendulkar. It is high time to acknowledge that Tendulkar is well past his prime, and will never be the same again. It is hight time for Indian cricket to bid a fond adieu to a former great like him, and move on.

Ananth said...

couldnt agree more. Tendulkar is(maybe was) a great batsman. But unfortunately that doesnt make him a great human being. His selfishness and love for records and recognition (not to mention $$$$$s!) is getting a little too obvious nowadays.

and jokes? making jokes in the dressing room? Thats a joke in itself. We are talking serious stuff about senior players taking the responsibilty of bringing the juniors together and coaching and streamlining them and he talks of jokes?

i can only hope he lets go of the game now when we still do regard him as a master batsman.