"To my mind, it's the netas in BCCI who are the actual culprits. They have no understanding of the game. Hence, the present plight," wrote a reader named Roma in response to my article in DNA... Chappell or Sachin: Who's the bigger problem?.
Restrict players' advertisements, get younger players, appoint Indian coaches: these knee-jerk reactions after the World Cup debacle prove Roma's point about the politicians and officials running Indian cricket.
Even a half successful Indian team makes the board's coffers overflow, such is the marketing potential of the game in the country. So it is not as though the board is lacking in motivation to put together a team that can win. The problem is it has no clue how to do this, nor will it delegate power to somebody who can.
Reforming the administration of cricket in India is a long and complicated process, and not doable beyond a point unless the government too thinks it's a worthwhile pursuit given its potential to lift the mood of people and project a winning image of the country. But even within the current setup, a lot can be achieved simply by making the jobs of chief selector, coach and captain dependent on an acceptable level of performance within a reasonable timeframe.
Chappell and Dravid, for instance, failed not just at the World Cup but for a long time before that. The drubbing in the Windies and then Malaysia, the failure to pass muster at the Champions' Trophy even in home conditions, and the whitewash in South Africa was ample evidence that the team had gone into a decline. It was bad enough no corrective steps were taken before the World Cup, but to continue with Dravid as captain now is to be like the proverbial ostrich with its head stuck in the sand.
Chappell probably had to go, from the board's point of view, because he was becoming too much of a bother. But in his place is a milky way, a bunch of asteroids. Ravi Shastri as manager, Venkatesh Prasad as bowling coach and Robin Singh as fielding coach have no track record in the international arena for these jobs. Why can't the richest cricket board in the world simply appoint a proven coach to take charge of the national team and try to turn it around?
That's what happens in football, basketball and baseball. The richest clubs pay astronomical sums to hire the best coaches in the belief that leadership counts most of all.
In cricket, traditionally, the leadership has come from the captain. Imran Khan goaded Pakistan into a World Cup winning unit, Mike Brearley was virtually a non-playing England captain but created a match-winning all-round weapon called Ian Botham, and Pataudi taught India how to win, at least at home, by conjuring up the idea of a spin trio.
But that's changed. Today the successful teams have proven coaches backing up the captain to leverage all those tricky factors: toss, playing eleven, batting order, rotation of bowlers, field positions, timing of power plays, plans for each opposition bowler and batsman, and perhaps even the sledging if the ICC will not stamp it out. And that covers only what is manifested on the field. There are more fundamental matters such as work ethic, mental attitude and team spirit. Does a coach, for instance, back up a player who throws away his wicket in the team's cause?
Then there is the vital aspect of grooming young players, which Chappell and Dravid failed to do. The only new batsman for India in this World Cup after 2003 was Robin Uthappa and he was a last-minute inclusion. Compare that with the Aussies who have groomed Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey into top performers since the last World Cup. Or take the Ganguly era which saw the emergence of Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif.
The chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar says the country lacks talent. Wrong. What's lacking is leadership. Otherwise you wouldn't have a board responding to the World Cup debacle simply by taking money out of the players' pockets (and indirectly lining its own), without holding the selector and captain accountable, and leaving a vacuum in place of the foreign coach. The only sense one can make of all this is that the board would rather keep a firmer hand on the reins instead of appointing a proven coach of international standing. But do they realise they're killing the goose that lays the golden egg?