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Monday, September 03, 2007

Fitness and the Indian team

The Indian team represents a Jekyll and Hyde personality, in terms of their test and ODI squad - good in the test arena whereas bordering on poor quality in the ODI's. The recent tour to England is another example where the team has shown that it cannot stand up to the powerhouses in the international arena.

While they won the test series with ease (though it didnt start in the same way), the ODI has seen the team struggle against almost the same squad. The reason? Secondary skills that are required for any current cricketer in the current scenario - fielding, running between the wickets (if we consider batting and bowling as the primary skills, that is) - seem to be very poor with the Indian team. The test match gives an opportunity for the team to come back in the second innings if it has done poorly in the first. The design of the ODI is made out to be very harsh - no second choice. Once a mistake is done, it is very difficult for a team to come back. The Twenty20 will make the difference even more stark - even a bad over or two can cost any team.

This is very well documented in recent times, especially during the downturn in the England series. So, what is the solution? We can focus on two solutions - one short-term and another long-term. The reason why we need to have 2 is to ensure that the seniors can be part of the first solution - still be an integral part of the ODI scene. The Indian selectors should start phasing out the big Three (Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly) from the ODI squad on a gradual basis. Though the Greats are capable of notching up good performances in the test and the ODIs also, it is time the think-tank start looking at the future.

The focus on the junior players in the squad should be on
  • improving their fitness,
  • running between the wickets faster,
  • returning the ball from the outfield faster,
  • convert the 2s to threes while running,
  • reducing the 2s to ones while fielding,
  • sliding and diving at the outfield.

Looks like the current coach, Robin Singh, has not been able to make much of an impact in this arena. Maybe it is not his fault alone, since some of the players (like Ramesh Powar, Munaf Patel) have shown that it is not possible to change so quickly to the demands. Maybe a foreign coach would be an answer to this problem, as man-management alone is not the domain of the Chief Coach of any international team (as suggested by the BCCI).

On a short-term however, the team should start thinking out of the box, to solve the problems. Can Powar or Munaf be positioned in places where they are less likely to give the additional run? One can think of positions like mid-wicket or slip cordon here. It may not be a bad idea to start specialising them in these positions so that the more agile fielders can man the more critical situations. The catching is another area that the team needs practice on - maybe the team can consider cutting 1% of the individual salary for each catch he drops!!!

The Management should continue with the squad chosen for the Twenty20 World Cup or persist with one similar to it, for subsequent Twenty20 internationals and slowly inject the best performers of the Twenty20 into the ODI squad. Players can Suresh Raina, Mohd. Kaif should be persisted solely on the basis of their fielding, so that the overall fielding of the team improves.

Only with such actions, the Indian team can start doing well in the ODI and Twenty20 matches. Otherwise, it would not be a surprise that the Indian team start losing to the likes of Bangladesh, Kenya.
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