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The wrong medicine

After India’s resounding 1-3 defeat in the Test series against England, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, or BCCI, has appointed Ravi Shastri as the “director” for the forthcoming one-day series. The bowling coach (Joe Dawes) and the fielding coach (Trevor Penney) have been “given a break” for the series, and Sanjay Bangar and Bharat Arun have been appointed as assistant coaches. R Sridhar will be the fielding coach. This knee-jerk action came after there was a strong demand to remove Duncan Fletcher as the coach, especially because India lost the last two Tests in less than three days each. He would continue to be the coach of the Indian team, but may quit soon as he will have a new boss in Ravi Shastri, who will be the overall incharge of the Indian cricket team in England. Perhaps with greater justification, some suggest that Mahendra Singh Dhoni should step down as the captain for Test matches, given his dismal record in batsmen-unfriendly pitches abroad.

Some say it is incorrect to lay the blame for the disastrous showing in England at the doorsteps of the Indian captain and its coach because India has been let down by its batsmen, and there is little either of them can do about it. That may not be entirely true. The swinging ball on fast-paced overseas pitches has always been the bugbear of Indian batsmen. It is the coach’s job to help them with their technique. And Duncan Fletcher is no novice: he has been the coach of the Indian cricket team since 2011.

That apart, there is ample evidence to suggest that India often got its strategy all wrong in England, and the two cannot escape the blame for it. The selection of the team was often baffling. The only genuine fast bowler in the team, Varun Aaron, was benched for the first three Tests. The young man looks low on confidence; to build him up, the team has to play him regularly. In addition, the choice of bowlers many a time did not make sense. The field placement lacked imagination. The only move that worked was to get Ishant Sharma to bowl short to English batsmen in the second Test. In any case, Dhoni is naturally a defensive captain when it comes to using bowlers and placing fielders. While such a strategy has worked in one-day games, which are loaded in favour of batsmen and the safest bet is to contain them through slow bowling and a defensive field, it cannot win Test matches.

The situation clearly needs some fresh thinking from the BCCI. It is hard to see how Ravi Shastri’s appointment as the director, that too for a limited tenure, will help matters. Later in the year, India will visit Australia for a Test series. If the problem is not addressed, another drubbing is guaranteed. At the moment, it looks like the BCCI has full faith in Dhoni. Ravi Shastri said in a recent television interview that there was only one boss of the team: Dhoni. But the fact is that BCCI has to look for a replacement for Dhoni, who is 33 years old and has in the past expressed his desire to focus on the shorter versions of the game. South Africa had done a bold experiment when it picked Graeme Smith as the captain when he was all of 22 years in 2003. The BCCI too should select somebody young as the captain and give him a long tenure. Despite his dismal performance in England, Virat Kohli is an obvious choice.

The BCCI needs to introspect on some other matters too. It is the world’s richest cricket board, and yet it produces such a weak Test team! Is the shortage of cricketing talent in this country so severe? Or is it, as a growing chorus insists, the consequence of big money in the Indian Premier League? Perhaps few young cricketers are concentrating on acquiring the depth and the skills that win Test matches, paying more attention instead on the shallow bits-and-pieces abilities required for Twenty20 matches. There cannot be any doubt about the importance of Tests in cricket and the BCCI, therefore, should revisit its priorities.

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