Fill the gap to fill the big gap

Written by: Vineesh Krishnan
Published: Thursday, December 30, 2004, 21:09 [IST]
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There is much talk about the widening gap between Australia and other Test teams. Is that something so terrifying as to blame all other teams as being lax in keeping up with the leader?

Australia make us wonder if the laws of probability would ever keep pace with them. But team sports, unlike a cards game, can defy probability. If it is the team that wins matches and not the individuals, then the winning streak can extend to any length of time.

India could be a study in contrast to Australia. India has always been a team relying on individual brilliance rather than teamwork from the days of Vinoo Mankad. The legacy has continued until recently. The latest case being that of Sachin Tendulkar.

Tendulkar has been repeatedly accused of being not a match winner. In reality, Indian cricket rode on Tendulkar through out the 1990s to keep up with other teams. India had to rely on Sachin when the One-day game was transformed by Sri Lanka into a fast paced, action filled spectacle. India had only Sachin and to an extent Sourav Ganguly to give the batting the 'pace' it required in the One-day format till Sehwag, Yuvraj and Kaif arrived.

Of course, there were Azharuddin and Jadeja. But for some reason, these two lacked the consistency, which is the hallmark of modern One-day cricket. True, they hit big knocks, but they were few and far between.

India's three winning streaks in its cricketing history, first under Ajith Wadekar, second under Kapil Dev, and the third under Sourav Ganguly, came during periods when Team India was a good team.

Being a large cricket crazy country, India had no dearth of talent at any time. The problem was to find the right mix for a match winning team. Whenever there was a good team, India have won matches consistently.

Australians believe in their teammates. They are not much concerned about the rat race to stay in team. Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator and writer, once opined the success of Australian cricket team has roots in the Australian society, which is one of plenty where no body has to struggle for anything. He compared it to the Indian society, where everyone is involved in a rat race to survive.

Indian domestic cricket too, is similar to the Indian society. If you want to get into the national team, which is the only path to glory and riches for an Indian cricketer, you need to have a good record, regardless of the case of the team for which you play. In such a set up, the team is only incidental, something, which you use for your benefit rather than something to which you contribute. We cannot expect someone groomed through such a system to be a team man once he gets to play in the national team.

The solution would be to reduce the gap between domestic cricket and international cricket so that domestic cricketers will not remain a frustrated group of cricketers playing the game with the sole intention of getting into the national team.

When Santhosh Trophy of football takes place, people enthusiastically support their respective state teams. They even fight in the stadium. But this aspect is missing in domestic cricket. Karnataka, one of the premier teams in India, is out of Ranji Trophy. Yet, no body seems to have noticed. None of those Kannadiga cricket fans, who lose sleep when India lose, are concerned about the pathetic plight of Karnataka.

I am not promoting national disintegration. But for domestic cricket to be alive and supply quality players to the national team it has to have rivalries. Ranji teams also should be criticised and celebrated just like national cricket team. Players should approach the game with killer instinct like they do in Australia and England.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should focus on marketing domestic cricket. A One-day tournament between the leading teams with all the fanfare associated with an International tournament would be a good idea.

With the money BCCI earns from International cricket, it should not be a hard task for them. As I had suggested in an earlier article, the Board can think of introducing 20 overs cricket, which in fact is what most amateur cricketers play. I think this would appeal to them, and with proper marketing, this form of cricket should pull crowds.

Baseball and basketball, the two popular games in USA, has strong roots there. There are more fans for intra-national matches than international matches. I would not say cricket in India should be like that, for international cricket is irresistible, and an international cricket match is one of the rare occasions when the country unite for a common cause.

But cricket should grow roots and should build for itself a strong base, just as in England and Australia, and take the big leap forward.

Then, we can look forward to usurping Australia off their number one position.

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