The Last Evasive Frontier - Australia
Can you visualize Virat Kohli playing for Tasmania or grade cricket in Australia? Can the BCCI should send its emerging players there over a ten-year period. To gain complete familiarity there?
The Previous Frontier
About ten years ago the final frontier for the Indian cricket team was ‘beating Pakistan in Pakistan,’ particularly heightened by our border cousins’ skipper Imran Khan’s unimaginable series victory in India in 1987. So what if the margin was only 16 runs, that too in the last Test, in Bengaluru.
Wasim Akram’s Pakistanis in ’99 did an encore with a similar margin, again winning the last Test, this time in another southern Indian city, Chennai. The Indians were smarting. But by 2004, India possessed the formidable Sehwag and had added Yuvraj Singh, two dashers while Dravid was at his best, not to mention Sachin Tendulkar very much there. Pakistan were demolished by Sehwag’s super-fast triple century in Multan and India won the away series. The frontier had been taken.
As far back as 1986, Kapil’s (and Sunil Gavaskar’s) rampaging Indians had proven themselves to be the best team in the world as, like William the Conqueror in 1066, Kapil ravaged England with a 2-0 victory. The colonial masters, that too the ones who taught us the game had been unseated. This was to repeat itself in 2007 when Rahul Dravid’s men defeated England 1-0.
The Last Frontier
Two World Cup victories later by 2011, the formidable on paper Indian team with its most capable leader ever is badly being defeated in Australia. This should surely have been the last frontier to be conquered, however, the solutions are evading the players, perhaps even the selectors and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Of course, the former cannot be blamed.
Rivalry Brings out Best
Let’s get back to Pakistan, our much vaunted rivals who destroyed England in the early 1990s and what caused their victories. Their cricket emotions were spurred by India winning the 1983 World Cup and Imran Khan tacitly implied that his biggest goal from there on was to win the World Cup, side by side with the desire to defeat India in India. Even Wasim Akram in his 1998 autobiography wrote that by 1983 every Pakistani was envious of the Indians who had won no less than a World Cup!
Masters in England
The comparison now moves to Pakistan’s hegemony over England during the period 1992-2000. Notably because they had demolished them in the 1992 and 1996 series and no doubt, until the next series takes place it can be assumed that they were still mentally the victors.
Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis introduced deadly reverse swing in 1992 and followed it up in 1996. How did they achieve this? Innovation and hard work no doubt but don’t forget a factor called familiarization. With the conditions that is. Wasim especially had been on a contract with Lancashire since 1984 and played almost a full five months with the country every year. That’s almost half the year and might make Akram almost English by nationality. But that’s how it has been for every overseas county player in England for the last hundred years, whether Indian or Pakistani, West Indian or South African. Yes, perhaps a long stint of eight years up and until that point made Wasim more ‘localised.’ This stint would extend to 17 years.
After all, Pakistan domestic cricket was not well organized, to the extent that Imran Khan had refused to play in it since the early ‘80s. Many talented cricketers therefore made their living from money earned here. The Pound was and is still a strong currency so one might as well play in England during their season and fund their own cricket careers.
Familiarity with Surrey
Anyway, Waqar’s stint with Surrey was to become equally famous and soon he was one of the most prized cricketers in the World. It is possible that having become so familiar with the conditions and the particular type of cricket ball used in England, these two maestros developed the relevant skills.
Indians in English County
What of the Indian connection with England? Sure, Sunil Gavaskar had played a season or two for Somerset, Kapil Dev for another English county but there was no Indian who had made England his second home in a manner of speaking. Tendulkar had but one season with Yorkshire but of course, his commitments to India were too many, he being the future superstar of world cricket.
Play League in Australia
Is familiarization with Australian conditions a solution for Indian cricketers even as we plan the next tour there, perhaps in 2015-16. Can we ensure Indian cricketers get time to play in the Sheffield Shield, although of course they have to be thought of as worthy in the respective Australian domestic sides, of which there are only six, unlike the 17 counties of England. Or is it worth giving emerging Indian cricketers opportunities in grade cricket in Australia, which of course is of a high standard?
Anything for Eventual Victory
While condition familiarization sounds to purists like a back-door solution to winning ways, it is hardly ever that. Every player has a right to give himself opportunity to practice in the conditions he will be waging battle in. The current surfeit of Australians, why international players from all countries to India to play in the Indian Premier League shows just how much this experience helps them. No land should be unfamiliar, especially in this age of jet travel.
Kohli in Australian Grade Cricket
So, while RCB’s Virat Kohli, as an example, may not be deemed automatically suitable for the Australian domestic side Victoria, can the BCCI not give him a three-month or lesser window to play high level grade cricket in Australia between their season of December to February?
Overcome Logistical Difficulties
No doubt playing county or league cricket logistically fits in better in England because their April to August season is during India’s traditional off-season, although of course no such term strictly exists in today’s India. But why bother with England? We pretty much know the conditions there even though our lads’ historical experience is not as much as the Pakistanis. But of course, viewing our dismal 0-4 whitewash maybe we need to send our boys there! Now, this is seeming a little unrealistic – send the first half of the emerging players to Australia, and the second half to England? Phew, let’s concentrate on the unconquered land, Australia first.
Minor Home Setbacks
Some of the sacrifices that will need to be made are huge – our boys will not play their own domestic tournament, will have a packed calendar (which can be eased of course with BCCI’s acquiescence), but may find a missing link with conditions in their own land. Arduous, but do we must something. We can’t be called a successful cricket nation if we don’t steal the thunder Down Under.
Make no mistake, this is not about sending our boys to play a season or two of Australian grade cricket. It’s about ensuring they play a full ten or even seventeen seasons there just like Wasim Akram and Muthiah Muralitharan have done for Lancashire in England. They must take Australia into their blood, yet give their best for India!