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BCCI needs to stop overworking players

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India_BCCI_players_cricket_schedule_tiredFor the 2017/18 Ashes in Australia, the visiting England side arrived a good 20 days prior to playing the first Test of the tour. They played three warm up games to get acclimatized to the conditions. And although England had a dismal campaign, one can’t help but laud the ECB for planning this tour so meticulously. They gave their team ample time to prepare for such an important series and that is the best a cricket board can hope to do.

The Indian cricket team, meanwhile, embarked on their all-important tour to South Africa where they played the first Test on January 5, 2018 at Cape Town. The problem was that India had been involved in a long series at home against Sri Lanka which only ended on the 24th of December. That meant India hardly had any breathing space in between wrapping up the home series and then travelling to South Africa to face-off against one of the most dangerous Test sides in the world.

Considering how important a tour this was, and how long it had been looked forward to, the Indian players certainly needed more time than just a week to prepare and be ready to face the mighty South Africans at home. Unfortunately, that was not the case. For far too long now, we have seen Indian cricketers slogging throughout the year across all the three formats of the game. While today’s players do maintain a high standard of fitness, they will be mentally and physically fatigued if they are made to play relentlessly, without a break.

It is not a question of how India fared on their tour of South Africa, though the evidence is damning. But had the BCCI been a little more prudent in their planning, especially given how tough a time past Indians teams have had there, they would not have allowed this schedule. Expectedly, the players weren’t very pleased with the planning either and expressed their concerns of being burned out with the amount of cricket they are playing.

Indian captain Virat Kohli went on record to express his unhappiness over the cramped schedule of the India team, which he indicated might hurt India’s performances in the future.

 

“Unfortunately we get only two days before we fly to South Africa after this series gets over. Had we got a month off ideally, we would have done a proper preparation in a camp sort of scenario. But we have to sort of make do with what we have,” Kohli said.

 

He added, “As usual, cramped for time, which I think we needed to assess in future as well because we very easily assess the team when go abroad but we don’t look at how many days we have got to prepare before we go to a particular place to play.”

These are important and sensible points that the Indian captain has raised, that the panjandrums of the game in India need to seriously consider.  

Indian cricket’s jam-packed schedule

Over the past several decades, touring Indian sides have fared miserably in South Africa. Prior to the recently concluded series, in six tours there, after 17 Tests, India managed just two victories and has never won a Test series. At the time, India and South Africa were ranked No.1 and 2 in the world in Tests, so this Test series was of paramount importance to Virat Kohli and his men. It was a chance for them to show that they weren’t just winners at home; that they could excel in overseas conditions as well.

Such an important tour deserved more planning. As it turned out, the Indians did not play even a solitary warm-up game before the first Test. In fact, throughout 2017, the Indian team’s schedule was so jam-packed that most of the players in the squad must have been drained.

After the IPL (Indian Premier League) in April-May 2017, the Indian team flew to West Indies for a 17-day tour from June 23 to July 9 that included five ODIs and a T20I. From there, India flew to Sri Lanka for three Tests, three ODIs and three T20Is between July 21 and September 6. Just five days after the end of the Sri Lankan tour, India hosted Australia at home for a high-profile limited overs series containing five ODIs and three T20Is from September 12 to October 13. Only four days after the end of the Australian series, New Zealand came calling to play three ODIs and three T20Is against India.

The New Zealand series ended on November 7 and India then hosted Sri Lanka from November 16 onwards for three Tests, three ODIs and three T20Is. As mentioned earlier, the Sri Lankan series finished only on December 24, after which India would be in South Africa from January 5 to February 24.

By the time India is done with the limited overs parts of their tour to South Africa, they would have been playing non-stop cricket for almost nine months. Leave alone any rest, Indian players right now wouldn’t even have any time to think and strategize properly. Let’s not forget, players don’t just play cricket, they have to travel incessantly, which takes further tolls on their minds and bodies.

It is no secret how vicious Indian cricket fans can be. Each demoralizing loss on South African soil was met with scathing criticisms of every player. No one tried to comprehend that these players needed rest too, to perform to the best of their potential. Today, everyone just wants results.

 

“Everyone starts judging players when results come after Test matches. It should be a fair game where we get to prepare the way we want to and then we are entitled to be criticized,” said Virat Kohli to the press.

 

He makes sense. Players should be allowed to prepare the way they want for important tours to get the best results.

India’s results, a 2-1 Test series loss, were not the best. One can only hope that Kohli and his boys can find the best in themselves for the ODI & T20I games despite the overwhelming odds.

Can the BCCI mend its ways?

The BCCI has already come under a lot of flak for their tyrannical methods and money-minded approach. The way they have squeezed the Indian cricketers dry has been distressing.

 

It has been reported that the BCCI could not afford to give the players any rest as they had to squeeze every last penny out of the winter phase, courtesy a six-year television deal they had with Star. A leading Indian daily reported that the six-year deal was worth Rs. 3851 crore and required the BCCI to play a total of 96 matches at home from 2012-2018. At the end of the Australia series, India’s total number of home games since 2012 stood at 93. Hence, the Sri Lanka series was deliberately cramped into an already overfull schedule.

 

However, with the criticisms the BCCI has received for this, and with Kohli’s open concerns for their awry scheduling, perhaps the board will mend its ways.

“Virat is the Indian captain and his view point on cricketing matters should be taken with utmost seriousness. We are proud how the team is performing but if players are feeling fatigued, we need to have a broader view on the issue,” a BCCI official had said.

Only time will tell if any change takes place in the way BCCI goes about scheduling its matches. One hopes that lessons are learnt and the players are not made to toil with just the purpose of generating more money for the board. It is the players who give the board its name today and not the other way round. It’s about time BCCI realized this.

 

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