The Indian team achieved a new landmark in world cricket after bagging the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship in 2007, a win that silenced critics who claimed that India is a one-man team, too heavily dependent on Sachin Tendulkar. It was not only a victory, but also a statement of intent by the youngsters carrying the responsibility of filling the shoes of senior stalwarts like Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble in the shortest format of the game.
Though it was a win that reinstated the belief in the ‘youth-policy’ of the board, there was a fair amount of skepticism as well, with questions rising on the longevity of this team and how well this young team would respond in the longer formats of the game. Looking closely, we would see that it was not a frivolous point to put forth.
The pure form of cricket is test cricket. They call it the main course, the shorter formats being just labeled ‘starters’ or ‘fast food’. The longest form of the game, it is a format that is not only physically demanding, but also one that requires high levels of patience and perseverance. So, to judge a player on the basis of a ‘three-hour madness’ is not wise. After all, the prospect of playing a lengthy tour Down Under or in the Caribbean given the drastically varying conditions requires a player to be physically as well as mentally mature enough to take up the challenge.
Though the glamorous and action-packed Indian Premier League has brought to light some of the potential superstars of the game in the form of Paul Valthaty and Rahul Sharma, a direct entry to the National team based on a performance of 20 overs is not the best way to build a team. A few years ago, when young Piyush Chawla broke into the National team, he had impressed selectors with his stint in the English County Championships. However, the move came under criticism as he had less experience in First Class cricket and many felt he was not ready yet to wear the National Shirt.
Perhaps at this point India can take a lesson from England or Australia. With their respective domestic leagues running for an entire season and first-class cricket given to budding players throughout the season, it provides them more exposure and hence their development takes place faster. What that results in is a pool of refined and nurtured talent to select from.
It seems surprising that given the population in this country passionate for the game, creating that talent pool always leaves some flaw in it. Apart from regional biasness among the selectors for picking players of their own states, having a wrong criterion for selection also leaves a hefty price to be paid.
Where the governing body has gone wrong is in managing the popularity of the First-Class tournaments such as the Ranji and Deodhar Trophies. The fan base created in the IPL can be replicated in the State-based competitions that see empty stands and are often ignored, if not unnoticed. By following a model as in the other Nations, if the BCCI were to work on the same, the game would have been at a much higher level in the country as compared to the present.
Furthermore, the players involved would have a feeling different altogether upon seeing packed crowds and fan bases, that would just push them to play not like practice but like competition. This would lead to an atmosphere in a Karnataka vs. Bengal match similar to that in a Royal Challengers vs. Knight Riders clash.
The board should realize what matters is quality cricket and this is something that can be achieved only by a First-Class system that is ‘first-class’ in real. We have the quantity, what we require is quality. Rather than selections based on blitzkrieg performances in 20 over formats, with uncertainty hovering about the long term future of the team, it is better to create a refined system that gives a plethora of mature players to choose from, with ready replacements available in the event of injuries and non-performance by the current crop of players rather than playing the blame game later on after dismal performances that could have been avoided.