Dec 16th, 2022: The famous proverb, “Horses for Courses” is so relevant for cricket at the present time.
The definition was synonymous with Horse racing which was finally adapted to the corporate world as well. In racing it signified the importance of a race horse’s performance on a racecourse best and ideally suited for it. Whereas, in the corporate world it involved people who are most suitable for different things or kinds of situations that one is confronted with.
In cricket, with the introduction of the three different formats of the game, a cricketer is rapidly moving towards specialization. This is to make one more focused and tuned in one’s quest to achieve one’s ultimate goal.
The change in the way a cricket team and a cricketer is approaching the sport has created a bit of confusion in the minds of the people selecting, following and playing the game. Change, as one says, is inevitable, however, the procedure to successfully implement it, is not so easily understood.
The skills and technique that a batter learns as a junior cricketer, even a decade ago, seems outdated compared to the power hitting and stroke- play required to play in the limited overs version of the game today.
The T20 has brought about a complete revolution, with batters playing shots all-around the ground. One earlier only associated such play when one played “French cricket”, to prevent one from being hit on the leg from behind.
The bat has now become a club which can be swished in every direction and on occasions with the back of the bat as well. One wonders as to which direction cricket batting will take in the future. One such possibility could be “Kalaripayattu” the famous ancient martial art dance of Kerala done with short sticks, swords and shields.
The agility, flexibility, strength and quick acrobatic movements could be a useful tool for young cricketers to master. The reverse sweep, switch hits, scoop and a cross bat slap over slips, cover and now over the mid-off and mid-on are prime examples of strokes that have become a part of a batter’s repertoire.
The traditional and conventional form of the game, Test cricket, is also facing the fast moving and result oriented requirements of what a modern-day connoisseur of the game wants to see.
The English side under the captaincy of Ben Stokes has made it their ‘mantra’ and their success has been truly appreciated by one and all. There is an element of risk which in the past one would be worried to take, however, a challenge to overcome that risk is what the followers of the game presently admire.
Indian cricket one feels is still living in the past. The data regime and the past performance charts play a major role in the selection of players.
The time has come for the Indian think tank to identify players suitable for a specific task. This is why the saying, “Horses for Courses” has become so relevant to Indian cricket. One can see Indian players struggling at times while facing a short or a moving ball and they still persist with them because of their successful achievements in the past.
There seems to be a safe approach to an Indian team’s selection rather than making a meaningful and bold change. The element of failure and criticism seems to be the reason as to why the people at the helm are reluctant to do so.
The forceful and aggressive approach of Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli was appreciated as long as the Indian side was winning and it soon became their Achilles heel when they lost. The sober, intelligent and well-structured approach of Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma was a solution that one felt will change the fortune and image of Indian cricket.
Unfortunately, that too has not brought about the success that one hoped for.
The problem that Indian cricketers and the people associated with it face, is the “Fear of Losing”. Most of the millions of followers of Indian cricket cannot absorb a loss and the backlash that follows after a defeat
is inconceivable. Unfortunately, the Indian cricket follower has still not matured to understand that winning and losing is a part and parcel of playing a sport.
The other very important issue revolves around money in India. The cricketer, the coach and the support staff are well paid and because of that one feels they need to show their worth. Money seems to equate with performance, how else can one fathom the bookworms of the game bringing up statistics balancing the amount of runs made to a players IPL or BCCI salary.
In this world of specialization, Indian cricket has to look beyond their massive adulating fans and followers, opinions and reactions and choose the best players that they feel need to be there. Only then will Indian cricket flourish.
In this ever changing world, one feels Indian cricket needs to modernize. They need to show confidence not only on the field but off the field as well.
Rahul Dravid, their coach, has to be in the forefront at all times and especially at a press conference before and after the game. An explanation from an intelligent, straight forward and well mannered successful cricketer like him, would be just the tonic that the doctor ordered to silence the critics in this time of uncertainty that is prevalent today.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)