By Yajurvindra Singh
Indian cricket at present is on a very successful path. In the last two decades, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has grown to become the richest cricket body in the world. The financial health and the accompanying benefits have turned the sport into a lucrative career option and the boom has increased the pool of players like never before.
Indian cricket has two noteworthy teams now, both will be shortly playing in two separate continents. One challenging England on their shores and the other in the pearl of Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka. It is remarkable that even after selecting top 24 players for the tour of England, India still have 25 additional international class cricketers for the limited-overs matches in Sri Lanka.
This reflects the immense growth that has occurred in Indian cricket. The only issue that arises from this is that the Indian cap has become easier to acquire and this could gradually devalue the importance and prestige of achieving it.
In the nearly 90 years of Indian cricket, only 302 cricketers have played for the country in Test matches.
The limited-overs cricket has increased that number substantially and to now have two teams touring as official Indian sides could accelerate the number of international players even further.
The Indian cricket cap, one feels, requires to be differentiated like medals and stripes in our defence forces. A Test cap should be the ultimate goal to be recognised as an elite Indian cricketer and the ODI players and the T20 players should follow thereafter. Test cricket, as we witnessed it in the final of the World Test Championship, is a totally different game from the shorter version. With the T10 and the 100 balls-a-side also coming gradually into the frame, one may not be able to distinguish the difference among the players.
The Indian team touring Sri Lanka is a bunch of players who have missed berth in the main squad to England. For them, to be considered at par with the players in England is not actually correct.
The recent fiasco that seems to have a mystery to it is the serious injury to the young and talented batsman, Shubman Gill. Having played the World Test Championship final without showing any semblance of a major injury, he has been severely injured within a week or so without playing any cricket.
One is perplexed and confused as to how such an injury took place or whether he was hiding his injury. If so, how was it not detected by the support staff attached to the squad. The team management in England has reportedly requested for an opener as replacement for Gill, which one gathers has been refused.
Quite understandably, with three selected openers in Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal and Abhimanyu Easwaran (as standby) and the talented K.L. Rahul also in the squad, an additional opener would just add to the crowd. The touring think-tank seems to feel that Easwaran may not be up to the mark if the situation for him to play arises. He has been selected as a stand-by opener ahead of some of the established performers. The irony is that although he is just a standby, he is part of the Indian squad. Under normal circumstances, this would not have been the case. However, the Bengal player and captain — originally from Uttarakhand — has been officially named and it would be unfair to keep him away.
This is where the Covid epidemic has brought about a unique situation, especially for a touring cricket side. The quarantine regulations and the bio-secure bubble has compelled sides to select a squad of 20 players and at least another five players as net bowlers and stand-by batsmen. The selectors, therefore, have a tendency to select 15 of their front-line cricketers and the remaining lot normally comprises youngsters who are still to make a mark. They are there to assist seniors and get themselves acquainted with international cricket. Some of the seniors left behind may be better but to have them sitting on the bench, one feels, would have been insulting and so they failed to make the squad.
India’s tour of Australia has developed into a benchmark as to how a rookie cricketer can find his way into the playing eleven. The quarantine restrictions has made replacement of a player very difficult. A long overseas tour presented these issues earlier as well. However, this was suitably addressed by making adjustments in the batting order from the players available or if possible by transporting the replacement by air. The latter option, unfortunately, is not possible in the present epidemic situation.
During India’s tour of Australia the youngsters, due to injuries, got an opportunity and came out with flying colors. The seniors who normally would have been replacements were languishing back home. Being established international cricketers, they were kept at bay and it may have hurt their egos.
The mystery of injuries, selection and replacement of players has been a part of Indian cricket since the beginning. With professionalism and transparency now very much a part and parcel of the cricket playing environment, especially with skilled support-staff accompanying them, one is surprised to see how many mysterious issues have recently come into the forefront.
One is looking forward to seeing whether the prestigious Indian Test side in England under the captaincy of Virat Kohli would have a better viewership than the one led by Shikhar Dhawan for the limited-overs series in Sri Lanka.
This mystery will come forth more clearly rather than the ones that every Indian cricket series has exposed in the years gone by.
(The writer is a former Indian Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)