The rigours of the modern game are well known – the advent and rise of Twenty20 over the last few years have led to an extremely packed calendar every year. Countless number of games are being played by certain teams across all formats – even though many of the limited overs matches contested have hardly any meaning or relevance, but played just for commercial purposes.
In this age where players are more prone to burn-out as ever, it makes sense to have different teams for different formats. A few teams have realised it well – for instance England, in the second T20 international against India in Mumbai recently,had ten different members from the side that thrashed the hosts by 10 wickets in the second Test at the same venue a month back. South Africa and New Zealand had only three players each from their most recent Test elevens for the first T20 international played at Durban two days ago. The West Indies are known to field their ‘limited-overs specialists’ for one-dayers and T20s, making their team quite different from the one that plays Test matches.
It is common sense that Test cricket and limited overs cricket (both one-dayers and T20s) require a skill-set different from each other. While Test cricket needs batsmen who understand the virtue of patience, limited-overs cricket can do with a bunch of stroke-makers. While the odd innocuous trundler can strike gold in T20, you always need your best front-line bowlers to deliver in Test matches. In Test cricket, fielders are relentlessly placed wherever the captain likes whereas limited-overs matches have fielding restrictions for a considerable part of the innings. Let us look at England again – the Test team is filled with batsmen suited to the longest form – Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Nick Compton are unlikely to play T20 for England, and rightly so, since the T20 team have batsmen with a completely different approach – men like Michael Lumb, Alex Hales and Craig Kieswetter.
Every team needs its best bowlers for Test matches, and no wonder England do not field the likes of James Anderson and Monty Panesar for T2o games. It is extremely important for front-line bowlers to concentrate almost exclusively on Test matches, as a sudden injury while playing a meaningless T20 game can throw the team’s Test plans out of gear. India realised this the hard way, when more than half the team which toured the West Indies and England in 2011 carried niggles from the IPL which preceded the tours. While India managed a scrappy 1-0 win in the Caribbean, they were pounded 4-0 in England – a loss which has led to a seriously bad patch for Indian cricket which is continuing even now. But sadly the BCCI are not taking corrective measures, rather the powers-that-be are busy promoting yet another season of the nauseating IPL.
A simple start to the restructuring of Indian cricket can be to have significantly different teams for Tests and limited-overs matches. Promising players suited to the longest format should not be risked in limited-overs matches. India should look to preserve Cheteshwar Pujara and Umesh Yadav solely for Test cricket, as they are respectively the spearheads of the team’s future batting and bowling. The likes of Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh can be utilised to their maximum potential in limited overs cricket, because they are both instinctive stroke players. A handful of players which include Virat Kohli, Ravi Ashwin and Gautam Gambhir can be used in all formats, although Gambhir’s inconsistency has put a question mark on his Test place.
It would have been great for India if they could keep MS Dhoni as the limited-overs captain (as he has often proved to be a better leader in such matches) while grooming someone else for the Test job – but unfortunately there has been no succession planning whatsoever in this regard. In spite of repeated losses, Dhoni continues to be captain in Tests simply because there is no one else to take up the job. I personally feel Virat Kohli is two years too young to become Test captain, but at the same time I feel Dhoni has had a rope way too long for someone with such major Test defeats in recent times. This dilemma speaks for the state of crisis India’s Test team is at present.
Today quite a few teams are selecting format-based captains, and with considerably good results. When Ricky Ponting won the 2003 World Cup for Australia, Steve Waugh was still the Test captain. At present, Australia have a ‘specialist’ in George Bailey as their T20 skipper. South Africa are reaping the rewards of preserving the astute Greame Smith exclusively for Tests, while England, never known to be trendsetters, too have greatly adapted to the changing environment of the modern game. It is about time India come up with a similar solution to reduce the workload on their players.
Sometimes I cannot help but feel for Dhoni – I wonder when on earth does he get time off from the game. Exactly the reason why he appears jaded on the field. It would be so apt to relieve him of his Test duties and let him enjoy what he does best – captaining in limited-overs matches. But who should be the new Test captain? Your guess is as good as mine.