The dust raised by Indian athletes, officials and politicians at Rio seems to have settled and we are back to cricket. Skipper Virat Kohli and board president Anurag Thakur are propounding their new doctrines on the running the sport on and off the field.
If those present in Rio could barely find a handful of survivors to return to Tokyo four years from now, Kohli with his chopping and changing of the playing eleven tells the world that he believes in horses for courses. Suddenly he has realised that five bowlers are too many to shuffle around without under bowling one as he did in the first three Tests before going in with four in the Port of Spain wash-out.
Kohli is now convinced that Ravichandran Ashwin can be categorised as a true all-rounder if not in the same class of more illustrious men who could turn matches upside down either with their batting or bowling alone. By promoting the offie up the order, Kohli and his intellectual coach Anil Kumble prodded wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha to prove that he is no less a batsman to be shoved down. This little side battle for the No.6 slot in the batting order is getting spicy.
This lower-order batsmen coming to the rescue whenever the top-order crashed is not something new the two Ks are experiencing. Kumble himself contributed big runs and in the recent years, Ashwin in his old batting position and Harbhajan Singh came up with gritty hundreds to prop up the team. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohmmed Shami showed spunk in negotiating the seam and swing of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad in English conditions to post fairly good scores at the tail-end. The joke then was that the bowlers themselves had to put some runs on the board to bowl at.
What must have pleased Kohli more is the return to form of Shami and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, the former from injury and the latter from self-doubts about his ability to swing as he is known to. The captain, like his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni, seems to be veering round to the policy of using bowlers with brains than those with raw pace but no control on line and length. Come to think of it, it was Bhuvi’s remarkable spell (11.4-6-15-5) that swung the series India’s way at St. Lucia after a day’s play was lost to rain.
When no one thought he would drop leggie Amit Mishra he sidelined him to get left-arm Ravindra Jadeja in and for the final Test, an extra batsman was played in place of the Saurashtra player. And no one seems to be complaining. It would be interesting to know what the selection committee chairman and another selector, who were there, thought of the selection of the eleven in all three Tests unless they were taken into confidence.
As for the rain severely hampering the Port of Spain and Durban Tests, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has to ensure the spectator is not short-changed and Test cricket is saved. There cannot be a valid explanation for calling of play very early in the day when the ground is bathed in sunshine.
Back home, Anurag Thakur, like a good politician, is taking on the judiciary by getting a maverick former judge of the Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of the apex court setting up the Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee and its recommendations to improve the board’s governance. He is going ahead with the Annual General Meeting as scheduled next month risking contempt of court for not implementing the guidelines.
Thakur, like some of his predecessors, is talking of taking international cricket to neutral venues like the Indian and the West Indies boards are doing by playing the two Twenty20 games in Florida. Thakur thinks the future of cricket is in neutral venues to make cricket a global sport, whatever he means by that.
It sounds good to know of Thakur’s worldview and taking care of fans’ interest in the US when he should be worried about improving facilities for spectators in India. Of course, he has taken the Ranji Trophy to neutral venues. The global interest is not his brainwave, his immediate predecessor Jagmohan Dalmiya used to gush over Japanese playing cricket and taking the sport to other major nations in Asia.
Team Pawar planned a series with Australia and South Africa at offshore venues but they never took off after the TV rights holder backed off and Lalit Modi conceived the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL). Now Thakur is keen on catering to the NRIs more in tune with his Bharatiya Janata Party policy.
After India and Pakistan played in Toronto over a decade ago, now the new port of call is Florida’s Central Broward Regional Park Stadium. Six matches of the Caribbean Premier League were played there six years after New Zealand and Sri Lanka played two Twenty20 internationals.
Cricket and India (or is it the board?) are going places.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])