Shane Warne bamboozled Mike Gatting in 1993 with what was hailed as "the ball of the century". By 1998, when Australia's champion team came calling on Indian shores, the legend of Warne had grown exponentially. He was coming to take on another legend: Sachin Tendulkar.
If Tendulkar was destroyed in front of his home crowd the aura of the Little Master would be smashed forever.
Aware of the threat Warne posed, Tendulkar prepared for the battle royale with single-minded devotion. He flew into Chennai in baking hot summer, engaged nets wherein he would scruff the pitch to the left of the good length area to simulate the bowlers' boot marks. He got local leg spinners, including former Test bowler L Sivaramakrishnan to bowl into the scruffed area, and honed his skills by sweeping against the spin, alternating this by hitting with the spin to the off side with a bat heavier than usual.
He knew Warne would target the footmarks to get his prodigious turn, and unless he developed the skills to hit on either side of the wicket, the Australian would simply pack one side with fielders and have a go at him.
By the time the Aussies came, Tendulkar was ready. He made 446 runs in the three Tests at a staggering average of 111.5. He had two huge hundreds — 177 and an unbeaten 155 — and was instrumental in helping India trounce the Australians. The issue of his mastery was settled forever.
What has this ancient tale got to do with the present? Almost everything. For, it reveals the mindset of Tendulkar, who along with Saurav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, forms BCCI's new cricket committee.
The cricket committee has sounded out Rahul Dravid to take over from Ravi Shastri as coach of the Indian team. And it is with the sound logic of preparing for the future — an enduring Tendulkar trait.
Verily, there are three major world events to look forward to in the not too distant future:
- The Champions Trophy, a knock-out tournament played among the top eight nations according to their rankings in ODI cricket, is to be held in England from 1 June to 18 June, 2017.
- The biggest prize in cricket, the 50 over World Cup, to be staged in England and Wales from 30 May to 15 July, 2019.
- The World T20 championship, now no longer a biennial event, to be held four years hence, in Australia in 2020.
The three events, to be played in different grounds with their own characteristic pitch and weather conditions, would be the most challenging ones for the Indian team. The ground work to prepare for them must start now.
The best opportunity for honing the team's skills would probably come over the forthcoming Indian season from October to March, when a plethora of matches and tours are scheduled. These include:
- New Zealand's tour of India (3 Tests 5 ODIs) Oct-Nov, 2016.
- England's Tour of India (5 Tests, 5 ODIs 1 T20) Nov 2016 to Feb 2017.
- Australia’s tour of India (4 Tests) March 2017
Traditionally it has been easier to play, build a team and strategise in home series, which is why Dravid must be given the reins this year.
He has clocked miles as coach of the India Under-19 teams and as mentor of the Rajasthan Royals. His current employment with Delhi Daredevils ensures that he stays hands-on as coach and would be aware of the talent and demands of T20 cricket.
He could thus build a crack support staff for the team, retaining those who've done well and infusing fresh blood wherever necessary. The home series is just the leeway he needs to settle into the job and earlier the issues are tied up, the better for Indian cricket.
Ravi Shastri was a short-term investment and did reasonably well. The aim should now be to take Indian cricket to a higher level and somebody who is more familiar with the quality of next generation talent should be the way to go.
In short, BCCI must give Dravid the cushion of the home series he so badly needs to fine tune and settle into the job.