One challenge for a team management in the lead up to a tough tour is to make sure that a vigorous warm-up does not end up in debilitating over-exertion.
A properly primed team is expected to be at its peak at the start of a series and continue on the same high for the rest of the tour. It would not do if the team looked jaded ahead of the tour or found that it had peaked a bit too soon.
Modern teams, paradoxically, find preparation for a series a challenge owing to lack of time. That is, unless its administrators proved smart enough to come up with intelligent scheduling.
In an earlier era this dilemma sorted itself out as cricket teams had to travel by ship to distant shores. Quaint as it might seem in these days of jet-setting and instant communication, a journey by ship from, say, England to Australia took nearly a couple of months. The time at sea was utilised by the team for bonding and strategising. Douglas Jardine, the infamous England captain, for example, unveiled his Bodyline strategy to contain Don Bradman while sailing for the Ashes to Australia!
While this is in no way a call to go back to travelling by ships, it would nevertheless help greatly if BCCI could build in tour preparation, player rest and down-time in its schedule for Indian cricket.
It is in this context that India skipper Virat Kohli’s diatribe against the team’s scheduling needs to be viewed.
“We get only two days in between, before we fly to South Africa after this series gets over. Had we got a month off ideally, we would have done a proper preparation in a camp sort of scenario,” he said before the second Test against Sri Lanka at Nagpur.
The Sri Lanka series is to end on 24 December and the Indian team is scheduled to fly out to South Africa on 27 December, with the first Test scheduled for 5 January.
This non-stop international cricket is as insane as it gets but considering that the Board has its own compulsions in pampering, bailing out and winning over member nations of the ICC, tours that are seemingly as meaningless as this current Sri Lankan one have their own raison d’etre.
Without getting into ICC’s power equations and tussles, it would be prudent for the Board to not only guard its back, but also that of its players.
One way to do that is to provide the team the best possible environment and support before challenging tours to South Africa, England and Australia.
Kohli has a point when he states that the preparation of the Indian team for the South African tour sucks. The team could be match-sharp with the entire non-stop cricket it has been playing. But expecting it to retain the edge and keep its competitive juices flowing over a long period of time is a bit rich.
Additionally, the brain trust, of which Kohli, Ravi Shastri, senior players and coaches surely will be a part of, need time to analyse recent tapes of the opposition and identify their strengths and weakness. It also takes time and effort to figure out the strategy to be adopted for each and every one of the opposition players and to communicate it to their own players, who in turn, would accordingly hone their skills.
The SWOT analysis would also include fortifying against the opposition’s strengths and threats. Chief among them would be to get some good, tall, strong fast bowlers bowling at the Indian batsmen on bouncy pitches at nets.
The idea would be to get used to the bounce and pace. Maybe intensive practice with the bowling machine calibrated to deliver at high speeds and at a particular length would have helped. But these require a fair amount of time, something the Indian team sorely lacks.
It is common knowledge that bounce is the key in South Africa, more than say, seam movement. Indian batsmen, including Kohli, would need to adapt to that extra bounce as quickly as possible. It does not require cricketing acumen to realise that the taller, stronger and much faster Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada will be a lot hotter to handle than Suranga Lakmal, Dasun Shanaka and Lahiru Gamage.
The BCCI seems to have shot itself in the foot by ensuring that its players would not have enough time to prepare for the testing conditions expected in South Africa.
Winning over the Sri Lankan cricket board and earning their gratitude is one thing. Sacrificing the best interests of Indian cricket to achieve those goals is another thing altogether. Kohli and his team are justified in not being bothered about the Board games being played outside the field. For them winning every battle, including the war itself is of prime importance. And well prepared and well begun are a job half done. Has this Indian team prepared well for a major international tour? Your guess is as good as ours.