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Understand the cause

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The cannibalistic feeding frenzy that the tabloid style TV channels and their fellow-travellers in the print media are indulging in these days with regard to the fortunes of the Indian Cricket team in Australia is symptomatic of a deep malaise in the Fourth Estate. In the desire to be ‘first’ and most ‘aggressive’ with the news, they are failing to do their primary job – provide a perspective to what is without a doubt a significant sporting setback for the nation. They seem to have forgotten entirely that Cricket is basically a game, and not war. All that breast-beating, calling for some one or the other’s blood merely shows a lack of knowledge of the game and where, basically, it is headed.
Test Cricket, obviously, requires a certain set of skills and is played in a format that is very different to the One Day and Twenty-20 versions. In a TV telecast oriented world, the shorter versions of the game have acquired enormous popularity, particularly as they are played under lights, when people have finished with the day’s work and have a few hours to give to a leisurely watching of the game, either in the stadium or from home. Compared to this, the Test match can be ‘boring’ – sometimes even ending without a result – and requires one to take time off from work to watch. It requires a greater understanding of the game, the variety of skills put into play and an appreciation of the difficulties faced – pitch conditions, quality of bowling faced, the particular challenges of a venue and its spectators. The bowlers have greater scope to exercise their skills and cannot depend on the pressure cooker conditions of the shorter versions to help them obtain wickets. A bowler in tear-away form need not be taken off after a certain number of overs and just keeps on coming.
The task of the opening batsmen in Test Cricket is primarily to ‘take the shine off the ball’, so that the stroke players that come lower down the order can score the runs. This requires them to practice the art of ‘leaving the ball’. This requires a cool temperament and extraordinary technique. Nothing takes the wind out of a fast bowler more than to see the batsman ‘leave the ball’ after he has run many yards to deliver it! On the other hand, the opening batsmen in the One Day and Twenty-20 have to get going almost immediately and the last thing on their mind is leaving the ball! A total contrast in technique! Just because, of late, India has had someone like Virendra Sehwag, whose unique approach has largely worked in his opening role, it does not mean that the basic requirement has changed. In fact, it must not be forgotten that he was basically a middle order batsman who had this role thrust upon him years ago for the very problem that India is suffering today – the shortage of good opening batsmen.
It is not that such batsmen do not exist – but they are not valued for their skills. If ‘Test’ openers have to be available, they have to be paid enough to retain their particular skills and technique, instead of becoming IPL players making money from going and throwing their bat around. As an opening batsman, it is also more likely that one goes through a bad patch – bad form gets exaggerated in the more trying circumstances of having to face packs of fast bowlers delivering thunderbolts at you. So, a group of opening bats need to be identified, cultivated, nourished and cosseted by the authorities, and not discarded because they sometimes fail.
Of course, it has never been understood why – in a country with such a variety of soil and climate – the BCCI has not put its uncounted millions into developing a few ‘fast’ venues, where all Indian fast bowlers, as well as batsmen, would be required to play a substantial number of games every year. This would ensure that batsmen would not be facing an absolutely new set of circumstances in the first over of a test match. Fast bowlers would know how to exploit pitches in places like Australia and England, instead of having to learn in the middle of a test match. Dehradun, with its temperate weather can be one venue, for instance, where pitches can be developed of the kind needed.

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