There is no doubt that the Indian cricket team is the most overworked unit of all the Test playing nations in the world. At 44 matches (all three formats included), they have played five more than the second-placed South Africa, starting this year.
Before they embark on a lengthy campaign on road from the series against South Africa next year, they are scheduled to play a full-fledged series against Sri Lanka beginning Thursday three Tests, three ODIs and as many T20Is. Naturally, managing the players workload has assumed greater importance and various suggestions have been made, including the bizarre idea of buying an aeroplane to ferry cricketers from place to place, and different steps “- like resting or rotating -” by the team management and the selectors to ensure prevention of player burnout.
But there is only so much one can do in the face of a highly clogged international schedule and a player can stretch himself only as much. Someone as young as the 24-year-old Hardik Pandya sought to be rested for the first two Tests against Sri Lanka in a year in which he has played just three Tests in a total of 36 internationals. Of course, the fact he also bowls medium pacers does add to his workload but there is also a lesson for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in it.
The money-spinner that the Indian cricket team is, it is the most sought after by each cricket-playing nation in the world. If an Indian teams visit means filling coffers for Australia and England, its a lifeline for teams like Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe. While India is increasingly getting belligerent in having a lengthy home season, and justifiably so, they are not looking at cutting down on tours lest it affects their bargaining power at the ICC. What the BCCI is doing is nothing less than a killing a goose that lays golden eggs.
India had played Sri Lanka only recently in July-August in one of the most lop-sided series and just why they are here playing Virat Kohlis men again is beyond ones comprehension. Whether its fulfilling obligations to broadcasters or snubbing South Africa who were demanding a longer series against India, players are being forced to bear the brunt of it.
This fact wasnt lost on Virat Kohli, who with 47 innings so far this year, has played the most by any top cricketer in the world. The skipper warned against scheduling non-stop cricket that may lead to players breaking down during or before an important series. And even if they dont, he felt, the performance may not be up to the mark because the body isnt in sync with the mind.
“Yes, we have spoken about it, its become quite hectic,” he had said at the start of the limited-overs series against New Zealand. “Thats something that you know that we will definitely have to sit and discuss in future. Because if you look at New Zealand, they havent played any cricket after Champions Trophy. There has been such a good lay-off. It can be the difference in doing well in a big tournament and not being able to do well. We are expected to perform on a consistent basis. But I think the rest and time to prepare should be adequate for athletes as well,” he explained.
For the moment, though, nothing is going to change. The schedule is going to be as hectic if not more, a fact Kohlis deputy in Tests, Ajinkya Rahane, seems resigned to. “It is important to manage yourself as a professional athlete,” he said on Tuesday. “The training, as well as recovery, is very important. We focus on our training, and then on our recovery — ice baths, pool sessions, massages. Team management is taking care of all these aspects. It is important to take care of yourself because in the future we are going to play many matches.”
There is also a small matter of overkill of cricket driving the cricket fan away from the game. And if that happens, it can be a body blow to the stature that the game enjoys in the country.