Indian cricket officialdom appears to have shot itself in the foot. Javagal Srinath's being forced to pull out of the Indian tour of the West indies without even playing a game is an indication that cricketers are not milch cows who can be called in whenever the pitcher is dry. The board's plan of making the team play round the year has backfired and one of the men who has carried the Indian attack for a long time is unlikely to be seen with the new or old ball in his grasp for some time.
There is just one reason why Srinath is one of the walking wounded today -- too much cricket. The World Cup marked the beginning of the decline of his well-being. After that tournament the Indian team have played in England, Singapore, Toronto and Kenya and at home. They have played in the day, at night, at high noon and at midnight. They have played in whites and blues. They have played Tests and so many one-day games that it is difficult to keep a tally. And they have been expected to win all the time.
Men who have been in the game much longer -- Wasim Akram, Mark Taylor and Courtney Walsh to cite just three -- have come to the opinion that there are too many demands on cricketers these days, especially when it comes to one-day games. They went to the extent of talking about forming a players' association to represent these facts to the authorities. None of the three have any reason to complain -- they are well-paid and command a great deal of respect no matter where they play. But the one thing that people who run the game seem to have forgotten is that they are also human.
Srinath's coach, Roger Binny, has criticised the authorities without mincing any words. In his words, poor planning and poor schedules are to blame for Srinath's breakdown. Binny pointed out that in the past an average cricketer's international career lasted 10 years but the way Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad were being flogged, they would be finished in half that time. The former Indian player and Karnataka captain pointed out that since the England tour in June last year, Srinath and Prasad had bowled almost 800 overs between them. "What they need is rest," he was quoted as saying. "But the cricket board's poor planning and schedules will not allow this."
Srinath, it must be pointed out, is still not being ruled out of the West Indies tour. That is an indication of how heartless the board is. The selection panel has picked an off-spinner, Noel David of Hyderabad, to join the squad (this proves that the story about the ICC determining that Rajesh Chauhan chucks have substance though the board has denied it) and Srinath has proceeded to South Africa for an examination by the surgeon who treated him earlier. If he is ruled fit, he will rejoin the team. This despite his having played for quite some time before this with the aid of cortisone injections; his injury has been so bad that he has been unable to throw over-arm for some time.
Binny is not the only one to think that the Indian cricket authorities can see nothing but dollar signs when they look at the cricket squad. Brijesh Patel has gone on record as saying that he cannot believe that the Indian board can treat its players in such a shabby manner. Patel has not stopped at that; he has pointed out that Pakistan and South Africa have nurtured speedsters Waqar Younus and Allan Donald so that they can give of their best when needed. They are both given ample time to rest and recoup, is Patel's point. And Srinath is not.
And if a third salvo was needed, it has come from Polly Umrigar who gave up a salaried job with the board a few days back. Srinath, says the old man, was half-broken even before he left for the West Indies. Umrigar had spoken out a few days back, pointing out how his advice, based solely on cricketing sense, had been ignored. Advice that would have given the players a wee bit more breathing space. He now expects two more players to join the casualty list before the Caribbean tour is over.
It is time that the players themselves realised how they are being milked and react. But it all depends on them -- do they want to play in places as far afield as the Honduras just for money or is the game more than just a money-spinner for them? The Indian cricket board appears to view the cricketing talent they have at their disposal as something of a short-term investment, something which could disappear overnight. Thus, the attitude seems to be that they should make hay while the sun shines. In short, take the money and run.
It is easy for the board to pretend that the players also benefit from this circus of playing round the year. It is less easy for them to admit that this leads to the team becoming jaded, weary and injury-prone. Indeed, after the West Indies tour, the team will have little rest; there are one-day matches in Bermuda before they go back to India for a one-day tournament to mark the 50th anniversary of India's independence. After that there is cricket in Canada, Sri Lanka and Pakistan with home commitments against Sri Lanka and Australia. It is time to ask -- where will this circus lead? And when will it end?