Chocolate and Gold Coins

Friday, February 24, 2006

Picking the Green Fruit

India, land of the mango, prefers to pluck its fruit when it is a little green and not fully sweet. The BCCI selectors do the same thing. They pluck the talent before it is fully ripe. They hope that international exposure will ripen them up quickly. But it might just as easily lead to a ruined career and a squandered talent.

The latest example of the deplorable tendency to pick the unripe fruit is the selection of Piyush Chawla. He is a great talent and he might soon be a star for India. But he is only 17, he has only played one season of Ranji, and he just isn’t ready yet. Sreesanth and Vikram Singh also look very raw. A couple more years in Ranji league would be very beneficial. But for some perverse reason, the selectors seem to think that if they don’t choose these young colts, in a few years these talents will be lost. And there is some reason to worry about that: the idiot selectors three or four years from now will overlook these seasoned professionals for the next U-19 flash-in-the-pan.

Examples of choosing talent too soon abound: Parthiv Patel, Ajay Ratra, Tinu Yohannan, Avishkar Salvi, Amit Mishra, Agit Agarkar, Laxmi Shukla, Amit Bhandari etc. There are several problems associated with choosing players too soon:
1. You might guess wrong and pick a no-talent.
2. The players might fail, and worse, cause the team to lose a big game and feel a sense of having “blown their big chance” for all of the rest of their careers. A little maturity can help deal with the emotional part of the game.
3. The players might not be fully talented yet. Agit Agarkar had some batting ability but also a flawed technique. A few years of Ranji might have helped. Instead, he went to Australia and came back damaged goods.
4. Choosing your U-19 stars over your Ranji stars robs Ranji of its significance. If the only way to make it into the team is to be 18 and super-talented, then you know that if you are already 20, you might as well give up.
5. You need to give them a chance to taste failure and really dislike it. These U-19 players have succeeded at every level in their brief careers. They come to the main team and see failure for the first time. Worse, they see their own inept performance caused the failure. Dealing with failure is a part of the learning process and choosing them too young denies them the opportunity to learn.

If I were the BCCI head, I would make a blanket rule: no one gets selected – no matter what – unless they have played 4 seasons of Ranji. Suddenly success in the Ranji league will be all-important, as it should be. The league will be more competitive and older players will not lose heart. And younger players will not become so impatient because they know that there is no way to make it to the team in less than 4 seasons. The benefits of such a strategy would be enormous.

But here is the rub: the credit for these benefits would go to the next board president. Maybe that’s why the board always seems so keen to pick the raw fruit.


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    By Blogger Jagadish, at 10:12 AM  

  • Michael

    There're also the counter-examples of Kaif, Yuvraj, Sehwag, Harbhajan and Pathan. Some have the ability, some don't.

    Not to forget, this bloke called Sachin Tendulkar.

    Parthiv was a really wrong pick. He didn't play his first Ranji Trophy match until November 2004, by when he'd been dumped from the main team following the loss to Australia at Nagpur. Not having played domestic cricket, he had _no_ clue about how to keep to half-decent spinners, let alone Kumble and Harbhajan, on spin-friendly wickets. He had major problems with his technique as well while keeping to the quicks, rising up too early etc. etc.

    Ratra was plain unlucky that the team felt that his batting was worse compared to Parthiv. I thought his keeping was quite good at home, in WI and in Eng and his batting wasn't the modern wicket-keeping style of blasting the bowling around, as displayed by Gilchrist, Jones, Dhoni, Sangakkara etc.

    In fact, today's post was about the wicket-keeping situation in the last four years.

    As for Agarkar, it only really went bad in Australia. He'd been in the team for two years before that and had done quite well, winning games with bat and ball.

    It is in fact a lot more dangerous to pick a 19 year old fast-medium/fast bowler with little experience in domestic cricket. There is a much higher chance of burnout and injury, as is evident from the experience withi Salvi, Shukla etc.

    I do agree that the diktat should be for players to play at least n consecutive seasons of domestic cricket [n >= 2] before they can be picked.

    By Blogger Jagadish, at 10:13 AM  

  • Is this the reason for your previous post? Because it might be partially true for Indian movies where they pick out these shitty new actors and actresses who can't act even if you paid them to. What the hell am I saying, they do get paid for this.

    By Blogger gawker, at 10:43 AM  

  • Hi Jagadish and C.Gawker
    Jagadish: Actually most of those counterexamples are a bit problematic. Kaif was really green when he was first picked for tests (against SA in 2000) and it showed. Jaffer also was green then. I have much more confidence in Kaif and Jaffer in 2006 than I would have had in them in 2000. Experience helps and in each case Ranji helped.

    Yuvraj, Harbhajan, and Sehwag all struggle enormously in their first year of cricket. All were dropped and had to struggle to get back into the team. Yuvraj only began being a match winner in 2002. Before that he helped India lose more often than not - even against Kenya!

    In Agarkar's case, he started with an enormous bang in his first 20 games but then everything went very wrong for the next two years both in bowling and batting. It is a wonder he kept his spot on the team. He really struggled. He began turning it around in mid 2000. And even then, he was in and out of the team until today.

    I agree whole-heartedly with everything you said about Patel and Ratra. The wicketkeeper spot has really be a problem for India.

    Gawker: No, this post is unrelated to my puzzle post. The hint is "Milli Vanilli". Another hint: Lance Klusener, Jacques Kallis, and Hansie Cronje, Jonty Rhodes, Mark Boucher, Nayan Mongia, Agit Agarkar, and Robin Singh.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 11:19 AM  

  • Ajith Agarkar's batting flaw has to do with coaching at U-15 and nothing about Ranji. Most Indian kids have that flaw - because dry wickets allow that. Ranji could not have helped him. Ajith Agarkar 2 - Dhoni.

    By Blogger Nilu, at 11:28 AM  

  • One reason for picking Piyush Chawla now could be that he gets to be in the side at the same time as Kumble (even though they are different types of leg-spinners**), even if it is only for a year and gets some amount of guidance. That is one reason I can somewhat agree with - at least it doesn't make me puke (to put it mildly) like the time when Ganguly was selected as a batting allrounder.

    **Yes. I did have a tough time using the term spinner in relation to Kumble.

    By Blogger VC, at 12:19 PM  

  • Actually..if you've been following recent developments in Indian cricket, things have changed substantially under chappell and Dravid. Most likely, Piyush won't play a game, but will get extended net sessions with the team and coach. That'll be a tremendous learning experience. And Sreesanth's been knocking on the doors of the Indian team for almost two years now. VRV Singh is very raw, and i don't expect him to play a game either, but he'll benifit tremendously by practicing with the team. Chappell's been talking of a core group of ~20 players for the next world cup. That means, even if they don't play a game, they'll be working with the team with a chance to improve.

    I might be a blind optimist, but the current board seems to be leaps ahead of older boards. For the first time, player allowances have been increased without any trouble, television rights awarded without murkiness, and the team management seems to have some kind of plan/vision in mind. Lets see if it pans out.....there are a lot of forces at work there. Interesting times.

    By Blogger Sunil, at 1:24 PM  

  • Hi Nilu, VC, and Sunil
    Nilu: Obviously, fundamental coaching needs to start young before the player is too old to change. But still, he could have benefitted from more experience. As for Dhoni, others have said he might be vulnerable on bouncy wickets (I think Arnab wrote this) but lets hope he can adjust.

    VC I don't see the logic of selecting a player for the side just so he can be coached and gain experience in the nets. If the team thinks this is worthwhile, can't they just have him along as a understudy or something? As it is now, if either Harbhajan or Kumble gets injured, Chawla is in. This happened to P. Patel and I think it really damaged his career.

    Sunil: See comment to V.C.. I don't see why they are select VR Singh and Sreesanth ahead of more experienced and better seamers like Gagandeep Singh and Shib Paul. They must be discouraged: they are in their mid 20's and already too old to play for the team.

    The idea of training with the national team is fine - there should be some provision for that. I hope that you are correct about the board. Anyway, the team looks like a real contender for the 2007 world cup.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:19 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    Fully agree with you. The NBA passed a rule recently where kids can't be drafted straight out of high school. They have to be out of high school for at least a year before an NBA team can draft them. The NBA did this because it saw the lives of too many kids ruined because they just did not know how to handle the pressure of the NBA even though they were all-state talents in high school.

    I agree with the people who say that practicing with the senior players will help these young players grow, but that doesn't mean that these young players have to be picked for the side. Why not pick Powar/Kartik instead of Chawla but still allow Chawla to practice with the side. That way, he could gain knowledge, but would be free of the pressure that he might face if he is forced to play due to an injury.


    By Blogger Vikram A., at 5:05 PM  

  • Very interesting thoughts...I never thought of it like this.

    Certainly your point is valid, but I will say that having some general rules is probably not a good idea. There are cases when someone is exceptionally talented (Tendulkar and Chawla?).

    I definitely agree that it is tough on the many 25+ players in the domestic game. Generally they get into the team only if they had a great season or something. As things stand, you either get into the team when you are young (less than 23 or 24), otherwise you have no hope. One reason is that generally the standard in Ranji is poor. But if we start giving exposure to many Ranji players who are never picked, then things will improve.

    By Blogger Krishna, at 10:14 PM  

  • Michael: My counter-examples of the likes of Kaif etc. were related to when they were first picked, regardless of tests or one-dayers. Kaif and Yuvraj did quite well in their first year of one-dayers. Harbhajan also had a reasonably good series against Australia in 1997/98 and in the one-dayers in Sharjah before his action came under the scrutiny. Sehwag played one one-dayer against Pakistan before being dumped.

    By Blogger Jagadish, at 2:54 AM  

  • Interesting post Michael.

    The Australian team has the opposite problem (now, not so much ten years ago). They have left players in domestic cricket for so long they are only picking them as they near 30, and then hoping they will be able to play at the required standard from the first (Mike Hussey, Hodge, Gilchrist) -- as opposed to having two or three years to settle in (Steve Waugh, Ponting, McGrath, Warne).

    Except for Gilchrist and Mark Taylor, every player in the Australian side of the past decade had been dropped after an initial go, and told to examine their approach/technique. Except for Slater they all came back stronger.

    In general, I think at least two seasons of domestic cricket is worthwhile. Second year blues are common (Bevan, Hodge, and others), so giving them time to fail and then rebuild their confidence serves them well. But it depends on the standard of domestic cricket as well. Clarke has scored a mountain of runs this season but I am not yet convinced his mental approach is appropriate for test cricket.

    By Anonymous Russ, at 1:38 AM  

  • Good point, Michael. I would not disagree for the sake of disagreeing, you are right as for the larger picture.

    The only issue here is, that in Australia, the domestic cricket structure is good. If you get injured, you are well taken care of. Your talents are bolstered with quality coaching. In India, if you do not get a VRV Singh into the test squad quickly enough (and I have heard rumours that he is as brittle as he is brutal), he will soon enough pick up an injury and recover to become a medium pacer of the likes of Abey kuruvilla. Now here's a guy who came in quick and bouncy when young... and after four years of ranji, what was left of him was a medium pacer like so many others. At least if you get into the test squad early, you will be under the guidance of a good physio etc. Laxmi Rattan Shukla, IMHO petered out not due to a flop at the beginning of his career but due to a mystery injury which does not allow him to bowl consistantly and at pace anymore. He was one of the chief architects of this season's ranji final performance of Bengal with the bat. And I will consider that decent development for a batsman.

    With Batsmen, with leg spinners, your point is well taken, Michael. With quick bowlers, I'd say not really.

    By Blogger Sinfully Pinstripe, at 4:56 PM  

  • Michael: Excellent observation. So many talents eg Vinod Kambli were killed by premature exposure. Sachin is an exception---a freak of nature.

    By Blogger GREATBONG, at 8:55 PM  

  • I personally feel that only those players should be considered for selection who have had at least 2-3 years of domestic cricket under their belt. The rigors of domestic cricket are severely undervalued in India and players need to prove themselves not over just 1 year but at least over a couple, to further emphasize their talent and capabilities and more importantly, their ability to repeat the standout performance they might have had in the first year. Domestic cricket in India is important not just for the cricket but also for the minutae of it, the team building and bonding with players, the exhausting travel, playing at small venues and putting in the hard yards day in and day out, for that one singular dream.

    Sachin Tendulkar is and always will be an exception to the norm. So it is somewhat complicated and quite unfair to the young turks if he is set as the precedent and the benchmark. Perhaps Piyush Chawla will turn out to be the next big thing but for every Sachin Tendulkar, there are many others who were pushed into the deep end without much experience and preparedness and who today are mere also-rans or have completely disappeared off the radar.

    There is no immediate need to paint Chawla as the successor to Kumble. It just can't be as simple as that and it would take Chawla or anyone else looking to fill the tall leggie's big boots a lot of doing. So instead, why can't Chawla practice with the Indian team and just be in the mix without being given the platform where he's being talked about a likely third spinner for the Test match? Let the guy play on the domestic circuit, bamboozle batsmen, fizz in some googlies and work the magic. If he really is even 60% of what they say he is, then he'll get his pot of gold.
    I say 60% because that's usually good enough for the Indian media.

    By Blogger Gaurav Garg, at 5:37 AM  

  • Lots of excellent comments to this post.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 4:11 AM  

  • Hi Vikram, Krishna, and Jagadish
    Vikram: I agree that there is no reason to pick a player for the side just to let him train with the team. That is asking for trouble.

    Krishna: Although people say that the standard of play in Ranji is poor, I bet most of the established Ranji stars are actually pretty good - at least playing in India.

    Jagadish: Harbhajan is an interesting example. He had a suspect action - and that is much more likely to happen with younger bowlers. Sure, it should have been corrected in lower cricket but he should have been coached in Ranji for a few seasons before starting international cricket. Things like the action would have had a chance to be corrected at that level.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 4:18 AM  

  • Hi Russ, Sinfully, Greatbong, and Gaurav

    Russ: Every other cricket nation on Earth would like to have the "opposite problem" that Australia has. Basically, Australia likes to wait until the fruit is fully ripe and notice the results! You look at a player like Mike Hussey and he's a superstar from the start.

    Sinfully Pinstripe: interest point about hte fast bowlers. There does seem to be something here. I wonder exactly it is. Fast bowler do frequently "burn out" with injuries and such and are just less effective over time.

    If coaching of fast bowlers is insufficient in Ranji then this is an area that needs attention for sure.

    Greatbong: Yes, Sachin is different. Although even he spent a very long time before he scored his first ODI hundred.

    Gaurav: I agree. Well, they didn't select Chawla for the first test and that is good. Hopefully he will succeed in Ranji in the next few years.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 4:29 AM  

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