Transparency in the way Indian cricket manages injuries and the mental health of its players will be crucial in developing the next generation of international players. Rahul Dravid, India's new head coach, emphasised on these aspects of modern-day cricket after the home team won the second Test in Mumbai against New Zealand on Monday. (More Cricket News)
A clutch of new players made their presence felt in the 1-0 series win against New Zealand at home. In the new World Test Championship cycle, this will come as a great boon to the Indians, who finished second best to New Zealand in the previous WTC cycle ending June 2021.
Mohammed Siraj, Axar Patel, Jayant Yadav, Shreyas Iyer and Mayank Agarwal once again highlighted the depth in India's talent pool but a pragmatic Dravid feels the way forward is transparency in how players are managed both on and off the field.
With virtually non-stop cricket, international players find it difficult to balance between work and life. Very few are privileged like Virat Kohli or Jasprit Bumrah or Rohit Sharma, who can afford to take a break and return to the national team at a time of their choice.
Players like Ajinkya Rahane or Cheteshwar Pujara will not be able to take such a risk because their performances are not solid enough to cement their positions in the Indian Playing XI.
Rahane and Pujara are playing in Test XI by virtue of their reputation and past performances. There is no denying their pedigree but India have enough backup players to replace them now. Faith has a shelf life in Indian sports. Results matter.
THE BIG PUZZLE
One big question that did the round ahead of second India vs New Zealand Test in Mumbai was who will sit out when Kohli returns to the Playing XI. In a pre-match press conference, Kohli revealed nothing as to who will make way for him.
Then guesses started doing the rounds. It was felt that dropping Shreyas Iyer, who made a wonderful debut in the Kanpur Test with a century, would be too harsh. Three out-of-form players -- Mayank Agarwal, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara thus became the natural 'targets'.
Rahane, by virtue of being the vice-captain, and Pujara, for all his brilliance as a Test batsman, appeared 'safe'. So Mayank Agarwal was the obvious man to axe. On the morning of the match on December 3, around toss time, BCCI sent a mail saying Ishant Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Rahane were nursing injuries and were not available.
Mohammed Siraj replaced Ishant, Jayant Yadav came in for Jadeja and Kohli was a perfect fit for Rahane and Mayank Agarwal kept his place! Siraj, Yadav and Agarwal had a wonderful outing at Wankhede with Agarwal going on to score a fourth Test century, that too a match-winning one.
MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS
The timing of the BCCI mail was perplexing. Why on the morning of the match? Was it to cover up selection issues? Was Virat Kohli ignorant of injuries on the eve of the match? Or, it was plain tactics not to reveal much to the New Zealanders. Even the Kiwis didn't say Kane Williamson was injured and won't be playing.
BCCI has seldom been transparent on injuries. There have been several instances when cricketers have played international matches when they have been half-fit. Hardik Pandya playing in the T20 World Cup is a glaring example.
With Dravid in charge, lobbying for particular players or a partisan approach is unlikely to work. It is expected to be a level playing field for all players, irrespective of their status. Only merit and circumstances will matter.
"We've had injuries in the lead-up (to the Mumbai Test), so we need to manage our players physically and mentally, it's going to be a large part of my challenge, challenge too for the selectors and the leadership group," said Dravid in a post-match chat in Mumbai on Monday.
The arrival of fresh players like Siraj, Iyer, Axar, Yadav and Agarwal has impressed the coach.
"It's a good (selection) headache to have, see young boys perform well. There's a great desire to do well and everyone's pushing each other. I hope we have more headaches to have, as long as we have clear communication and we explain to the players why, don't see it to be a problem," said Dravid.
The upcoming series in South Africa will be a big Test for the Indians. What will be the composition of the Test team will be interesting to watch. Future planning will be key and that's Dravid's primary agenda.