The sight of a cricketer being stretchered off the field is quite uncommon in cricket. That image of Hardik Pandya being wheeled off during India’s Asia Cup clash against Pakistan shouldn’t be forgotten that easily.
The injury is the latest addition in a burgeoning casualty list that is forcing the team management – hell bent on inculcating a fitness-first culture – to now factor in aspects of player fatigue and burnout in a punishing cricket calendar that offers little room for recovery.
It was captain Virat Kohli, who was first reported to have been diagnosed with a slip-disc-like injury in his back and neck region. Later, frontline pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar was forced to skip the entire Test series in England, also with a back injury. Hardik is the latest casualty. The all-rounder seemed to have been carrying the injury into the Asia Cup.
Hardik, like Kohli and Bhuvneshwar, plays for India in all three formats. For players like the trio there is literally no respite. All that they can do is skip a series to recover because the schedule doesn’t allow them that basic courtesy.
With the Yo-Yo test becoming a norm, many cricketers spent last year gawking at the new fitness standards being set by the coaching staff of the national team. Under skipper Kohli, intensity is key. To give your 100% across three formats is not a job for the faint-hearted. Playing for a win is at the centre of this team’s ethos. Even if results don’t go your way, the intent is important.
To their credit, players responded to his call in the right spirit. The scores of the Yo-Yo test made headlines. Each day the mark is improved upon. However, the effort seems to have been completely ignored by the powers that be in the BCCI. The only numbers the officials seem to care about are the increasing zeroes in the board’s bank account.
It is ironical that in a year where the Yo-Yo test has been such a buzzword in Indian cricket, injuries are cropping up through the ranks. Players are also becoming susceptible to picking up small injuries that in normal circumstances would have been avoidable. Jasprit Bumrah’s freak finger injury in Ireland negated a lot of India’s threat going into the England Tests. The pacer missed out on the first two Tests as India competed without the services of two of its premier pacers in conditions that favoured their style of bowling.
Shardul Thakur and Axar Patel too have had to pull out of the ongoing Asia Cup. The former picked up an injury while fielding in the India-Pakistan game while the latter was injured in training.
Away from it all, India’s first-choice wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha is still recuperating, after a botched up rehabilitation programme set up for his various injuries at the National Cricket Academy left him facing a lengthy spell away of the game.
All in all, the young and fit Indian team promised to the fans is losing its edge and BCCI deserves much of the blame for its laughable scheduling.
Exhibit A, the ongoing Asia Cup. The tournament could have been scheduled and organised in a far more streamlined manner. The Indian team, the bulk of its members returning from the taxing five-Test series, were rushed into a game against Hong Kong, which was immediately followed by the high-profile clash against Pakistan on the subsequent day. Never has it occurred in recent years that a team has had to play two ODIs back-to-back.
It doesn’t even matter that the double-header came just days after the jaded bunch of players were coming off a gruelling overseas tour. Such issues should have been considered well ahead of time by the BCCI and its officials. The Indian board is the host nation of the Asia Cup. It could have planned the tournament better, but just could not re-adjust their schedule as a full home tour by West Indies awaits the team immediately after the Asian challenge.
In fact, the BCCI and the Asian Cricket Council did tinker around with the schedule but that was also to optimise the revenues for themselves by organising all of India’s matches in Dubai, even as other teams shuttled between the Dubai International Cricket Stadium and Abu Dhabi.
Incidentally, this is all being done under the supervision of the BCCI’s Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, who were expected to hold the board officials to a higher standard.
Kohli, thanks to his impervious form and star power, can afford to take a break. No one at this stage is going to question his intentions, nor dare sideline him. He used this to his advantage and chose to sit out of the Asia Cup despite three potential clashes against Pakistan.
Ideally, as evident from the spate of injuries now, a few more Indian players should have skipped the tournament. But the BCCI doesn’t seem to be interested in working out a compromise.
With competition for spots so intense at present, no cricketer will want to give an inch. The disparity between what a cricketer earns playing for the national team and domestic cricket is huge. No player wants to take such a risk.
It’s no secret that Indian cricketers earn handsomely. However, it does not justify them being made to jump from one tournament to the other without a thought about the mental and physical toll it takes to be constantly on the job.
Not only the players, even the audience needs a break. The India-Pakistan clash could have been a showcase event. The first encounter between the two sides since the 2017 Champions Trophy final. The build-up, though, was muted. Add to that Kohli’s absence and the event was nowhere close to what it could have been.