The Red Ball Grammar
Although the questions of the board politics, lack of transparency, and rifts among players remain unanswered, the team as a whole has put in an extremely praiseworthy performance.
The Indian Test Cricket team has been one of the most successful sports teams in the last decade. Besides winning at home, the team has been able to make a mark in overseas conditions as well. In the last eight years, team India has won two series in Australia, a series in Sri Lanka, and West Indies, and ‘almost’ won another in England.
The performance of Team India has been a result of the stringent system being put in place by the Indian Cricket board, and the leadership group.
Among several other things, here are a few of the key areas which helped the Indian team to build up the habit of winning at home and away
Recruitment and Selection
The Indian domestic circuit is one of the strongest in the world, as far as quality is concerned. The process of making it to the national team is rather tough and layered. The process of recruitment involves shortlisting individuals from all around the country based on their performances for their domestic teams.
A group of selected candidates goes through a vigorous training program at National Cricket Academy, Bangalore.
Considering the presence of the sport in the deeper roots of the country, the process of recruitment is extremely multifaceted and slightly non – transparent. Traditionally a few selected regions in the country have been preferred over the others.
Due to the lack of transparency, the omission of players who were not given a fair run was also a common phenomenon. The Indian team management’s lack of will to change the core team, and the consistent performances of the players, could also be cited as the reason.
The role of the Indian Premier League is crucial in streamlining players into the national squad. Although a T-20 tournament, it has helped the prospective Test players, who were yet to make a statement in Indian colours, to face the top-notch attack.
The likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant benefitted from the same.
Training and Development
The selected lot undergoes extremely professional training sessions developed by the board and the leadership group. In 2017, the ‘Yo-Yo’ test became an overnight sensation when it was made a mandatory criterion to make it to the national team.
The YO-YO test measures the endurance and fitness of the athletes. In the Indian context, it replaced the ‘beep’ test, which was in place for years. However, under Virat Kohli, the new criteria became a lot more important. The likes of Ambati Rayudu, Sanju Samson, and Yuvraj Singh failed the YO-YO test. The credibility of the test as a prerequisite has often been questioned.
During the 2020 lockdown, Indian fielding coach R. Sridhar talked about a four-layered training program for the Indian cricket team before making it to the field.
“First phase, it will be ‘low volume-low intensity, followed by ‘moderate volume-low intensity, ‘high volume-moderate intensity and then starts ‘high volume-high intensity’ training/ This is how we will go.”
In an attempt to improve their game in more challenging conditions, many Indian cricketers (especially test specialists) opted for County stints in the UK.
Disciplined and timely training routines like these were evident on the field. The Indian team has done exceedingly well since 2015. In countries like Australia, England, and South Africa, where the size of the stadiums are comparatively bigger, the athletes’ fitness comes under the scanner, and the Indian players who got in through the likes of the YOYO test sustained such hardships.
Appraisal and Motivation
The Indian test team was the number one ranked team on the ICC rankings for 42 straight months. The team was unscathed by the challenges at home and away from October 2016 to March 2020. The Virat Kohli side was second to none for the majority of the second half of the last decade.
India has traditionally not been able to perform consistently in away tests, a trend which changed under Virat Kohli. Besides exceeding its winning streak at home, it also got a few impressive overseas victories under its belt.
Credits – Times of India
For a long time, there had been talks about bringing a tournament-like format for Test cricket to keep it relevant in the day and age of T20I. A much-hyped and a rather controversial World Test Championship cycle was put in place by the International Cricket Council. A yearly cycle wherein the two best-performing teams would face each other in the finals at a neutral venue. The first-of-its-kind phenomenon for white-ball games.
The incentivisation put in place was no less than any other major ICC tournament, which acted as a crucial source of extrinsic motivation for all those involved.
Besides this novel idea, the BCCI follows a contractual basis to pay the players which have layers of A+, A, B, and C, depending on the recent performances of the individual players. The brand value of the players, which makes them the higher-earning athletes than the other sportspeople, also plays a major role in providing a financial appraisal as individuals.
The Indian cricket team has traditionally preferred having the same captain for different formats. Considering the depth of Indian cricket in the last decade there has been the possibility of making multiple white-ball teams. However, the same could not stand true for the Test format due to its challenging nature.
As a result of the same, the Indian squad had a more or less similar structure and core. With Virat Kohli at the helm of the team during the given period, he had an able deputy in Ajinkya Rahane, who has a 100% track record as a part-time captain.
Besides, there were a bunch of experienced professionals who were able enough to carry the team if required, in Pujara, Ashwin, etc.
When Virat Kohli stepped down from his Test captaincy, his deputy Ajinkya Rahane was overlooked as a long-term option due to his poor form, but the management found an able captain in Rohit Sharma. The opener had been a part of the leadership group for quite some time, which made the transition look much smoother.
In the Indian Premier League, several teams have young Indian players leading their teams, which makes them serious contenders for the leadership group moving ahead.
The structure of any test team is defined by whether the fixtures happen at home or overseas. The approach in both these scenarios changes, and to gain success, it becomes crucial to find a balance.
India has been one of the most dominant sides in the home test. The Indian spinners often make it to the news due to their unparalleled performances during the same time.
In the overseas tests, the squad structure requires changes according to the conditions. Since 2015, the Indian team has been able to put forth a formidable performance in challenging overseas conditions. It’s usually a toss-up between 2 or fewer spinners in overseas conditions, whereas at home the team often went with three options as well.
In a radical move, the Indian team had two separate wicket-keepers for home and away fixtures. The superlative keeper Saha was the first choice in the home games where the ball spun more. The attacking Pant was preferred in the away tests, courtesy of his counter-attacking batting ability.
One of the major reasons behind the success of the Indian Test Team in the last seven years was the off-field planning. Although the questions of the board politics, lack of transparency, and rifts among players remain unanswered, the team as a whole has put in an extremely praiseworthy performance.