Is there some shiny self-help book we should all be reading, like 20 Ways Anyone Can Win in Cricket? Would it help if we could turn that coaches’ bible, Sun Tzu's Art of War, into Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali? Is eating Champion oats a start? Is there some sporting svengali we can hire (wait, wasn't that Chappell)? Tonics, no-samosas-for-Lent, vitamins, we'll try anything, but COULD SOMEONE PLEASE TELL US: How in God's name do we construct a consistently good sporting team?
There is an impudence to Indian cricket so stunning that if for a second you can stop throwing rocks, you'd grin at the absurdity. We haven't injected intensity into our domestic cricket. We're still arguing about pitches. Some state associations are chaotic. The playing schedule takes lucre, not lungs, into consideration. A-team tours are haphazard. Player contracts are late. The list of incompetence goes on.
Yet despite an unprofessional attitude, we're SURPRISED we don't produce a fine professional team? But, here's the thing. You can kick hope in the teeth, but it's still there, offering its hand. Everywhere you turn, evidence of sporting revolutions elsewhere exist, proof of progress can be found.
But do we want to learn?
At the 1976 Olympics, Australia won not a single gold medal. (Yes, it’s true, Australians are not born in sweaty sports singlets shouting, “Bring it on, mate”.) Mortified, they created the Australian institutes of sport, which are high-class training centres committed to excellence. In Athens 2004, Australia won 17 golds.
For 28 years, between 1954 and 1984, China did not participate in the Olympics. It was learning, importing coaches, opening sports schools, 3000 of them (though, admittedly attendance is not always a choice). From 11th on the Olympic medal table in 1988, China rocketed to 2nd in 2004.
Australian sports administrators are constantly hurdling the ocean to study American teams and pick apart their systems. Indian cricket, too, should listen, read, think, plan, borrow. It should invite cerebral coach Ric Charlesworth to lecture on planning, and steal ideas about nourishing talent from US swimming. It has to, from BCCI office clerk to BCCI president, be committed to finding greatness. It has to take small steps before it can take giant leaps.
And it has to have courage. For instance, if you're going to hire an outsider like Greg Chappell because you want something different then, dammit, let him be different. To use an example from football (where the coach is God, unlike cricket), Dutch master Guus Hiddink, despite facing numerous cultural hurdles in South Korea, was eventually allowed to do things his way. The result was an incredible 2002 World Cup semi-final place.
Greg Chappell may be no Hiddink, and may have played his hand wrong in India, but he's right that our cricket requires a new philosophy.
Success, it might be argued, has no exact formula. Brazil's football system appears chaotic, corrupt, yet it inexplicably breeds winning teams. Perhaps the South Americans' astonishing wellspring of natural talent cannot be denied.
England's football can be as confusing, for despite a seemingly robust system, its national team performances are a universal joke. Yet England's Premier League is not geared to producing adept English players but satisfying the ambitions of clubs, many of whom have few “English” recruits.
Australia, for instance, may not always produce excellent sporting teams, but the intelligent design of its system (stadiums, scouts, coaches, understanding schools, sports science) will usually ensure competitive ones. Athletes and teams are constantly offered opportunities and relentlessly drilled. Then grit and inspiration takes over. At the World Cup, India's ineffective system was revealed and also its limp players.
Success, over a long term, is hard to predict, but the quicker India assembles the jigsaw (pitches, A-team tours, et al.), the greater have to be its chances for it. Just hoping for another group of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman to arrive in the same generation at the same time is to trust entirely in karma. Even then, greatness eluded us.
The BCCI can sack coaches, cull captains, demote indolent players, doesn't matter: It has to consistently show leadership, intelligence, vision. It has to take a screwdriver to its system and a hammer to its policies. It has to lead by example, for if older men assume a chalta hain attitude, it only percolates down to the team.
After all, the best sign of teamwork the BCCI could give the team is a working system.