Talent is dear, especially in cricket. The game is a huge factor in the life of many boys – and increasingly girls – in India. It helps shape character and skill. It improves self-esteem. The work of fine cricketers thus travels beyond the cricket field.
Much of Indian cricket hope rests on three exceptional cricketers: Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mohammed Shami. Kohli is possibly the best emerging batsman in the game. He could be the best if he stays on course.
Pujara is the best emerging Test batsman in the world. On players like him rests the future of the game where the five-day version separates the men from the boys. Shami is even rarer. He is a fast bowler to thrill the heart in a country where they come once in twenty years.
You would imagine a BCCI team poring over secret plans to preserve and further these three. You might spot such talent once in about ten thousand boys. Their growth ought to be a core concern. Apparently it isn’t.
Kohli, Pujara and Shami have been slogging away in IPL7, dipping with each game. It is not where they should be. You can sense the strain as they strive to please corporate owners in a short-term pursuit that can only harm in the long term.
Pujara looks like he wants to belong. He tries to match lesser-thinking cricketers whose muscle power enables them to beef their way around wealthy T20 circuits. Kieron Pollard can do it. He is built for it. But West Indies cricket does not bank on Pollard.
Pujara is a sober young man with discernible wisdom. He is designed to elevate batting. He can be better than Rahul Dravid. He simply needs to stay fit and work on his stupefying ability to velcro the ball to the ground. He never has to hit in the air; it is a skill no other current batsman possesses.
In addition, Pujara appears to have sharp captaincy skills. He has led India A to exemplary victories in India and away. He has played game-saving knocks in tough situations as skipper. He tends to outthink rival captains.
He is never ruffled. He gives the impression that he is a few thoughts ahead.
He might be better captaincy material than Kohli, for instance, simply because he seems to soak it in. All Pujara needs is to feel safe and secure. That he does not have to slam away in the IPL to stay in sight. Perhaps the BCCI could look at Cricket Australia and how they nurture players like Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson.
Kohli already has enough to do. He is a batting pillar and he seems to come with a turbocharger in the field. He is an uncommon fielder, rare for India. He does not have to captain an IPL team. He cannot compensate for ten players. It will drain him out.
Kohli gains nothing even if he was to, say, lead the Royal Challengers Bangalore to victory. Nobody remembers who led whom to past wins anyway. It is the nature of the beast. IPL is bubblegum cricket. You don’t take it to bed. You don’t evolve by it.
None of Kohli’s sixes or catches in the IPL can match what he does in Tests. Even fifty-over matches, a dying form, is all right. It still has some gravitas and challenge. But IPL is radioactive. It will kill Kohli.
Shami is distressingly in decline already. He struggles as he runs up to bowl, the stride getting longer as the body compensates for the lack of momentum in his run-up. His speed has dipped. He has become a familiar sight.
This is death for fast bowlers. They are there to terrify batsmen. They are a stirring sight in full flight. Shami began superbly. His first Test match was glorious. It seemed like India had found a match to English and South African pacemen if not the Australians.
Just six months later, we watch in dismay as they swat Shami away to the fence. His speed ought to have inched to 145+ but has gone down to the high 130s and low 140s. He doesn’t scare them anymore. This is alarming.
India has a galaxy of past fast bowlers who could easily intervene to save Shami. There is Wasim Akram too who helped Shami in the past. How come none of them has anything to contribute?
Money is important; no cricketer wants to live in poverty anymore. Surely the BCCI, which is overdosing on cash, can pay Kohli, Pujara and Shami enough so they do their real job – make India the best and most feared team in cricket.
Greatness awaits them. The IPL should not come in the way.