India's cricketers to blame for breaking down with injury
Given how much we emphasise the collective in sport, it is ironic how often a team's fortunes can be linked with an individual's fitness.
Back in 2002, France were world and European football champions. Zinedine Zidane was 30 and in his prime, having just scored a wonder goal to win the Champions League for Real Madrid in Glasgow, Scotland.
But when a slight tear in his quadriceps ruled him out of the first two games, the French lost the plot spectacularly, ending the tournament in Japan and South Korea without even scoring a goal in their three group matches.
There are echoes of that debacle in India's current tour of England. After just 81 deliveries at Lord's, Zaheer Khan faces four months on the sidelines once he undergoes ankle surgery.
A series that many expected to be too tight to call now stands 2-0 to England.
With Zaheer gone, it could get much worse.
In the past 12 months, he played seven Tests, missing games against New Zealand in Nagpur and South Africa at Centurion, and 16 one-day internationals. That does not look excessive.
But each of those games, except for Lord's, was crammed between October and early April, when India won the World Cup final.
For someone with a history of injuries, it was a quite a run on the treadmill.
Had he possessed another passport, Zaheer surely would not have been allowed to play the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Had he been English or Australian, he would have been advised to rest with a view to getting back to full fitness in the summer. The top-of-the-table clash against England would have been given importance.
But the IPL is the Indian board's baby, and Zaheer ended up playing 15 games for the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
He finally got a break on May 28, by which time his ankle was too sore for him to even make the Test leg of India's Caribbean tour.
The board has a lot to answer for. The fans deserve to know what its priority is - is it for the national side to be as strong as possible or for the IPL to thrive? The two are not remotely the same thing, as the injuries to Zaheer and Virender Sehwag have shown.
If the Indian team are not considered the focal point of board policy, you will soon have a situation analogous to English football - with a much-hyped domestic league and a national team that consistently serve up dismal performances on the world stage.
England's best footballers seldom perform on the world stage because by the time it's May or June, they are shattered from having played in as many as four competitions.
Unlike other European leagues, there is no midseason break either.
If you treat players like beasts of burden, then expect them to play like donkeys.
A look at India's schedule for the 12 months from May 2011 shows 85 days of Tests, 36 ODIs and four T20 internationals. That's 125 days of cricket. Only Sri Lanka (70 days of Tests, 38 ODIs and three T20s) come close to matching such insanity. In contrast, England play 60 days of Tests, 20 ODIs and eight T20s.
Not that India's cricketers deserve much sympathy. Not one of the seniors has spoken out explicitly about being treated like highly paid slaves.
There is still no players' association. Like other stars from the subcontinent, they have nothing to do with FICA, the international players' body.
They complain in private, and off the record. But that is not good enough. Would the board really dare to take on a big name who came out and said: enough is enough?
The chances are we will never find out.
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Published: August 8, 2011 04:00 AM