Perth: The Indian cricket team already has a cramped round-the-year schedule and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni made it clear that it's not his team's responsibility to play more against countries like UAE in a bid to raise the quality and profile of the game in ICC's Associate nations.
With ICC reducing the number of nations for the next World Cup to 10, there's been a raging debate as to how Associates will improve if they don't play against the Big Boys regularly.
Dhoni was asked if India would be willing to take the bait and help UAE play more against them, his answer was a terse one.
"Not against India. I don't see even a few days off to play any more cricket than what we play. Our calendar is nine and a half months. We play IPL for two and a half months and also the Champions League T20, and even then we match every other Test playing nation when it comes to the number of Tests and ODIs. I don't see India playing any more games. We can't, unless we play two games in one day, which is just not possible," Dhoni's answer was laced with sarcasm.
Dhoni then said that when people raise question marks about his team's fitness, they often forget the amount of cricket played by his team.
"A lot of our players get criticised, and a lot is said about our bowlers are not fit enough, or our cricketers, they get injured. But if you see, it's the same set of players that play all the formats, Tests, ODIs, T20, then to go back and play Champions League and IPL. So looking at the workload, don't be surprised if I say that our bowlers are amongst the fittest because of the amount of cricket that they play.
"Not to forget when they get a break, they get a call from their local states to play for their team, and there's no number of overs that they have to bowl. The India bowler comes, you give the ball and you forget everything."
As an afterthought, Dhoni did try and sound sympathetic towards Associates' growth but with a rider that it can't happen at the cost of India.
"Yes, the associate nations, if they can get a few more games, better scenario, good facilities, it will be good for them. At the end of the day, it's like a circus where you want to play in front of people, want to compete in best scenarios.
So we'll have to formulate a way, but please, not India. India can't play any more games," he pointed out.
One got a taste of Dhoni's acerbic tone when asked as to how does he find this 10-team World Cup format, he replied, "You know, there's plenty of stuff on my table. We'll let the ICC decide. They should also do a bit of work, so let them sit in their air-conditioned room and decide whether the Associate Nations need to play in the World Cup or not because that's what they come up with. So the bunch of people will sit in the hall and they'll decide whether or not it's good for cricket."
Dhoni, however did have words of encouragement for Associates like Afghanistan, which have shown improvement in recent times.
"I think if you see, it's a good exposure for them. They are competing with the Test nations because they have done really well in their associate tournaments where the associate teams are there and they perform against each other. It's a graph. If you see Afghanistan or some of the other teams, you can see a bit of improvement in their game every time they come and play," Dhoni said.
The emphasis according to India captain should be on development in a holistic way.
"You have to see that overall cricket is developing as a sport because what's very important is you want cricket to be a global sport when it comes to participation, and what's more important is rather than looking at it from a commercial point of view, what we have to make sure is where there's existence of the sport, we have to make sure that it keeps on increasing there, and at the same time you look at some of the other countries where there's the prospect of playing cricket."
ICC needs to tap the regions which can prove to be beneficial for the development of the game, feels Dhoni.
"I feel overall it's a 'Win-Win' situation, but what's most important is to make sure that if there's a bit of fire anywhere, you have to make sure it becomes a bush fire in terms of the intensity. I think it's good, whatever we have seen of a lot of associate nations.
"There has been a lot of improvement in their cricket.
But we'll have to give them more opportunities and we have to make sure that the infrastructure in those countries, they get better and better so more people can come and play cricket," he concluded.