Monday, 9 August 2010

Time to move on

First and foremost, my heartiest congratulations to India for winning the third test at Colombo to level the series 1-1. Sri Lanka hasn't been the happiest hunting ground for India (or any other team for that matter) in recent years. The last two visits (in 2001 and 2008) ended in 1-2 reversals. In fact Dhoni's men became the first Indian side to come back from a tour of Sri Lanka without losing since 1997.

And yet, that says only part of the story. Here was a side that missed Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Sreesanth- three out of the four first choice bowlers. In their stead was the most inexperienced bowling attack India fielded in a generation, manned by the 21-year old Ishant Sharma and the 20-year old Abhimanyu Mithun and an even more inexperienced young spinner whose CV read a mere 4 test matches coming into the series. Another key component of the team- Gautam Gambhir- missed the last two tests. Add to it all the fact that Dhoni lost all three tosses.

Under the circumstances, it was a collosal achievement to come back from behind and change 250 plus on a deteriorating fifth day wicket. India showed that limitations notwithstanding, they have the character needed for a side that claims to be No.1.

Nevertheless, one feels that its time India started looking towards the future. Harsh or even cruel as it may sound, its time to have a younger batsman replace Rahul Dravid.

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge admirer of the man. In fact I have always admired him more than Sachin Tendulkar (and I'm from Mumbai, mind you). I would be the first to point out his monumental contribution to Indian cricket: that partnership with Laxman at Calcutta in 2001, the centuries in England the following year, that epic performance at Adelaide in 2003...the list could go on. Those were the victories that saw India making the transition from an underperforming, directionless side to a contender for the top slot and Dravid, more than any other Indian batsman, was responsible for that.

But that, as it happens, is the past. The unfortunate truth is that Dravid is no longer the force he once was and at 37, he is not going to help the future by being around. He and Tendulkar are both in their late 30s. Add to that VVS Laxman who will be 36 later this year. Given that aging middle order, its imperative that India start preparing for life after them and the only way that can ever happen is by ensuring that as and when they retire, there are youngsters ready to take up their positions- which naturally means that India needs to blood younger players and test them in different conditions as soon as possible. The last thing India would want is to find themselves in an Australia like situation with an avalanche of retirements and a bunch of youngsters not yet ready for the highest level thrust into the role.

With youngsters like Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli banging hard on the selector's doors on the one hand and an old generation of stalwarts looking closer to the end than the beginning on the other, its time for the selectors to put aside sentiment and take some harsh decisions. Given their current form, its impossible to make a case for dropping Tendulkar and Laxman (in any case, its hard to imagine any selector having the courage to drop Tendulkar). Given that, Dravid is, for the better or the worse, the only available option.

Yes it sounds ruthless, heartless even. But it is saying too much to contend that the team should take precedence over the individual? Should sentiment be allowed to come in the way of the team's progress? Is sentiment any justification to deny a rising generation an opportunity to step in and get themselves ready to shoulder the future?

These are the questions that Indian cricket needs to ask itself. In the answer lies the future of Indian cricket.

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