Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A terminal decline

A few days ago, I predicted a 3-1 win to Australia in the on-going test series against India. Just two days into the second test of the series, I'm beginning to feel that the prediction was wildly optimistic. On current performance, India will need nothing short of a miracle to escape yet another 0-4 flogging.

To be honest, I had my apprehensions well before the action kicked off. I never had the least doubt in my mind that the debacle in England was not an aberration, but the sign of a much deeper malaise. A middle order that boasts of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman- man who have over 35000 test runs between them collectively- should not be imploding with such regularity.

The statistics speak for themselves: in the last 11 innings abroad, India have not crossed 300 even once while opposition sides have raked up scores of 474/8d, 544, 710/7d and 591/6d. As I write, Australia are well poised to score well in excess of 600, which establishes beyond doubt that the pitches have nothing to do with the paucity of runs. The fact that India's openers have struggled to see off the new ball has hardly helped matters. That, however, is no excuse for such a consistently dismal performance from a top5 in which the most inexperienced batsman is currently playing his 46th test.

The bowlers have not exactly covered themselves with glory either. However, there exist mitigating circumstances, as its a largely inexperienced lineup. A group of under 25 bowlers can hardly be expected to flourish when they are perpetually under pressure due to the lack of runs from their batsmen (for the record, legends like McGrath, Ambrose, Muralitharan and Donald were well into their 20s when they finally came of age).

I have long been advocating the need to phase in younger batsmen like Kohli, (Rohit) Sharma, Pujara and Mukund and give them the opportunity to do their apprenticeship under the mentorship of the legends. Perhaps the best way forward could be to play any two out of the three on a rotational basis, thereby allowing at least two youngsters to play in their company at any given point in time. Moreover, having a newcomer at the pivotal no.6 position seems ridiculous to me. It would be much better to push him up a slot and have one of the experienced hand play that role.

If anything, India have a golden opportunity on their hands to manage the transition. They are not touring outside the sub-continent until their back to back tours of South Africa and New Zealand in 2013-14, by which time the trio of legends will almost certainly have retired. That gives a good two years to phase in youngsters and help them find their feet at the highest level in familiar conditions before tougher challenges beckon.

The lineup of youngsters waiting to grab their chance is a pretty long one. Its about time the Indian selectors gave the youthful claimants a chance. In the company of legends like Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, they can learn and develop much faster than they would if left to their own devices. Out of every adversity arises opportunity and right now, opportunity is knocking hard at India's doorstep. How the selectors react could determine the future of Indian cricket.

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