These are very difficult times for Indian Cricket. India left for Australia as firm favorites to win the Test series down under. After eight days of cricket they have been resoundingly defeated in two test matches and have no chance of winning the series.
The defeat at Sydney means that India has now lost six consecutive tests away from home. It is not the fact that the team has lost but the manner in which they have capitulated that hurts. It hurts that our batting stands exposed, it hurts that our bowling has conceded twice over 650 runs, twice over 500 in these test matches. It hurts that we have not looked at any moment like winning any of these six tests inspite of being the world number one team in test cricket prior to the start of the England tour. It hurts that the cricketing world is laughing at us.
When you consider that Indian cricket was on such a high in the first six months of 2011, with the drawn test series in South Africa and the World Cup win at home, it might surprise a few as to how quickly the Indian team has sunk to such lower depths of performance.
India is led by the most overworked cricketer in the world. M.S Dhoni looks tired, jaded, overworked and lacking in idea and inspiration. His captaincy during the tour and particularly at Melbourne was shocking-there were 7 fielders on the boundary to Ben Hilfenhaus when he was on nought in the second innings. India lost the Melbourne test as much due to bad, defensive captaincy as it did due to bad batting. If Indian cricket wants to preserve Dhoni the batsman- and what a wonderful destructive batsman he can be- it is time for to let him go as a captain. Yes he has achieved a lot as a captain and for that Indian cricket will always be indebted to him. But Indian cricket is in desperate need of a new direction.
Who will provide that direction? It is time for Gautam Gambhir to step up. Gambhir is a fine young man, very intense, very passionate but also very competitive and tactically very sound. He has impressed one and all in his brief stints as captain for Delhi and Kolkata Knight Riders. His form of late has been patchy but I have no doubt that the added responsibility of captaincy will make him more focused and ensure that he delivers with the bat as well. I will also go a bit more left field and make Ravichandran Ashwin, another impressive young man, as his deputy. Ashwin has struggled with the ball in Australia but through out his batting and bowling vigils, he has stood out as a competitor. He comes across as a confident person and that together with his combative streak will ensure a bright future for him as an Indian cricket.
Indian cricket also needs to look at the fact that in the last 12 innings India has crossed 300 only once. That is a depressing statistic and perhaps the fact that its regular opening pair has missed a lot of test cricket this year has contributed to this. But the chief contributing factor to this statistic has been the very very inconsistent form of its famed middle order. The famed fabulous three of Indian batting have their own issues to deal with- one is weighed down by unbelievable hype and frenzy surrounding a landmark. The other has had a fabulous year at the test level but increasingly looks tired and out of place on the cricket field. And the third has produced the odd good innings this year but frankly looks totally spent and physically unfit.
I am a great VVS Lakshman fan but he averages 20 in his last 12 innings and has scored only one test hundred since his match winning efforts at Galle in August 2010. His footwork against quality fast bowling is increasingly looking very uncertain and his fielding, when he is out of the slips is shocking. Irrespective of how he plays in the next two tests- and Sanjay Manjrekar India’s finest commentator has suggested that he should not even be given those opportunities now-the selectors need to have a quiet word with him at the end of the series and chalk out a farewell plan. VVS will be sorely missed but I want to remember him as a player who pulled and flicked fast bowlers at will, not as someone who struggled to score his next run against him.
Rahul Dravid is an interesting case. He has had a remarkable 2011 when he was clearly India’s best batsman in test cricket. His innings in Melbourne suggests that there is still some form there but one should take note that he is dropping a lot of catches at slip and getting bowled very often. Often this is a sign that eyesight is not as good as it once was. Dravid should at the most play the series against England in October and then another farewell plan should be prepared for him.
What does one say about Sachin Tendulkar? Every comment made by anyone on Tendulkar evokes emotion. “You can’t write about Indian Cricket without critising Tendulkar”, some one said to me the other day. I am, like many others, a big Tendulkar fan but to say that he is immune to criticism just because of his achievements is ridiculous. The very fact there is so much discussion and debate around Tendulkar shows that something is amiss. Critics will point that he has gone almost 12 months without an international hundred. Incidentally his last test hundred was an absolute master class against a rampaging Dale Steyn at Cape Town. Tendulkar batted freely without a care in the world in that innings. Contrast that with way he played on the third afternoon at Sydney or the way he played against Clarke and you can sense the difference. It seems that Tendulkar is weighed down by this unreasonable hysteria surrounding his next hundred. However, notwithstanding this hype, the signs are very clear that the end is very near for the Bombay Bomber. Tendulkar, who used to be one of India’s finest and most committed fielders, is a liability on the field on most days. The numbers of misfields are increasing. His batting form may suggest that he has some cricket still left, however the lack of big innings suggest that age is catching up. A farewell plan has to be chartered out soon for him as well.
It will be unreal, say 12 months from now to look at an Indian team sheet and see the names of these three fine cricketers missing. But as ace writer Gaurav Kalra mentioned in his blog “permanence in sport is nothing. Succession is inevitable.” It is time for Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara to occupy the Indian Middle order. It is also time for a new Indian team to emerge.
13 years ago India went through similar horrors when it was whitewashed in Australia in 1999. That was followed by South Africa clean sweeping us at home. A new Indian team under the captaincy of Saurav Ganguly emerged. Ganguly’s era saw the emergence of Lakshman, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Sehwag and Yuvraj. Tendulkar and Dravid flourished and a golden chapter of Indian cricket was written. If this Australian debacle lays down the path for another golden chapter of Indian cricket then all the hurt will be worthwhile.