Samir Chopra January 22, 2009

Worrying about Indian batting

Whither this anxiety then

A recurrent feature of the Indian cricketing landscape, especially since the Azhar-three spinner era of the early 1990s, has been the optimistic expectation of a New Dawn in Indian cricket following a win or two, perhaps in a series, perhaps in a solitary game. Such optimism (whether journalistic or fan-based) has, ever since the first Indian Test win (Chepauk 1952), never flagged in its timing or its hopefulness. And nowhere is it more manifest than in the period immediately following a home season that has gone well for the Men in Blue (or White).

We are in a similar period now, following the Test wins at home over Australia and England. Sure, no one is going overboard in their claims (leaving aside some suggestions that the Indian bowling attack was the most varied or the most incisive or whatever, in the cricketing world). But the feel-good vibe is present, with the twin Test series (and the 5-0 ODI thrashing of England) putting a convenient distance between the team and its recent past. But the anxiety that underwrites this bluster has, for me, been most intriguingly revealed in the discussion over whether Dravid should remain in the Indian team, especially for the forthcoming tour of New Zealand.

For the central claim of the pro-Dravid camp in this regard is that Dravid is needed in Kiwiland, on its spongy, seaming, pitches. That without him, the Indian middle-order will be at the mercy of those dreaded seamers, cutters, swingers that are the hallmark of the New Zealand attack.

On the face of it, there is something very odd about this claim. The Indian cricketing world is currently glowing in the glory of its new opening pair (confidently proclaimed by some to be the best in the world); we have rediscovered the glories of Tendulkar and Laxman; and only one batting retirement, that of Ganguly, has taken place. The Indian team has not replaced its entire middle order and the New Zealand team is judged by most folks to thoroughly deserve its position in the Test cricket rankings table. Given the bluster about India and the brick-batting of New Zealand, it would be plausible to claim that India should do just fine and win comfortably (we do have a very effective pace attack, after all).

Whither this anxiety then? Will the replacement of Dravid by a relative newbie (and not necessarily at No. 3) do such damage to the Indian team, if it really is poised for greatness? I think what this argument reveals is that there is considerable worry about the Indian batting. Most of Gambhir's heroics have come at home; Yuvraj remains untested overseas as well; Laxman might be going off the boil; and you can insert your favourite worries about Sehwag (loose cannon) and Tendulkar (will age catch up soon?) here. (I only worry about Yuvraj and Gambhir but I sense insecurity about the entire order out there).

The caution that pervades the latest spell of boosterism for the Indian team is appropriate. Much needs to be done: the Holy Grail of away wins over South Africa and Australia will only come when the batting order can do well there and if the quicks can remain injury-free and turn in consistent match-winning performances over an extended period.

For what its worth, I cannot make up my mind on whether Dravid should stay or go. But the arguments made on his behalf have been very revealing of the justifiable guardedness the Indian fan has at this point in Indian cricket.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here