January 4, 2012

India

Is retirement contagious?

Andrew Hughes
Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in the field, Cricket Australia Chairman's XI v Indians, Canberra, 1st day, December 15, 2011
Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman contemplate saving the board money on farewell-party cake  © Getty Images
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Sunday, 1st January Hobart’s purpley heroes continue to sweep all before them. Today they overcame the Sydney Gayle and they were steered home by Owais Shah, one of my favourite batsmen. I liked him when he was the future of English batting, and I still like him now that he’s a footnote to an earlier chapter in the history of English batting.

He is fascinating because he has two distinct batting personalities, between which he alternates in phases, as though his technique is affected by high tides or the position of the stars. Perhaps in a desperate attempt to relaunch his England career, he once purchased a magic potion from a mad scientist, an elixir guaranteed to render any man invincible at the crease, but only for three overs at a time.

One moment he’s a harmless nudger and pusher, always in peril of tripping over his bootlaces whilst going for an easy single, and then, kapow! He is transformed into a biffing machine, despatching the ball with an angry snarl and a Pietersen strut, before reverting without warning to mild-mannered Owais, unable to say boo to the proverbial goose or even to the goose’s timid little gosling, Gary.

The setting for Owais’ triumph is now called the Blundstone Arena, which is overselling it slightly; the Blundstone Enclosure or the Blundstone Grassy Area would have been more accurate. But it’s a pleasant setting for a game of cricket and it was fun watching Chris Gayle attempt to bounce sixes off the tractor parked near the boundary, for which presumably he’d win a BBL Big Tractor Bashing Bonus.

Monday, 2nd January India’s batting order is like Stonehenge or Mount Rushmore. No matter how crumbly it gets, people still flock to see it in their thousands whilst these towering figures continue to weather poor form, creeping age and internet abuse, just as statues have to endure howling winds, lashing rain and the unwanted attentions of pigeons.

It can’t last for ever, but the question is, how to manage the decline? The Indian selectors need to bear in mind the Fire Drill Theory of Transition, which states that an orderly and controlled procession is better than a desperate rush for the exits.

For one thing, just think of the consequences for the Indian microphone-bothering industry if the famous four all head for the commentary booth at the same time. Talking loudly about nothing whilst watching a game of cricket is all that Ravi and Siva know these days. How will they earn a crust when they are made redundant?

No, each of these players deserves their full month’s worth of headlines, parliamentary tributes, pullout specials, and interviews with Harsha. And then there’s the other oldies. Ricky and Michael will also soon be entitled to their time in the setting sun. Maybe the ICC should set up a veterans decommissioning unit to prevent these all-time greats from stealing one another’s limelight.

Rahul, in particular, doesn’t deserve to have his retirement overshadowed. I can see the message board comments now: “Yes, he gave a lovely farewell speech, you can always rely on Rahul, but even though Sachin only said a few words (‘So long and thanks for all the runs’) he said it with such a mastery of tone and pitch that you’d have to say his goodbye press conference was the better of the two…”

The nightmare scenario for the selectors is if retirement becomes contagious. Let’s say Virender is woken at six one morning, turns over to look at the alarm clock and thinks, “Nah, I’ve had enough of this.” Later, he wanders into the dressing room in his jeans and t-shirt, and VVS sees how cool and relaxed he looks and calls it a day on the spot. Then Rahul, who was on his way out to try and save the follow-on, gets halfway to the wicket before retiring and returning to the pavilion, from where Sachin has already sent his farewell text, and the four of them drive off in a hors- drawn chariot.

And then what will Dunc do?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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Posted by Praxis on (January 6, 2012, 8:36 GMT)

@sudarshan, given the current performance of these iconic players in recent test matches, I assumed any of the Indian fans will be too depressed to be offended by what Andrew Hughes wrote.

Posted by mahesh on (January 5, 2012, 10:25 GMT)

everyone in the indian establishment is so worried about succession planning that they've lost their grip on reality. when india had a tricky run chase against australia in nagpur last year, we promoted pujara and he responded with a momentum stealing fifty in quick time at first drop. kohli has done everything asked of him in odi's. raina and rohit sharma have shown glimpses in limited overs cricket as well. the tamil nadu trio of vijay, mukund and badrinath have all had limited opportunities but are ready for test cricket should they get an opportunity. rahane has first class record to rival tendulkar, surely his chance is just around the corner.

the point i'm trying to make is that there are plenty of choices for india. we just have to give some these guys extended runs in the test team in the knowledge that they may initially fail, and will take time to find their feet in international cricket. after all, you dont get to face steyn, anderson etc in the ranji trophy.

Posted by Srinivasan on (January 5, 2012, 6:06 GMT)

This is totally an unwanted article. If the veterans are not doing a good job what the hell the newcomers are doing then. It is like an office structure where the persons who are going to retire will only guide the youngsters who have joined the duty just. Like that we cannot expect always the threesome to handle the pressure. Then why we need 11 players? Just to fill the numbers. What the so called entertainers like Shewag, Gambhir, Dhoni, Virat Kohli and others are doing? We always talk some stupid things about our overseas tours where we are not able to cope up with the bounce and swing. The solution is in the hands of the stupid BCCI and not with the players. Ponting has not scored a century for 2 years and what the media people were doing for this. Even for ponting, the pitch has to be a dead one to score a century.

Posted by Sudarshan Gupta on (January 5, 2012, 4:53 GMT)

The reason for disaster for India in Oz tour is being Dhoni too much defensive while Aussies batting... Dhoni is a better captain for ODI & T20 rather than the Tests... For Test, though we don't have much option(s) to lead the side except Sehwag & VVS for the time being till Dhoni matures more for the Tests...

Posted by mani on (January 5, 2012, 2:02 GMT)

I started watching cricket become of him playing. I going to stop watching cricket because of him not playing

Posted by Aditya on (January 5, 2012, 1:46 GMT)

"No, each of these players deserves their full month’s worth of headlines, parliamentary tributes, pullout specials, and interviews with Harsha." - That's still not as royal as being knighted. By the way, is Sir Ian Botham on twitter for real?

Posted by Jignesh on (January 5, 2012, 0:38 GMT)

Dunc would collect his belonging and go back to Zimbabwe, and never return to India because he appointed as a coach the team including these 4 very mature and experienced cricketers. Dunc knows it is very hard and nearly impossible to coach the Indian team without experienced cricketers like these 4. Remember on the 1st day of 2nd test, Umesh Yadav threw the ball from Mid-off area and the ball came about 100 feet away from the stump at the Mid-On area. How Dunc would coach and improve Umesh about it?

Posted by Mans on (January 5, 2012, 0:34 GMT)

Youngsters would have failed even badly in Australia. I watched Rahane in the two touring games, and he could barely land bat onto ball.

Fact is, all batsman brought up on Indian pitches simply cannot handle the bounce of Australian, N.Z, England, Sth Africa, WI etc pitches. These collapses have been happening for years, sure few players have shown glimpses of conquering the bounce in the past, and thus with them here, they were India's best chance of a maiden series win in Australia.

If India wants to do well overseas, they need to start preparing bouncy pitches in their local Ranji league.This can be easily accomplished with drop in pitches today. This will improve their game, they will be able to play horizontal shots for once.

Otherwise these collapses will continue over the next century. No matter who is sent, whether it's a 40 year old Sehwag or a 20 year old youngstar.

Posted by Stuartp on (January 4, 2012, 23:21 GMT)

Oh it could get a lot worse than 4-0 away to England. It could be 4-0 away to the West Indies or New Zealand or Bangladesh, or at home against any of those.

Couldn't happen? Ask the West Indies fans of the 1980's about that...

Posted by kolaveridiwhy on (January 4, 2012, 20:42 GMT)

well written cheeky piece! (i feel sorry for those of you who are boiling over a piece of satire.....)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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