'Dhoni can be the man to take India forward'
The last time India lost a home series was back in 2004, when they were beaten by Australia. You were part of the team then but that team was considered one of India's best ever. Would you call this series defeat against England one of the lowest points in Indian cricket over the last couple of decades?
Any time you lose a Test series at home, because India haven't lost a lot at home, you could consider it a low point. You've got to accept a little bit that this team is in transition as well, you have to give a bit of leeway for that. I think India will be disappointed, they would have expected to beat England at home. At the start of the series, and especially after Ahmedabad, you got the feeling that India felt they could have won the series. It hasn't panned out that way. From that point of view, I guess you can only go up from here. India have lost a couple of series away from home, against England and Australia badly. There was always a feeling that, you know, India might not necessarily have been playing well abroad but India will always do well in India, and all of us I guess believed that as well. That has shown to be slightly not so true, and it's time to introspect.
And where, specifically, was the series lost? If you had to pinpoint a couple of areas, what would they be?
India were outperformed in all three departments. It sounds like a cliché and you say it all the time, but I think England batted better than India. Among the top five run-getters, there is only Cheteshwar Pujara. In the bowling department as well, both the spinners and James Anderson were sensational. On the field, England were quite simply superb. It's just the ground fielding, the catching, just the overall intensity, just the energy on the field, in all these departments I think India came second best. The scoreline of 2-1 is I think a good indication of the performances of both these teams in the series.
India have lost 10 out of 12 Tests against England and Australia now. You spoke of introspection. They play a couple of months from now against Australia at home. What can they do in the interim to improve?
There is one-day cricket and you've got to play that and do well. I know it's pretty early to say this, but England were a very good side in these conditions because they had two quality spinners. Australia are always going to be competitive, they are a tough side, they're always going to come hard at you but I don't know if they have that quality of spin. Nathan Lyon can be a good bowler, but other than that I am not so sure. In the batting department as well, they've got a lot of young batsmen who've never been to India before. So I'm not that concerned about the Australia series from the point of view that I think [India] will have a good opportunity there again. So it's more really about the foreign tours that come after that you start thinking about.
If you're looking at those foreign tours, India are touring South Africa in late 2013. If you're looking for a team to be stable, consistently over a period of time, maybe two or three years, where would you start making the changes?
Well, I think you've got to look for the kind of players you think can do well abroad and think can be around for a consistent length of time. There will be a mix of [youth] and experience, you can't have everyone with a five-year plan in mind, or a three-year plan in mind. There's got to be a mix of guys who need to do the job for you now, and a sort of blend of guys who you would invest in for the next three to five years, and that would be in all departments, batting, bowling.
There's been talk of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. They've had some 17 innings now where they've averaged about 32 [as a pair]. Is there a case for a change in the opening combination? Maybe one of them can drop down the order. Ajinkya Rahane has been waiting in the wings for quite some time now.
I think there's going to be a bit of pressure on both of them. They've been a fantastic pair for India and have done a really good job for India. They can still play, we saw glimpses of that in the series, a couple of forties, a hundred from Sehwag in the first game, some partnerships. But it's becoming more and more clear, obviously, like I said, with a slightly more long-term view in mind - I'm not worried about Australia, but more in terms of looking at South Africa, New Zealand and England to follow - that maybe there could be a case at some stage of looking to split the two and maybe moving one of them down to the middle order, keeping this long-term view in mind. So that could be a possibility.
Sachin Tendulkar has been having a lean patch for a while. He got a good 76 in the first innings in Kolkata but it is not an absolute certainty that he'll be around when India play South Africa in 2013. Is it time that India started looking beyond him?
He's been a huge servant of the game and been fantastic for Indian cricket. He is a great player and this period has been difficult for him. He is a proud man and this would have hurt him. The thing is, people need to have a conversation with him and see what's his state of mind, what he's thinking and what his plans are. After that conversation, he himself will have to think about a few things because I'm not sure there are many people who can take the decisions regarding Tendulkar. At some stage, Sachin will have to make decisions on his own, if he truly believes that, "Yes, I can be around when India makes these foreign trips, if I can be around in South Africa, New Zealand, England, playing at my best," then I think it makes sense for him to back himself and fight it out. If he, at any stage, doubts himself and believes that he can't then he's got to start thinking about his career, and what's the future of Indian cricket as well. So it's really going to be up to him.
Look, it's a pretty emotional time, should take the emotion out of it, sit back, there's time before the next Australia series, sit back calmly and reflect. And irrespective of whatever decision he takes, in the end we have to respect it.
Zaheer Khan was left out of this Test match, India got Parvinder Awana in the squad but he didn't get the game. Going forward, do India need to look at grooming a new crop of seamers for the series against Australia and after that?
We are already doing that in some ways. Other than Zaheer, all of them are pretty young and there is a process of grooming going on. If Zaheer can get himself fully fit and bowling well again, he can have a role to play in a format of the game. I cannot now see him playing all the three formats of the game, IPLs and every single game. That will be unrealistic. I still think he can have a role to play, and again that's a discussion the selectors need to have and he needs to introspect as well as to what is his best format in which he believes he can give a top performance for India. I would love it to be Test cricket, but I'm not sure whether his body allows him to play Test cricket, that's a decision he needs to make. But it's clear to me that he needs to choose and sacrifice some of the formats of the game.
There was a lot of talk about Dhoni in the build-up to this Test match and even on the morning of the fourth day, the tactic clearly was questionable when India batted out some 13 overs just to score 29 runs. Do you think he is still the right man to take India forward from here on?
That's the thing about captaincy, you can look at a lot of tactics and question them, and we all did on that particular day. You get some right and you get some wrong as a captain. You can't pick and choose and take out slices and say, "look, this was wrong and this was right," in captaincy because as a captain, you will make mistakes. In the course of a Test match, you'll get a few thing right, a few things wrong.
At the moment I don't really see a viable alternative. I really think Dhoni can be the man to take India forward if he has the energy, passion and the enjoyment to do it. That's again the key. It's really going to come down to a lot of these players actually sitting back themselves, once the emotion has gone back, and calmly reassessing where they're at, and their roads to the future and the joy and enthusiasm they have to take Indian cricket forward. If Dhoni has it, I believe he is the right man to do it but that's really up to him to decide.
Cheteshwar Pujara got a double in Ahmedabad, Virat Kohli got a century here and Ravindra Jadeja was exceptional in the field. Those are some of the positives …
Pujara, definitely for me, is a very good positive going forward. He's done really well, he's shown good temperament. Virat Kohli, again, just reinforced our belief that he is going to be around for a long time and he is someone that Indian cricket can build a future around at some stage. Jadeja, like you said, did show glimpses with the ball and on the field that he can add some value at this level. With the bat, is, for me, the key element with Jadeja. We didn't get a chance to see much of it here. But, going forward, if Jadeja wants to get selected and play regularly for India, he's going to offer more at No.6. Or he's going to offer more than the frontline spinners as a bowler.
I think you can get away with it in one-day and T20 a little bit, you can be bits and pieces. In Test cricket, at some point of time, bits and pieces cricketers don't work. So Jadeja has got to go beyond that. He's got runs this domestic season so I'll be interested to see actually whether that actually means runs at Test level.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo