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The exodus of big-name players, including Chappell, nearly crippled Australian cricket in the early '80s, and he has often spoken of the need to avoid something of that nature happening to this Indian team
February 28, 2006
Two decades ago, Greg Chappell, who had retired at the end of the 1983-84 season, was appointed Australian selector, one of a panel entrusted with reviving a side that had plumbed the depths against the West Indies at home and been decimated by the rebel tour that went in search of South African rand. Allan Border had inherited the poisoned chalice that was the captaincy, but by the end of the '86-'87 season - when Australia lost the Ashes at home and made up the numbers in two one-day competitions - time appeared to be running out.
Chappell's time as selector was characterised by many painful choices, but the panel that also involved Lawrie Sawle and John Benaud is best remembered for three gambles that paid spectacular dividends. David Boon and Geoff Marsh would be bulwarks at the top of the order for nearly a decade, while a certain Stephen Rodger Waugh would play for his country well into the new millennium.
Waugh, in particular, was a courageous punt. In his maiden first-class season, he had caught Bill O'Reilly's eye, with the former legspin legend-turned-journalist enthusing about his 71 in the Sheffield Shield final victory over Queensland. He made little impression early on in his Test career, failing against the Indians and taking 27 matches for his first century. But having decided that fresh faces and a new attitude were the answer to Australian cricket's woes, the faith reposed would be more than vindicated.
Those who have heard Chappell speak of invigorating the Indian Test side in recent weeks might be forgiven a sense of déjà vu. There is little doubt that he views the likes of Suresh Raina and Piyush Chawla as having the potential to do something similar for India. Sourav Ganguly is already gone, and it remains to be see whether Sachin Tendulkar will carry on indefinitely after the 2007 World Cup. The exodus of big-name players, including Chappell, nearly crippled Australian cricket in the early '80s, and he has often spoken of the need to avoid something of that nature happening to this Indian team.
Raina may not play tomorrow, but an impressive first-class record and his composure against top-notch opposition mean that he won't stay on the outer very long. Chawla, 17 years and 67 days old tomorrow, will be India's second-youngest debutant after Tendulkar if he's given that cherished first cap. For someone who was playing Under-19 cricket, a few notches below first-class standard, a little more than a week ago, it's a dizzying step up.
Rahul Dravid, who has also bought into the youth-as-energiser mantra, could barely hide his excitement while talking about both. "In Suresh Raina and Piyush Chawla, we've got two young players that people will hear a lot more of in the years to come," he said at the pre-match press conference. "I'm very excited about some of the young kids coming through. During the course of this series, we hope to give them opportunities and develop them as cricketers."
Chawla, who has 42 first-class wickets from nine games, is clearly pencilled in as the long-term replacement for Kumble, but there is just as much anticipation over the new faces in the pace bowling line-up. The likes of Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Ashish Nehra have blown hot and cold for far too long, and it's clear that S Sreesanth and Rudra Pratap Singh will be given a few opportunities to prove their ability. Should they slip up, Vikram Raj Vir Singh and Munaf Patel, who wrecked England with 10 for 91 in a tour game, remain on standby.
Not all changes are necessarily for the better though. During that nightmare run in '86-'87, Chappell, Border's mentor at Queensland, was one of those believed to be behind the move to promote Dirk Wellham to the vice-captaincy, with a view to him taking over at some stage. But Wellham, whose prevarication over the rebel tour had angered both players and officials, wasn't a popular choice, and the move was shot down at a board meeting in Perth. A year later, the team led by Border and coached by Bobby Simpson won the World Cup in the subcontinent. Subsequently, they would trounce England away to regain the Ashes, and Border would lead the side until 1993-94, retiring safe in the knowledge that he had taken a proud cricket nation from the nadir to very near the pinnacle.
Some would argue that with India still No.3 on the ICC Test table - they will move up to bridesmaid position if they beat England - there's no need for drastic reshaping of the side. But as India's one-day revival has shown, there's a lot to be said for fresh legs, minds that aren't jaded and a burning desire to achieve. While the Test machine's not broken or in need of complete overhaul, it could still do with a tune-up here and there. The next few days will offer a glimpse of the future, and according to Dravid and Chappell, it promises to be a golden one.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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