India v South Africa, 1st Test, Nagpur, 3rd day February 8, 2010

India get a taste of the future

N Hunter
A weak batting line-up was brutally exposed by a devastating spell of fast bowling

India have got a glimpse of the future, and it's not a pretty sight. When, sometime over the next couple of years, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar - in no particular order - finally call it a day, all those with a stake in Indian cricket will hope that a succession plan is in place, and a better one than the shambles that is the Nagpur Test XI.

The folly of picking merely seven batsmen in a 15-man squad for this Test was brutally exposed on Monday by one of the most devastating spells of swing bowling ever seen in India. Take nothing away from Dale Steyn but at least part of his effectiveness was down to the lack of experience in the batting order.

Remove Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni from the line-up and you are left with M Vijay, S Badrinath and Wriddhiman Saha - the last two Test debutants, Vijay playing his fourth Test, Badrinath the oldest Indian debutant at 29 and Saha not a specialist Test batsman.

So when Sehwag lost the company of Gambhir and Tendulkar inside the first hour, he and India found themselves in an uncertain and unfamiliar position. There was no reassuring Dravid, no nonchalant Laxman to hold things together while he accelerated. Today he had to simultaneously settle down and calm Badrinath's nerves.

Typically, his comments after the day's play were direct. "We are very angry with the way we batted," Sehwag said. He was more critical of the fact that except for his solitary 100-plus partnership for the fourth-wicket with Badri, the other batsmen did not last long enough to tire the opposition. "It was not a pitch where you could get out so easily. If there were a couple of more partnerships their bowlers might have got tired. But you have to give the credit to the bowlers led by Steyn."

Increasingly, Sehwag is piloting most of India's surges; the Sri Lanka series was only the latest instance where his bludgeoning performances in the final two Tests allowed India to stun the Lankans and claim the top Test ranking. Even late Sunday evening, when India had four overs to negotiate, Sehwag set the tone with some positive batting and India went in at 25 for no loss.

It was the same positive intent that allowed him to take charge and help his partner to cut his teeth successfully on the Test mat. His first move was to shield Badri from Steyn. Incidentally, of all the opposition bowlers, Sehwag scored the maximum runs against Steyn in the first innings: 34 runs off 38 balls but crucially there were just 14 scoring shots. Another key part to his improvisation was to resist the short balls from the South African fast men.

"I am not a good puller or hooker of the ball so I decided to be patient for the ball in my areas which I could hit for fours and I did that," Sehwag said without any false modesty. That statement is a fantastic example of Sehwag's straightforward and simple approach to success. He understands his game and doesn't shy from talking about his weaknesses. Sadly, once Sehwag lost his concentration, chasing a widish delivery just before tea, the rest of the Indian batting failed to stand strong and fell in quick succession immediately into the final session.

Nonetheless, Sehwag was probably the best partner Badri could have hoped for in these conditions. The debutant had prepared for his innings with a spell of short balls from coach Gary Kirsten during the morning throwdowns but it required much more than that to deal with the real-time danger of Steyn & Co.

Badri survived a fierce first over from Steyn, then steadily found his own groove and notched his maiden half-century in the process, earning the vice-captain's praise. "Badri's debut was very good. He fought with me very well. I asked him to enjoy his game and score runs off all the given opportunities," Sehwag said.

Sehwag's contribution with the bat to this match is now over but he is still bullish on India's chances. He refused to accept that India stood on the brink of disaster, saying the hosts had the firepower to stage a fight back. "They need to play their own shots but they need to exercise patience."

He referred, of course, to the historic Test of the 2001 in Kolkata where India escaped to victory against Australia at the Eden Gardens. There is one crucial difference: that side had Laxman and Dravid. There is still an opportunity for their replacements in this game to script a similar miracle. Do Vijay, Badrinath and Saha have it in them? The next day or two could reveal some more interesting facts about the future.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harikrishna on February 10, 2010, 7:01 GMT

    Its not abt being number one on a day and then crumbling......the lack lustre performance of youngsters was clearly shown in the first test. Dravid and Laxman have been the wall and mortar for Indian test cricket saving many matches, however this has gone unnoticed. India needs to have a clear game plan for future make the youngsters play alongside the tendulkar, dravid and laxman and slowly prepare them for future. Also the bowling has just Zak services of Kumble clearly being missed, except for the Aus series initially harbhajan has not been effective, someone has to tell him clearly as a spinner uve gotto flight the ball to be able to get wickets. Wouldnt want to be over critical of India's performances, but future definitely does not look bright with the amazing batting line up on the verge of retirement and no replacements being available. Comeback of Irfan Pathan will be a welcome change if he is able to perform the way he used to initially.

  • Tom on February 9, 2010, 10:21 GMT

    I think its time India dropped Harbajan and looked for other options. Maybe Piyush Chawla, maybe even Murali Karthik. India should also look at bringing back Irfan Pathan to bolster the pace attack. Suresh Raina could have been included in the team rather than going with a new batsman.

  • Dave on February 9, 2010, 10:20 GMT

    Ankur Mathur, I think the point of the article was that this is a chance to see the `future` of Indian cricket live, and some of the new guys and all the bowlers have struggled. It`s all very well to shout `We are NUMBER ONE` from the rooftops, but the simple fact is that true No 1 teams (Oz ODI for as long as I can remember, and Aussie test team for the last decade) don`t need to tell everyone, everyone knows already. This Indian team is yet to prove that, and this match is strengthening the doubt in many minds. re `we will keep that slot for a long time`, well a week`s a long time in cricket I suppose.

  • KR on February 9, 2010, 8:30 GMT

    While I do agree that we should not write off the youngsters on the basis of a few outings, please look at the records of Dravid and Ganguly when they came on to the Test scene in 1996. It looked clearly as if India had stars for the future, which turned out eventually. Cricinfo stats for the first few series (about 14 Tests) also show a 50+ average for Dravid, and high 40's for Ganguly. This is an era (pre-2000's) where batting averages were lower, where 50+ was the average of a great batsman, and mid-40's for a good Test batsman. Unfortunately, the new crop haven't delivered to that extent (probably the influence of ODIs and T20 - Although Badri is supposed to be a replacement for Dravid, TV shows that he is not as "safe" a batsman - coming to the pitch of the ball, footwork, gap between bat and pad etc.) Our hope should be that a few of these batsmen turn out to be "late bloomers". Warne himself was a fairly average spinner early in his career, so we can all hope!

  • Dave on February 9, 2010, 7:49 GMT

    Having said that, hopefully some of the strident critics of Chappelli`s recent article will pull their heads in a little. India`s attack is obviously weaker than Saf, Oz or England, with seemingly little depth as well. As he said, they will not remain statistically No.1 (tests) No.2 (ODI) for much longer if this does not improve significantly and quickly.

  • Manish on February 9, 2010, 7:24 GMT

    1. Please Note that India was on its knees against Bangladesh adn only the dropped catches of Sachin ( Like that of Yousuf Pathan in Duleep Trophy) helped to a respectable score against the Minnows. Again due to inexperiance of bangladesh , they could not chase though they managed their highest 4th Innings score.

    2. Why BCCI selects team in advance ? In the Board President XI match, Abhishek nayar scored a century yet Rohit was included in team and not him. And wonder W Saha got into the team. kaif is still doing good job but somehow is ignored.

    3. Our bowling has lost sharpness and batting is good only on placid wickets.


    Manish Garg

  • Dave on February 9, 2010, 7:23 GMT

    Have to agree with many of the Indian posters here that the really worry for India is their toothless bowling attack. Any current team losing middle-order players of the calibre of Dravid and Laxman, and a fairly decent number 6 is going to struggle. Well, no other team has the batting depth of India at the moment, but I suppose it`s like Australia losing Clarke, Hussey and North for 1 test. Makes it very tough. That being said, badrinath played a very mature innings, and vijay also looked the part. The bowling, apart from Zaheer`s opening spell (one lucky wicket in there as well) was very poor though. Sharma`s loss of form is sad to see, I well remember the promise he showed as a tennager out in Oz last time around. The spinners were a little unlucky at times, but 2-300 odd between them...They will struggle against any of the other top teams, SAf, Aus, even England on a good day, if the bowling isn`t sorted out. I don`t think people should be in a panic after one poor batting test.

  • Dummy4 on February 9, 2010, 6:47 GMT

    poor article , i agree with surenl , why writing an article wih or after jsut one test failure , a player needs 10 -15 games to get set in test cricket , and why alone india every team go through such a phase remove smith and kallis and de villers from sa or strauss and kp and collingwood from england and clarke and hussey and ponting from aus , then talk sir

    it make no sense in assuming about future without waiting for it to be seen live , india have terrefic batting reserves as said by VVS LAXMAN , tendulkar , well to find another sachin is impossible but we have adequae replacements available , we are NUMBER ONE in world and we will keep that slot for a long time , it doesn't matter to us about future predicitons by asrologers

  • Aakash on February 9, 2010, 6:24 GMT

    Please get your facts right. There is a reasonable bench strength that is also injured including Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Raina among others. This is an unusual situation when so many of our players are injured and India have had to call Badri and Saha. Agreed this is an important match and the selectors choice hasnt paid off but I dont agree with the arguement that there is no one after Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar for India to turn to. You are no longer in the 90s when that might have been the case. Wake up author!!

  • Dummy4 on February 9, 2010, 6:12 GMT

    i fully agree with the comment posted by a lot of people, why have we all of a sudden jumped the gun and left out player that were have test and ODI experience? I am talking about people like Mohammad kaif, Ifran Pathan, Dinesh Karthik etc? . If my memory serves correctly, Kaif was dropped after scoring some 150 odd runs in the test against West Indies in West indies? Kathiik was the highest run getter in England tour. Apparently the Board and selectors have always believed that if some one has scored a hundred in domestic, get him to the international side and maybe he will be lucky there too. The current players being used in the test squad are too green for test squad and will not hold out against a side like South Africa

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