September 10, 2007

India's need for change cannot be ignored

India's rebuilding process will entail a few defeats along the way but it's the only way that the batch of 2011 are going to compete against the rest



One-day cricket demands agile bodies and athletic brilliance and unless India rectify their shortcomings in that area they run the risk of being left behind © Getty Images

Seven one-dayers, from an Indian perspective at least, was probably too much after all. They bounced back from a 1-3 deficit and the last-over victory at The Oval would have been a great way to end it all: a series victory in Stormont, a triumph in the Tests and a hard-fought one-day series drawn 3-3. Instead they had to play a decider at Lord's, and their weaknesses were cruelly exposed.

There were plenty of reasons to be cheerful about at the end of a long and exciting tour. Rahul Dravid, with limited resources and plenty of injury concerns, can leave England with his head held high. He led his side to a rare Test series win overseas and fought back remarkably in the one-dayers. The manner in which India bounced back from the depths of Old Trafford, where they experienced a shattering defeat, would have gladdened him immensely.

Sachin Tendulkar's English summer did not include a single international hundred but he sparkled like few others can. He batted with bloody-minded determination in the Tests and unbridled aggression in the one-dayers. Ian Bell might have bagged the Man-of-the-Series award but for sheer mastery, there was no looking beyond Tendulkar.

India found a new spin partnership, a pair that joined hands because of the disappointing World Cup and delivered in almost every match. Piyush Chawla excited - his subtle variations and attacking bent of mind promises to take him far - while Ramesh Powar appears to have carved a niche for himself. Another good series in tandem and both could be pushing for Test spots.

The negatives though simply cannot be ignored. While India's Test graph is curving upwards the one-day team is currently in no-man's land. A commendable fightback helped light up what began as a one-sided contest but the number of inadequacies shouldn't be lost on anyone. India run the risk of entering a dangerous phase, one where they're neither winning nor moving ahead.

Three of India's top four run-getters in this series - the trinity who have in all probability played their final international in England - are unlikely to play the next World Cup. Two of their fast bowlers - Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar - might have also ridden into the sunset by 2011. This leaves them in a precarious position. They're relying on their elder statesmen, yet they have needed to huff and puff to even stay afloat in this series.

There was no way India could have competed without the performances of the senior players but there must come a time, sometime over the next six months, when the selectors find a way to build a one-day side for the future. The ICC World Twenty20, where India have chosen to gamble with a relatively young side, is a good start and those who perform well could be eased into the one-day plan. There are 12 ODIs at home against Australia and Pakistan following the Twenty20 and India need to begin rotating players to give the newcomers a fair chance.

The performances of Chawla and Robin Uthappa confirm that the domestic talent pool hasn't entirely dried up and it's only when the toddlers are thrown in the deep end that one will know what they're made of. The current England team, probably the only outfit that's likely to remain intact until the next World Cup have reaped the rewards of backing youth and India must take a cue from that policy.

One-day cricket demands agile bodies and athletic brilliance and unless India rectify their shortcomings in that area they run the risk of being left behind. It's a process that needs to be engineered with tact but, without it, India could be wallowing aimlessly. With the present imperfect and future tense, it's high time one attempted to rebuild. It won't be easy and it will entail a few defeats along the way but it's the only way that the batch of 2011 are going to compete against the rest.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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