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Novelist, essayist and historian based in New Delhi

The last tour

Why the Australia series marks the end of India's great middle order, and even, possibly, of the primacy of Test cricket

Mukul Kesavan

September 25, 2008

Comments: 64 | Text size: A | A

Last chapters: it's nearly curtains for India's legendary middle order, and much else besides © AFP

Australia's tour of India that begins with the first Test in Bangalore on the ninth of October brings with it a sense of an ending. It feels like a moment of transition between one cricketing era and the next.

This sense of an old order dissolving is reinforced by the dramatis personae. After he lost the Test series in Sri Lanka, Anil Kumble as captain seems more than ever part of an endangered old guard. Even when he was made captain in the wake of Rahul Dravid's resignation, the appointment was seen as an interim one. The Australian tour was considered too difficult a tour on which to blood a young captain like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who already had the responsibility of captaining the one-day side. Kumble did a heroic job of leading the Test team through a controversial tour, but Dhoni's outstanding record as a captain in limited-overs cricket, and Kumble's poor form in the lost Test series in Sri Lanka, have heightened expectations that Dhoni will captain India in every form of the game sooner rather than later.

The dropping of Sourav Ganguly from consideration underlines the imminent change in personnel. Dravid will be dropped if he does as poorly as he did against Sri Lanka; he is now riding his resumé. VVS Laxman will, as always, be on trial, and while Sachin Tendulkar can still write his own retirement date, not even the most besotted loyalist will deny that the great batting phalanx that sustained Indian cricket for a dozen years is near the end of its collective existence.

Transitions like this happen in the life of every cricket team, so you could ask what's special about this one. After all, the Australians have lost Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn, and they're now rebuilding just as India will once the stalwarts leave.

But this time is different. First of all there are no obvious replacements for Kumble and the batsmen who are about to fade away. It's possible that Rohit Sharma or S Badrinath or Suresh Raina will come into their own once the giants depart but I doubt it. One generation of batsmen has already flattered to deceive: Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif promised much and they've played enough now for us to know that they'll never be much better than middling Test batsmen. And none of the other names I've mentioned have forced their way into contention in the way that Ganguly and Dravid did in 1996. The moment they made their joint debuts there was no doubt in anyone's mind that they were in the team to stay. With the new lot, all you hear is special pleading on account of their youth, which doesn't seem a good or pressing reason for their representing the country.

I'd be nearly as depressed on the spinning front were it not for Piyush Chawla. It's hard to know how he'll turn out in the long run, but there's a keenness and fearlessness about him in the field that leads middle-aged men to hope for greatness. Murali Kartik must be the Yuvraj Singh of Indian slow bowling; Bishan Singh Bedi's very keen on him, but though we must defer to the great man it needs to be said that the tradition of left-arm spin Kartik represents leads back to Bapu Nadkarni not Bedi himself.

You can't help feeling that at the very moment that Twenty20 cricket, in the shape of the second IPL season, threatens to take centre-stage in world cricket because of its showbiz potential, its silly money and its compressed excitement, the Indian Test team is about to lose the star quality that sustained it in recent times. Ganguly's gone; now think of the Test team without Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble. You're left with one quality batsman, Virender Sehwag; one promising one who's yet to make his Test debut, Rohit Sharma; one spinner who occasionally runs through a side, Harbhajan Singh; and a bunch of interesting but injury-prone seamers. Not the best ingredients with which to sustain interest in Test cricket at a time when the long game is under siege.

If we're at the end of Australia's modern heyday, we might well be looking at the end not of Test cricket but of its reign as the hegemonic form of the game

In contrast the limited-overs teams are full of exciting young players made for that format: Dhoni, Yuvraj, Raina, Robin Uthappa, Praveen Kumar, Rohit, the brothers Pathan - the list seems endless. If I were a young boy excited about cricket today, why would I follow the fortunes of a middling Test team packed with players of moderate ability once our veterans have retired, taking their glorious careers with them?

Worse still, the Australians, who single-handedly kept interest in Test cricket alive by geeing up the Test game, upping the run-rate, forcing results (generally wins for themselves), and nearly making the draw extinct, are themselves entering a period of ordinariness and decline. It's typical of the times that the most celebrated new entrant into the Australian Test squad is Shane Watson, the quintessential Twenty20 player, who made such a huge impression on the first season of the IPL. And I don't think Jason Krejza and Bryce McGain are going to take the Test world by storm simply because Australia have been scraping the barrel in search of spinners to replace Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill. It costs me to say it but this golden age of Australian cricket, from Mark Taylor to Ricky Ponting via Steve Waugh, through which they produced a whole regiment of modern greats, gave Test cricket a longer lease of the cricketing limelight than it might have had in the normal course of cricket history. If we're at the end of Australia's modern heyday, we might well be looking at the end, not of Test cricket, but of its reign as the hegemonic form of the game.

To anyone who followed cricket before one-day internationals became fixtures on the calendar, this Australian visit has a lovely old-fashioned air to it. It's a throwback to the old days when a tour meant a series of Test matches rather than a mix of Tests and one-day matches. The Australians are here to play Test matches alone: so for India, success or failure will hinge wholly on Test match performances. Unlike on our tour of Australia we won't be able to lose the Test series and console ourselves by winning a bunch of ODIs. After the tour ends on the 10th of November, India will return to playing truncated Test series made up of two or three matches, fitted in between limited-overs games. It's a sign of the times.

I hope I'm wrong about Test matches and their future, but I suspect I'm not. So I plan to squeeze this month of end-to-end Test cricket for all the juice the long game has to offer. I shall learn to love Ponting, cheer for Brett Lee, and applaud the enemy's centuries. They may be Aussies, but there's something about extinction that helps you love a game for its own sake.

Mukul Kesavan is a novelist, essayist and historian based in New Delhi. This article was first published in the Kolkata Telegraph

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Posted by Sorcerer on (October 1, 2008, 5:43 GMT)

Players like Rohit and Raina deserve an extended run in the team right now, but it is rather unfortunate that some in the old guard who are clearly crocks past their prime keep latching on to their positions and resting on their laurels, so much for the commercial enchantment of cricket nowadays. Not many historically have had the national pride and interest at heart, and have selfishly striven to elongate their fading careers at the expense of crucial years lost for the identified national superstars of the future.

Posted by Aditya_mookerjee on (October 1, 2008, 1:14 GMT)

In my opinion, age should not be a criterion, because I have watched Sanath Jayasurya, play the best T20 innings in an international T20 fixture. Jayasurya, should be playing international cricket. To be frank, when I watched Saurav Ganguly, and Rahul Dravid, for the first time, I did not know, that they would become such great players. Rahul Dravid, was just an anxious youngster, and that is mainly how I remember him. Anil Kumble, showed a lot of promise, at the beginning of his career, but now his reputation speaks for itself. India, may have the better bowling attack, compared to Australia, in Indian bowling conditions. I am sure, that Ishant Sharma, will play, so will perhaps, Zaheer Khan, or R P Singh, along with Anil Kumble, and Harbhajan Singh. There is talk of a fifth bowler.

Posted by Nampally on (September 30, 2008, 16:25 GMT)

It is not a doom & gloom time Mukul. We have excellent younger generation to replacethe aging cricketers. Indian batting will be strong with Gambhir and Sehwag representing one of the best opening pair in the world today. Raina, Kaif and Rohit Sharma are young and very promising middle order batsmen & excellent fielders too. Dhoni has done extremely well so far as a batsmen WK and easily ranks amongst the best in the world. Harbhajan, Ishant,Khan, Ojha,Kartik & Chawla provide good bowling support. We still need to work on Yuvraj, V.Kohli, Pathan brothers & Sreesanth to provide the back up. This is an excellent nucleaus of future Indian test Team which very few countries can match including Australia. I think these cricketers will fill the voids left by the Fab 4 + Kumble quite capably. Even in the current series with the Ausies, I predict a close contest which India should win with Gambhir, Sehwag, Raina, Kaif and Harbhajan showing their worth. Please think positively - Lets GO India!

Posted by Chalboy on (September 29, 2008, 22:23 GMT)

Cheer up fellas. Sure Sachin and co have been fantastic batsmen and great to watch, but it's not like they are the only talented cricketers in India. And besides, even with their enormous talent, India has still never been a consistently great test team (something which makes Tests all the more interesting). When was the last time they won a test series in New Zealand? So much more left for the Indian team to achieve! While the number of people actually going to test matches may be low, the number of people following test matches surreptitiously on Cricinfo or The Guardians's OBO (or both at the same time) while they should be working is not inconsiderable. I have noticed that every time India is playing a cricket match (test or otherwise), the internet runs slower. A sign that all forms of the game still hold great interest worldwide (and from a personal point of view, a lot more interest than a contrived money making league that still produces many dull results).

Posted by Sorcerer on (September 29, 2008, 1:23 GMT)

Mina - for every success you are listing, there are a number of failures attached too in the last four years for SRT. Take for example, the recent total shambles in SL, his performnces in the last three Series V Pak especially in the Karachi and the Bangalore defeats etc.

Posted by Mina_Anand on (September 28, 2008, 13:51 GMT)

This is my last-Sorcerer ! Sachin's test performances in the last four years speaks for itself - but I'll put in my bit as well ! Though dogged with injuries,during this period, this Great has always come back strongly and played series-defining roles in Tests, and one-dayers. Think back to the India-England Test Series in 2007, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy (2007-8), where he was the leading run scorer with 493 runs in four tests; and greatly instrumental in India winning the CB Series Down Under. Not to mention being dismissed seven times in 2007, when in the nineties. Forget the stats, this little master brings a unique 'Sachin' dimension to our team. Maybe, some Indians today, want to see him go. But so does the opposition! Any Team, playing against India, will be mighty pleased to see the last of him ! What better compliment can one get? I rest my case !!

Posted by Sorcerer on (September 28, 2008, 3:18 GMT)

Well, having a single lean Test Series coupled with a minor run of low scores in a commercial-based 20/20 extravaganza does not lend Ponting liable to strident calls for retirement or claims of batting decline. Contrasting that of course to the mediocrity of Tendulkar's Test performances in the last four years which is an entirely different perspective altogether regardless of whether he is an Indian player and thus would be more under scrutiny.

Posted by Mina_Anand on (September 27, 2008, 10:09 GMT)

This refers to Sorcerer and my 'incorrect Ponting average'....I should have clarified that I was referring to Ponting's woeful form during the 2007-8 India-Australia Test series Down Under, and his poor showing in the IPL as well. Going by current form, and a one-off poor test series, Ponting would have been under immense pressure, and public scrutiny - if he was an Indian !

Posted by Sorcerer on (September 27, 2008, 0:12 GMT)

Indeed Mukul has picked up the trends accurately which are stark anyway when talking about the fading batting greats of Indian game. Also, Mina has incorrectly talked about the "dipping" average of Ponting - something which has to be put right as that is a wrong observation. In the last four years - 2005 - 2008, Ponting's batting averages have been mighty consistent and high......61,61,55 and 62! Ponting has reached the pinnacle of his batting might. Contrasting that to those of Tendulkar who has comparatives of 44,24,55,23. And then Dravid has 46,32,42 and 38. Quite a marked difference.

Posted by vaidyar on (September 26, 2008, 23:30 GMT)

The problem with great players when they retire is people start looking for someone to fill their boots and it does not happen overnight. It takes some time and loads of patience before people settle in. Sometimes it costs an entire generation of players to wipe out memories of the great ones so that someone could start afresh and redefine the benchmarks. After the spin quartet India took close to a decade to come up with the next great spinner in Anil Kumble. Australia is almost frantic trying to see a Shane Warne and McGrath in their domestic bowlers! The transition period will be tough for everyone: fans, the players who are asked to replace the great ones, the selectors, the team and the captains...What it needs is loads and loads of patience...after all great players don't happen overnight!

Posted by kingofspain on (September 26, 2008, 23:28 GMT)

Total nonsense. Test cricket is real cricket. Even Anil Kumble has said as much. 20/20 doesn't appeal to genuine supporters, it appeals to the casual fan, who will lose interest and move onto something else to entertain them. This process will only accelerate as the powers that be overkill with endless, forgettable 20/20 competitions.

Attendance is down 10% from 2006 at 20/20 matches in England as the novelty has worn off and the ECB has, predictably, expanded the competition. It's no wonder. Anyone who has watched a handful of 20/20 games can see how contrived, boring and predictable they are. It's going to take more than this to kill test cricket.

Posted by Mastmale on (September 26, 2008, 18:47 GMT)

The overall sentiment of a sense of loss that comes about with the end of a generation is but natural.

But I would not be as pessimestic about the future, both of Test cricket and of Indian cricket. For one, Test cricket has a totally different following than 20-20 cricket. 20-20 is like beer (fast and fizzy) and will win the popularity stakes. But Test Cricket is like wine, the real thing, and will endure. It was, and remains for the discerning few and not for the masses.

As for India's next generation batsmen, no one is born great. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. It can be any one from Yuvraj, Badri, Raina or Sharma. And pls don't forget Gambhir, he is a class act.

A word of caution: Please don't label Rohit Sharma as the next big thing after Tendulkar. Yes, he has a calm temparament and is from Mumbai, but thats where the similarity ends. His performances have been average at best. The worst thing we can do is to load him with the pressure of expectations. Just let him be

Posted by vinchester on (September 26, 2008, 9:56 GMT)

I dont know why Mukul is so pessimistic as to say this is the end of test cricket in India. Cricketers come and go, but the show goes on forever. Sure there will be a dip when the present five depart but other stars will rise to take their place, only it wont be immediate. I blame the BCCI for it for not building an adequate bench strength. T 20 will not vean away the youthalso, ; it might be attractive but everybody ( players, spectators) knows that there is nothing like test cricket to watch & represent,; Test cricket at some stage of the game, is equally as exciting as T 20 if not more.

Posted by 68704 on (September 26, 2008, 6:43 GMT)

Nice piece.Yes however difficult it is to accept it, Australia have given a greater tenure to test cricket with their brand of the game. This time around several of the Aussie greats will not be around -definitely making for less interesting viewing -no Gilchrist, no Martyn, no Warne, no McGrath and a Ponting who has never really made it big in India.But we too have our share of woes, to put it mildly.No one is talking about Sachin"s fitness and Kumble might well be playing his last series. But the thing about cricket and maybe it is truer for Australia is that it will always throw up unlikely heroes who stay on to make their mark on the game.Despite the absence of stars, I feel that if India does show up in the manner in which it can, we will have a closely fought series.In fact one of the up sides of the end of the Australian dominance could well be the fact that a few teams are closely matched and it will be talented and spirited individual performances that could well turn the tide

Posted by Farce-Follower on (September 26, 2008, 6:04 GMT)

Mukul - Great article. I agree with you a 100%. How much ever we may despair about the demise of test cricket in India (which is inevitable), I foresee a greater interest in test cricket being played between the likes of England, SL, Australia and SA. Only test cricket provided the platform to witness the genius of Chanderpaul, Smith and Mendis this year.

'Yuvraj and Kaif have always had talent'(whatever that cliche may mean), but that is akin to a talented bollywood hero producing serial flops. The less said about Rohit Sharma etc the better (has he played atleast two domestic seasons with consistency).

The only sad part - India has misused its position of power, by needlessly killing Test Cricket and promoting a frenzy of ODIs. And the press calls the mandarins in BCCI visionaries !

Posted by Test_Match_Fan on (September 26, 2008, 4:38 GMT)

Anybody who argues in favor of spectacles such as limited over cricket over Test Cricket simply does not understand cricket. This is the biggest tragedy. Nothing wrong, but 50 overs and 20 over matches are just entertainment and not cricket. Not to mention the excessive danger of match fixing in limited over games is much larger than test matches. Don't confuse the two. Australian test teams will continue to keep the standards high, and are the only team really worth watching. Rest of the world is a joke, sorry, but India included. Until meritocracy defines Indian team and players like Tendulkar and Ganguly are left out, sorry but Indian test cricket will continue to be a joke. India should encourage Test cricket, but with all the money, politics, the recipe for a total failure is not going to be surprising. Who knows if limited over games are being encouraged because scope of match fixing is better in India than the longer version of the game. Anything is possible in India!

Posted by Mina_Anand on (September 26, 2008, 4:09 GMT)

An evocatively written article that tugs at this test lover's heartstrings. But what I fail to understand is Indian Cricket's obsession with 'age'. Every single cricket observer harps on the'Indian'shelf factor,without stopping to think that the Australian Greats who retire-are all over 36,and some are still going strong(though their averages are fast dipping.Look at Ponting-he is around 35(in years!)and his 'average'is doing its best to dip down to that 35 figure.But no one in his right mind would question Ponting's place in the side.And Symond's loss is 36-year-old's Mc'Gain's'! Yes,McGrath,Warne,Gilchrist all retired at the top of their careers,but again,how 'old' were they when they quit-well past the great'Indian' retiring age.These Aussies too,battled form and fitness a few years prior to leaving the game.Before the 2007 World Cup,a struggling Gilchrist,famously said:"Would have dropped myself long back if I was a Selector.So let's treat ourselves more to our Magical Test Five.

Posted by guptavipulv on (September 26, 2008, 3:19 GMT)

I can understand where you are coming from Mr Kesavan and I sincerely hope that you are proved wrong for both your sake as well as mine. Like you even I feel that there is no greater spectacle in sport other than Test cricket provided that all the ingredients are there like good sporting pitches , two good teams , two aggressive captains etc. the best example being the Ashes series of 2005. ODI's or even T-20 would never be able to match that. It would be a sad day indeed for me if this series ends in ignominy for Messrs Kumble and Dravid for they stand for everything that is great about Test cricket. Life is nothing without hope so let's hope for the best.

Posted by Sorcerer on (September 26, 2008, 0:15 GMT)

Quite a serene reading made by the wonderful article capturing beautifully the state of modern-day Test cricket as largely a sideshow for the fireworks generated by the shorter versions of the game. It's true that Indian batting mainstay is to fade away soon, but at the same time I do not think there is a shortage of Tendulkar fans who accept and acknowledge the fact that the end-game is quite near as the batsman has been averaging below even 40 in the last 4 years if you take away the matches played against Bangladesh - a compelling piece of stats which shows the decline of his powers.

Posted by AmitNair on (September 25, 2008, 23:02 GMT)

Hi Mukul, nice article. I would second your opinion that finding greats like Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly and Kumble all at one time...along with the likes of something dreams are made's like the Federer-Nadal is so rare to have sportsmen of such high quality together. The young batsmen of today have all the talent, but somehow lack the mentality to become a successful test batsman, maybe because it does not mean to them the same what it meant to India's fab 5! Wish our legends give us something to remember this tour! -Amit

Posted by venkattraman on (September 25, 2008, 22:56 GMT)

I agree with most of the things that have been written. Mukul has rightly pointed out that cricket is losing quality Test players and the reserve is empty as well. Now that Ganguly is gone, Dravid is under serious pressure. But you never know, the famous four could continue to play for a couple of years together(if Ganguly's replacement fails).

Posted by shahzaibq on (September 25, 2008, 22:44 GMT)

The loss of the fab four for India will be huge... And you are right about the next crop of batsmen not being able to fill their shoes. But you cannot expect someone to step up immediately, like Dravid and Ganguly did. I also think that you failed to mention Gambhir, who I think, with a little time, will be a world-class batsman.

Posted by yeah_right on (September 25, 2008, 20:58 GMT)

Excitement is the word that comes to my mind when I read the comments here. I don't understand why people are so excited about the Rohits, Rainas, Yuvrajs etc. Gambhir was consistent in LOIs n got a test call. Rohit looked good so he was selected for the tests in SL. But once he flopped in the LOIs he was dropped. So I don't think the talents are dumped. The point is the 20/20 players are not living to their potential or still learning to be consistent and its as simple as that. Remember Ganguly was dropped for Yuvraj in 2005, but Yuvraj flopped. How can one be so dumb to compare Yuvi with Hayden? Remember Yuvi exp is almost 10 yrs and he says he is still learning to become a test player. However I do agree that the non 200/20 players like Chopra,Kaif,Jaffer get less chance to impress the selectors.Once again Jaffer: What a flop he was in Australia making the same mistakes(being an experienced first-class player)???

Posted by Dhanno on (September 25, 2008, 20:12 GMT)

So sad but so true. This will be the end of test cricket, the exciting one atleast. Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and not to forget Tendulkar gave us 10 years of memorable test cricket (thanks to opponents like Australia). I dont see Raina, Kaif, Yuvi any of these grinding out for 2 days and saving or winning test.. The scores would be more like 300 all out with these guys all making quick 50-60 runs.. The standards would no doubt decline, classical test match competition will be extinct sooner than later.. Enjoy, if not the last, maybe last coupla series.

Posted by ian_ghose on (September 25, 2008, 18:56 GMT)

Yeah, the old timers should have been shown the door long time back. Its amazing how some people still think that Tendulkar should be allowed to decide his retirement date. He's as useless as Ganguly is, if not more. And dear Mr Kesavan, the future of test cricket doesnt really depend on India's performance, contrary to what the chip on your shoulder says. Countries like South Africa are playing some brilliant Test match Cricket, along with Sri lanka, England, and offcourse Australia. So its a bit too early to write the obituaries for Test Match Cricket. But for Indian cricket, its high time!

Posted by Captain-Swing on (September 25, 2008, 17:13 GMT)

It's a long time since I was in India and, at that time, hockey was the national game. The fate of hockey gives cause for the dismay registered by Mr Kesavan. Indians need star players and good results or they drift away. T20 only got its huge Indian audience because the national ODI side performed so badly in the World Cup, and then went on to win the T20 cup. The hope is that India will perform well enough at Test cricket to keep the crowds coming. A few years of poor performances will kill it, although it will still exist among other nations. Anyway, rather than mopping and mowing about something that may not happen, we need to try to help the game in Pakistan and W. Indies. They need more tours and, if Pakistan is dangerous, at a neutral venue.

Posted by The_other_side on (September 25, 2008, 16:27 GMT)

I think VVS should be made a permanent number 3 at this stage, as he is the youngest of the fab four. If Ganguly is left out a new batsman should be tried at number 6. Dravid should be demoted as this is a chance to see if VVS can convert those workman like 50s to bigger scores.

It is unfair to put Laxman lower down just because no one else wants to be there, true Ganguly has not delivered in the last 10 tests after his double against Pakistan and should selectors think it necessary order needs changed with new man if required coming in at 5 or 6. Tendulkar will stay at 4. Dravid if he does not perform may be staring down the barrel. Rohit Sharma would be the best choice in my opinion. He has the technique, temperament and guile to bat lower down and to be shifted up. Md Kaif too is a very good bet.

Posted by OnePercentGenius on (September 25, 2008, 15:57 GMT)

These steps will need a proactive ICC. Hopefully that will happen, because what you say might just happen. But I am very hopeful. I mean I am hoping a lot.

But there's some good cricket to look forward to. Forget the champions league. Look ahead to the Ashes. They are looming large... As I said, way too premature to write obituaries for real cricket.

Posted by sdpuri on (September 25, 2008, 14:29 GMT)

Nice column, Mukul. Much as I have enjoyed watching the Fab 5 and the Aussies over the last 10 years, it is time to move on. Cricket is a funny game, you never know who might put his hand up. There were tears shed when McEnroe-Borg-Connors retired but since then we have seen Becker-Edberg, Agassi-Sampras and now Federer-Nadal.Enjoy the series!

Posted by 158notout on (September 25, 2008, 13:06 GMT)

The only surprising aspect of this whole saga is that no-one seemed to see it coming. During the England tour last year tickets were being sold on the pretext of it being that last time these five would tour England, and still nobod did anything. Dravids form over the last couple of years has been lamentable, excrutiating even. Ganguly has also found himself on a sticky wicket. If I were the selectors I would have dropped Ganguly before now, maybe even before the Australia tour and Dravid probably before SL. The selectors are running out of time, it would be much easier to change the personnel gradually rather than half of the team all at once. My opinion would be to keep Laxman and Tendulkar for as long as they want to play, but to be less kind to Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble. People here talk of how the bowling stocks are healthier but I do not agree, Zaheer is the only consistant pace, Ishant the upcoming star but no third pacer stands out..

Posted by Krishna2007 on (September 25, 2008, 12:51 GMT)

Having watched tests from 1961 onwards, and having followed it from two years earlier, on the radio, must say that while Singh may be King, Tests are the Real Thing. The skills that are exhibited in tests are never ever possible in pyjama cricket. Sometimes even draws are as exciting as wins. Tests have the kind of romance and tradition that exemplifies Cricket.

However, while this article has more than a grain of truth in it, this may yet not be the end of tests. This season may well be the last hurrah for at least three of the greats of the Indian middle order. It's a real pity but something that India has to prepare for. One way is to alternate between Rohit Sharma, Badrinath and Kaif in the tests against the Aussies and England. Next year we should take someone like Pujara or Raina into the team. There are enough good middle order players for us to despair about the future of tests and of Indian Cricket.

Posted by Radomir on (September 25, 2008, 12:44 GMT)

A great article, along with India losing many great players with the young one's being quite mediocre, so to do the other countries with exceptions to Sri Lanka (Mendis). I must say I will be looking forward to Ishant Sharma who has fallen out of the spotight, and at the time of the tour to Australia was praised as India's greatest young fast bowler 'ever'. Hopefully he can continue to challenge the aussie batsmen. I agree with your point of the decline in test cricket and the end of the players like Dravid and other great technical batsmen, already we are seeing a slow increase in the young players being more in the 'twenty20' style batsmen who are all capable of hitting sixes more frequently then before, this is not a good thing because I expect and as seen with Yuvraj etc. they will not have the concentration and consistency to be a great test player.

Posted by StJohn on (September 25, 2008, 11:36 GMT)

There was a very interesting article a few weeks back on Cricinfo about how to revive Test cricket & give it a new lease of life, particularly in the sub-continent. Two of the main suggestions, if I recall, were to have day-night Tests in the sub-continent (because more people might come to watch after work & the weather will be cooler: who in their right mind would sit through a Test match in 40 degree heat in the middle of the day in India?!) & to have coloured clothing, to jazz things up a bit. Seems perfectly sensible to me. You only have to look at the sparse crowds who watched the NZ-England Tests in NZ last winter as evidence: virtually nobody turned up apart from England's travelling Barmy Army! Test cricket needs to reinvent itself a little for the modern world; changes to the style of Test cricket and not the substance may pull bigger crowds. Cricket administrators need to be more alive to such suggestions & take positive steps to enhance Test cricket before it's too late.

Posted by Hammond on (September 25, 2008, 10:34 GMT)

I think that in the traditional test playing nations of England, Australia & South Africa Test cricket will still be pre-eminent for the forseeable future..

Maybe what we will see is the death of test cricket in the sub-continent and the return of the bad (or good depending on your point of view) days of the Imperial Cricket Conference (the original ICC) where all the old dominions of Empire played against each other excluding all the nations that joined later.

I'm a young man that plays cricket in Australia and we simply cannot envisage one day or 20/20 cricket ever supplanting the real game over here. In England too test cricket is always sold out and if 2005 is anything of an indication then it will continue to be pre-eminent.

So maybe the sub-continent can keep all the "fast food" varieties of cricket and the traditional test playing nations can keep the real game alive until everyone returns to their senses.

Posted by SumitSahai on (September 25, 2008, 10:25 GMT)

I remember the despondancy in Indian cricket at the retirement of Sunil Gavaskar, both in the press and in the hearts of the fans. The idea that within a couple of years we'd have found another 'little master' was beyond belief. And yet, we did.

The only thing different this time is the magnitude of change. To replace one genius is possible, to replace 5 is to believe in miracles.

Cliche it may be but ultimately the game is bigger than the players, and for every star that retires, there is another growing in stature somewhere else. There is no shortage of fans who will pay to watch KP take on A.Mendis in a Test match.

The cycle of life is just as important for cricket's rejuvenation as it is for the Amazon rainforest, so let us temper our sadness at the falling of giants with the optimism for future.

Until the future arrives, there are always the highlights of the great feats of this Indian team from the last decade or so. Adelaide, Calcutta, Headingley, Perth...

Posted by r1m2 on (September 25, 2008, 9:28 GMT)

Actually, I think if you just consider tests, then there's certain change of times. It's about more talented pacers coming up than spinners. I am quite fascinated by India's current line of pacemen, a new one with great potential is coming up almost every year. And these are not the medium pace trundlers like before. Nearly all of them are capable of bowling 140 km/h. The names I am thinking of include VRV Singh and Pankaj Singh. The others have already shown us glimpses of their potential. Although it's a fact that none of them have taken the world by storm yet, I feel this new battery of pacemen have the potential to do so. What this requires though is a change in mindset. Harbhajan's potential at home is undeniable, but he's useless outside India and especially outside the sub-continent. Since the spin stable's gone bare, it's high time for India to prepare fast bowling friendly pitches and take advantage of their pace talents. Batting is a trickier problem to solve so no comment!!!

Posted by RSKNA on (September 25, 2008, 9:24 GMT)

I don't know what the optimists or pessimists have to say about test cricket, I get very excited following any test match (on Cricinfo, mostly) if I sense a close contest. How about that S.Africa/England or that wily Mendis' series this summer! In this day and age where we get used to instant-action, test-cricket is an enchanting diversion reminding us to slow down a bit and observe. Having said so, it is equally disappointing if the teams play for a draw to save a series - that's just plain unfair to the fans. Every team must play every game to win - not play defensively for a draw to win a series. I have not found as much to cheer about in 20/20. It is too much action without any build-up. Perhaps we need to consider tweaking the format a bit in test-cricket to ensure a result at the end. Test-cricket Rules, One-day cricket Thrives, 20/20 Sucks.

Posted by kushankella123 on (September 25, 2008, 9:21 GMT)

One point which the author has made clearly signifies that he is not worried about the quality of players who will play modern day test cricket but he is worried about the growing interest of T20 cricket or "run rate cricket" (home grown terminology), which is also in someways taking sheen of the LOI's. Even i agree to the comments that test cricket still remains the best form of the game and people love watching test matches which end in 3-4 days or even less.

On the point of quality of players i feel Tendulkar or for that matter laxman would be the best example to say that greatness is achieved over a period of time and the Sharmas, the badris and the rainas may achieve the same may be over a period of time. But things which may bar them from achieving the same would be the influx of "run rate cricket" and the deteriorating quality of pitches.

Posted by ssm2407 on (September 25, 2008, 9:21 GMT)

An appalling negative article. Why the great mourning of an ageing, over the hill, unfit tired middle order ? India's failings in recent years has been a direct result of the fabled middle order failing to produce when it matters most. It is India's bowling attack that have been the architect of their best wins in recent years. The only batsman who has stood up to the plate recently is Sehwag. The Australian tour apart Tendulkar's form & fitness has been poor for the last 6 years, the captaincy sadly destroyed Dravid & is no longer the great player he once was, Ganguly filled his boots v a poor Pakistan side but has done little else besides & Laxman only turns up if Australia are the opponents, otherwise his form is inconsistent & he is hopeless when batting with the tail. They have been afforded favours by the selectors the likes of Yuvraj, Kaif have not. Its high time to do away with the old guard - why knock Rohit, Raina & Badrinath before they have been given a chance ?

Posted by jamrith on (September 25, 2008, 9:12 GMT)

Sad, but true, in the sub-continent, Tests are on the way out. Despite our abject performance against Sri Lanka in the recent Test series, the public seems quite satisfied with the ODI series victory although that was hardly convincing. Actually, even in England, the home crowds seem to have forgotten about the Test series loss to the South Africans since England won a landslide victory in the ODIs. So,as ODIs and T20 take centre stage, the skills required for the longer version of the game will just not be developed.

Posted by alexholowczak on (September 25, 2008, 8:46 GMT)

England use ODIs as a way to prepare a player for Test Cricket. Vaughan as captain, Trescothick as an opener and so on. India appear to be doing the same with Dhoni as ODI captain. Why can't the great ODI cricketers India possess go on to be great Test cricketers? The problem India have is that it isn't a gradual period of change, everybody is growing old together.

Posted by Jose on (September 25, 2008, 8:26 GMT)

All selectors and journalists forget about proven talents like Jaffer, Mohd Kaif & Akash Chopra. Both of them are consistently performing in domestic cricket for long time and unfortunately they never received any call from selectors after they were dropped due to a poor season. India do not need to bring young kids straight after departure of Fab-4, give Chopra, Jaffer & Kaif another chance.

Posted by DesiPathan on (September 25, 2008, 7:18 GMT)

When we talk about the achievements about this FAB FOUR what do we actually mean?

Every country has had their occasional success against the australians over the last 10 yrs. Outside india apart from tendulkar nobody even knows the other 3 . Except for a select few Indian journalist everybody else in india has already forgotten them or would like to. I see vested ineterests in play here certainly not honesty.

In my opinion once they go(and when???) India will surely replace them with better players and also players who will actually "WIN" tournaments and series and consistently like they are doing with the present one day side and not just build records in dead matches and against rubbish opponents and on dead pitches.

Posted by longridge on (September 25, 2008, 7:00 GMT)

your comments regarding the declining fortunes of the indian team may be true but I don't agree with what you say about test cricket. every body, be it players, fans, my dad or commentators all always say that test cricket is the best form of cricket, with its added nuances and higher skill levels etc. so if we all agree test cricket is what we all like the most then why does everyone keep saying it is doomed? no amount of 20/20 or the like will replace the ashes in the eyes of an englishmen or an australian thats for sure. plus the IPL isn't even televised on a proper channel in Britain. 20/20 may have a period where its top dog in India, like ODI's had, but test matches are here to stay.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (September 25, 2008, 6:53 GMT)

The point is that at this stage we cannot say how great the Sharmas,the Rainas the Pujary's or the Chawlas will grow to become. They have to be baptised by fireand persisted with.The self confidence we see in the Fab Four could well happen to them. It may take some time for them to make a big impact. It is just that the success of the Fab Four coincided with India's rise in World cricket ratings. This has made this seem to be the best middle order in the world.It i believed that the selectors of that day had more vision.Kumble when he started was picked not because the selectors or just anyone thought that he was likely to take 600 wickets. In fact even people like Pataudi and Bedi have spoken derisively about him in the early part of his career. You cannot have Tendulkars Gavaskars and Kapil Devs every day. Their clones may just be waiting to walk into their shoes if they are selected when their motivation is high and persisted with for a decent run free from the influencing gentry.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (September 25, 2008, 6:29 GMT)

I do not agree with much of what you say. Firstly, I would like to point out that Saurav Ganguly went on a debut tour to Australia,in 1992 where is attitude was called more into question than his cricketing skills. He was banished till 95 when he toured England. The general opinion then was that he had made it on the strength of his father's clout with th powers that be.Dravid had done very little of not in his debut tour to England also in 95.It is just because the circumstances on that tour warranted their inclusion for the Lords' test did they make that great debut. Thereafter, the fab four appellation notwithstanding, Saurav was seen as being suspect against the rising ball and Dravid failed on his first tour of Australia. Sehwag, was originally a spin bowling all rounder who could smash the ball all over. He was asked to open in SriLanka, after which he made his own history. Laxman is still not sure of his batting position. It is not as if the selectors of that day had more vision

Posted by vswami on (September 25, 2008, 6:28 GMT)

I think you are being harsh on guys like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina as far as test cricket goes. The youngsters in India have hardly been given a chance to prove themselves. The two guys who havent grabbed it are Yuvraj and Kaif. No one else has had a decent run in the middle order. I am sure when the Fab Four retire, the same journalists would argued vehemently against Ganguly/ Dravid being dropped would argue that they should have been dropped years ago.

Posted by tough_cool on (September 25, 2008, 6:10 GMT)

In all the article I see the author really concerned about two things one the decline of player's quality in Australian and Indian teams and decline in general about the test cricket. I think both the concerns are unfounded. test cricket is not all about AUS and IND, right now SA is shaping up into a very good unit and looks like it can challenge the greatness AUS teams of present and past, and then never forget ENGLAND. So Mukul need not feel nostalgic about the current series, for that matter the greatest series of all times is going to happen later this year when SA tours AUS and trust me the ashes next year is going to be mind-blowing. So the apprehensions about Test cricket are just about. And who knows we might have already seen end of great IND Vs AUS rivalries, with rain being always a possibility in Bangalore in October - dont forget chennai test of 2004 IND VS series - I wont be surprised even if entire series is washed away due to rain or for any other reason - political -

Posted by aditya87 on (September 25, 2008, 6:08 GMT)

Mukul my friend, you've been wrong plenty of times and you're dead wrong in this article too. To suggest that the likes of Rohit Sharma, Badrinath and Raina can't make it at Test level is unfair because none of them have even made Test debuts yet. People said Sehwag couldn't be a good Test player but now we all know how great he is. And Gambhir looks a very good Test batsman as well. You're well-versed in putting the cart before the horse, because people like you have never played cricket at the highest level but are fantastic at writing opinions. I agree that this series might mark the end of the Indian middle order, but it's not all doom and gloom for our Test prospects.

Posted by SunilPotnis on (September 25, 2008, 6:05 GMT)

I am not at all surprised. India never showed inclination to have a succession plan like Australia always had. Commercially driven Indian cricket will always have these issues because Indian Cricket Administrators are only interested in short term gains. Nobody thinks five years ahead. Offcourse you need equally good talent on the board as well but what can one do when politicians run the board instead of cricketers. India should stop comparing themselves with Australians. Tendulkar/Ganguly should have been out of test side years back but hey who wants to give up easy money. We kept on selecting them and thereby blocking youngsters to gather valuable experience. Indians cannot digest short term loses and in process they mess long term as well.

Posted by DamieninFrance on (September 25, 2008, 5:58 GMT)

I don't harbour the same fears for test cricket as Mukul Kesavan, but the issues he raised about India's future are a cause for concern. As an Australian, I am always surprised at how such a magnificent cricketing nation as India can accept extended periods of mediocrity in their cricketers. Because these great, incumbent players have been around for so long, there appears to be no system of transition in place for preparing for their departure. I guess that my lack of cultural understanding probably goes a long way to explaining my incredulity. Perhaps there is hope... I must ask whether India's same T20 cricketers, with pocket-loads of cash, will be drawn by the allure of esteem and respect afforded those cricketers perceived to be the best in their craft, and represent their country in the test arena? Despite the reduction in income, surely a cricketer with more money (than sense) would love to represent their country in the longer, prestigious format of the game?

Posted by Supratik on (September 25, 2008, 5:29 GMT)

Brilliant piece, like most times Mukul. The key is the 5th para "But this time is different..." While India gets into hysteria over T20 & some ODI success, none of the young batsmen have actually stormed into the side like Dravid and Ganguly did a dozen years back. We are riding more on hope than on belief. What makes it more difficult is the fact that sun is also beginning to set on Tendulkar's career, which also is inevitable. Whether the young 20-20 gang can take over from them is a matter of conjecture. Dhoni the lucky mascot of this brigade has carried them so far for the last year or so, but there is a difference between a year and a dozen. The impending departure of Kumble is even more a frightening prospect. Because a Chawla or Mishra being leg-spinners will take their time to mature. In the meanwhile Harbhajan has to take up being the central figure in the bowling attack to support the only silver lining, the pace attack.

Posted by redneck on (September 25, 2008, 5:25 GMT)

gee, a pretty grim out look painted by the author here! i do find some of your points valid however test cricket still thrives in austrlia and england. india have always been ODI crazy and now 20/20 and theres nothing wrong with that, i dont see how people think for one form of the game to flurish another must fade to black???ask any cricketer what is the most challenging form of the game is and they will tell you tests. and therefor if you want to be a great cricketer you must preform in tests! also yes while there is most certainly a changing of the guard happening or about to happen in a few of crickets stronger teams and the up and comers are by no means household names and still to prove themselves dont condemn the longer game yet! look at matt hayden when he made his test debut he didnt look too crash hot at all and was dropped 2 years later he came back and set the cricket world on fire and is now regarded as one of the best openers in the game!could be the same for Yuvraj & co!

Posted by Cric_Observer on (September 25, 2008, 5:23 GMT)

A deeply depressing article here for the Cricketing purists. The indians in recent times has become a much better team in the test match arena. There overseas record has improved dramatically in the last 5 years, with series victories in the Windies, England, Pakistan and single test victories in Aus/SA. I believe that Indians shouldn't be so pessimistic about their future test teams. I believe your best team will be your best team in each form of the game.

(search CricObserver on Youtube)It is time for players like Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Kartik/Jaffer, Gambhir, Kaif and yuvraj to get an extended run in the test team. These players are all very talented and will have to eventually take up the mantle and replace the Fab Four sooner rather than later.

Test cricket will always be provide the hegomony for the purists and for the players as it is the ultimate form of the game. I do envisage another epic encounter between these fierce rivals

Posted by sticky_stump on (September 25, 2008, 5:15 GMT)

Mukul, I think you're writing off Yuvraj and Kaif too soon. Yuvraj still has time on his side to change his attitude to Test cricket. Kaif has been given a raw deal.

Posted by Rooboy on (September 25, 2008, 5:03 GMT)

Interesting comment 'I shall learn to ... applaud the enemy's centuries'. Don't all decent cricket fans already do that? Geez, if even the uncivilised convicts of Australia can give Tendulkar, Laxman etc a warm reception, but Mukul Kesavan has to learn to do it, then he must really hate Australians! I guess we all already knew that anyway. Reasonably fair article though. It is very sad to see so many greats leave the game ... it was hard to see Warne, McGrath and the rest go and it is just as sad to realise that guys like Tendulkar and Kumble haven't got much time left. I also agree that the ramifications of this for Test cricket are not good, and that is the saddest part of it all.

Posted by IPLFan on (September 25, 2008, 4:45 GMT)

Excellent article and I agree with most of it. For some of us who have been hoping for the end of Test cricket (or more specifically, nation-vs-nation cricket) for the past few years, the end can't come soon enough.

I just hope IPL starts a 5-day match tournament too, along with the T20 tournament.

Posted by camelinx on (September 25, 2008, 4:34 GMT)

Here we go. One more cricket expert predicting the end of times. It has been near impossible for many batsmen to force their way into the Indian middle order for a long time now. The only option was to force your way in as an opener. Remember how VVS got into the Indian side when azhar was part of the fab four? The point is we might never have a middle order as good as the one we currently have but Indian cricket will move on. We will improve in other areas. Our openers (sehwag & gambhir) are showing promise. We have a reasonably good bowling unit (we have a long way to go though). We have more all-rounders (yes M.S Dhoni is an all-rounder) than before and this gives us more balance. Indian cricket I guess will struggle for some time to cope with the change but cope it will and move on.

Posted by nishant_khanna on (September 25, 2008, 4:13 GMT)

The point is that we are trying to paint a very dark picture of the future of test cricket, but making statements in the line of saying current lot of cricketers are not good enough or are not as good as the old warhorses when it comes to test cricket. Without them having a chance to prove themselves i think its very unfair to assume that they will not be able to step up to the plate. True the only facet that we have seen of the likes of raina, rohit sharma and the gang is of T20 and ODI, but lets wait and watch. Its not as if only Anil kumble, rahul dravid, tendulkar or ganguli are the only ones who know how to play the longer version of the game.

What we get to see today is what the demand of the game is, you cannot spend 100 balls at the crease to make 50 runs in ODI's nowdays, but that does not mean that the same players cannot stay 150 balls for a match saving 40. Change is imminent, but that does not mean the world will neve r see another warne or tendulkar.

Posted by sinfuldips on (September 25, 2008, 4:10 GMT)

I do and don't disagree with the article. I think the author is right about the change of guards. Nobody has made an impression in the last few years in domestic circuit barring a ambati raiidu or manoj tiwari or gautam gambhir. I believe test cricket has and will always have its place among players and spectators who would consider it the greatest honor to score a century or take a five'fer. I think the real threat is to one dayers. 20-20 will provide the double entertainment and match value in quarter of the time and more. People are already calling for stopping champions trophy and the likes. I don't see anyway how 20-20 will stop an ashes or gavaskar-border series. I think all the hype and hoopla about youngsters is a load of cobblers. This bunch are still not ready to replace anyone and they have a long way to go. I think the selectors (or jokers depending on who you ask!!)should shrug aside their issues and make sound than flashy decisions. Bring back Ganguly!!!!

Posted by eddiebaines9 on (September 25, 2008, 4:08 GMT)

Fair enough that you make these comments, but I do feel that there are a couple of caveats there. I can clearly remember Ian Chappel in 1993 saying that after Hughes and McDermott go the Australian pace attack would have no one to step up: within six months several of our great (or at least very good)pace bowlers were embarking upon careers which took us all the way to the top of the tree. I can't believe that India does not have a similar reserve of talent which will replace the present incumbents. I don't know who they are, of course, but one half of the fun of thirty years of watching test cricket has been following the rise of players from obscurity; some of them have done it in pretty short order, I might add. The other thing is that test cricket still has a lot to offer, but the thing about each of the three codes of international cricket is that they have all at times siezed the public imagination to the exclusion of the other two. And they are all eminately saleable products.

Posted by biasreporter on (September 25, 2008, 3:59 GMT)

After a mind numbing bombardment of cricket this summer (matches every day, multiple leagues, hype, hysteria, etc.), I really enjoyed the break of a month or so after the Idea cup. This has more than revived my interest in the game and am eagerly awaiting the India-Australia contest.

I disagreed with most who shared the notion that 20/20 would end test cricket. Yet, I see the signs - as you so correctly point out. After the Fab four (five), who? The field looks bleak not for want of talent but of desire.

But support Australia - definitely not. Learn to love Ponting - how could you? Cheer for Brett Lee - may be if he was bowling against an Englishman.

Shame! After all your words of wisdom (be they of dismay), how could you? Betray our Fabulous Five who brought us so much joy, pride and yes entertainment!!!

Posted by LA_Chinaman on (September 25, 2008, 3:45 GMT)

In an age of cricket where limited-overs cricket is fast becoming the mainstream form of the game, in my opinion I still find Test cricket more entertaining. I am especially looking forward to the upcoming tour of India and I think that after the whole Symonds-Harbhajan incident, a great rivalry has formed between the Australians and the Indians. I think this Test series between the two countries will be very competitive as the Aussies will be looking to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, while the Indians will want to redeem themselves after their home series loss in 2004. I personally cannot choose between One-day cricket and Test cricket because they are two completely different games. But I think that Test cricket really brings the best out of the all the batsmen, bowlers and fielders, which is why I think that Test cricket will remain the 'hegemonic' form of cricket.

Posted by ani_00 on (September 25, 2008, 3:15 GMT)

i totally agree with this article. After indian's big 4 guns gone, i dont see how India is going to replace them. Only player I see right now who can replace is Rohit Sharma and Kaif. Yuvraj cant play Test cricket because of his big bat lift. Yuvraj will do in slow pitches but when its comes to outside the subcontinent, I don't see him making runs in Test cricket. India don't even have a spinner like Kumble who can win matches for them. Harbhajan has been around from long time but he still need to prove himself as leading spinner after Kumble is gone. I Think because of 20-20 Young kids don't want to play Test cricket. If they can get millions by just playing 20-20 then why would they will play Test cricket for 5 days. It will be interesting to see how India will rebuild after these 4 guns are gone.

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Mukul KesavanClose
Mukul Kesavan teaches social history for a living and writes fiction when he can - he is the author of a novel, Looking Through Glass. He's keen on the game but in a non-playing way. With a top score of 14 in neighbourhood cricket and a lively distaste for fast bowling, his credentials for writing about the game are founded on a spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective. Kesavan's book of cricket - Men in Whitewas published in 2007.

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