June 19, 2011

India's riches, Australia's need

One country lacks the young talent it needs to replenish its national side with, and the other has too many in the wings, waiting for the fading stars to leave

In Australia a debate is raging over selection following Simon Katich's controversial omission from the list of 25 contracted players. This argument highlights one area of major difference between two successful cricket nations, Australia and India.

As Australia currently go through a rebuilding phase, there's a need to inject youth into the Test side. However, the difficulty for the selectors is the paucity of talent among the youthful batting and spin-bowling prospects. The will has always been strong among Australian selection panels to move fading stars aside for young players with potential. However, apart from a few talented openers, there's precious little young batting talent hammering on the selectors' door.

In India the problem is of an entirely different hue: there's ample talent among the young batsmen, but there isn't the same will among the selectors to gradually phase out ageing stars. The Australian selection panel would be delighted to have to choose between talented young batsmen like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara. However, the Indian selectors are loath to move aside ageing stars to feed some of those younger players into the team. The odd opportunity those players have received in the Test side has come about through injury to an incumbent.

By being reluctant to blend youth with experience in the Test batting line-up over the last couple of years, the Indian selectors are risking two unsavoury outcomes. One, they will have to replace the three big names, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, at approximately the same time. Two, they might find that when it comes time to rely on the new breed at Test level, they are not up to the task.

Often good young players who are left on the sidelines too long develop bad habits. They don't find it sufficiently challenging to continually play at a lower level, and consequently there is a tendency to become sloppy. Graeme Hick, a prodigious young talent, was forced to wait for Test selection while he qualified for England. By the time he arrived at the international level he was a flawed player through having constantly hammered lesser opposition.

This problem is exacerbated in India by the huge earnings young players can derive from playing in the IPL. Nothing diminishes desire and hunger in youth quicker than quickly acquired wealth. In such circumstances a young player can find it difficult to focus on maintaining a high standard.

Rohit Sharma is a player in danger of falling into this category. When I first saw him play ODIs in Australia in 2008, I felt he was the best of the young Indian batsmen. It's hard to fathom that at 24 he still hasn't played a Test. His talent is in danger of being under-utilised.

India have achieved plenty of recent success at Test level. However, the selection policy has smacked of making the most of today's talent, in the hope that if the future turns sour, that'll be a problem for the next panel to clean up.

By allowing young players to grow in confidence with guidance from a strong supporting cast, selectors can cater for the present and prepare for the future. A strong selection panel can achieve this aim, but only if the young talent exists.

While Australia may lust over some of India's young batting talent, the reverse is the case in fast bowling. Australia currently has a really good group of young fast bowlers - albeit some who are injury-prone - while India are desperately looking for someone to groom for the important role of Zaheer Khan's successor. In Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Patrick Cummins and Mitchell Starc, Australia have a talented and varied group of quickies. That's the one shining light for the beleaguered selection panel. A good side can be built quickly around a strong attack.

These are two proud cricket nations who are used to success. Australia's is a lifelong craving, while India's has become an acquired taste. It'll be interesting to see which system prevails in the future in what is a fast-changing cricket world.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

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