January 23, 2012

Goodbye to India's batting greats

This series was meant to be a fitting final trophy but has ended in tears. An era is over in more ways than one

It is impossible to be completely rational about sport. Romance and sentiment are part of the deal. To think about or relate to sport with detached and clinical logic is to strip it of its very soul. So after all the misery and rage, Indian cricket fans will perhaps tune in to the Adelaide Test not hoping for a turnaround - the time for that has long passed - but for a final glimpse of their batting heroes. Who knows how many of them will turn up at the next Test?

If logic had the final say, India wouldn't be going into the final Test with an unchanged batting line-up. Fourteen successive failures away from home points to something horribly, perhaps irredeemably, wrong. Lack of preparation, injury, fitness, rust, unfamiliar conditions, none of these can fully explain why a top five boasting 48745 runs at 50.93 should average 28.75 in their last seven Tests in England and Australia.

There is only one simple reason. This isn't a sudden collective slump. The truth is that two skillful, energetic and consistently disciplined bowling attacks have had the measure of these batsmen in conditions that have encouraged good bowling. From Lord's to Perth, by no means have they encountered surfaces that have yielded exaggerated movement, pace or bounce - in fact, Edgbaston, The Oval and the SCG all settled down to become lovely batting pitches - but with the exception of Rahul Dravid in England, and to a lesser degree Sachin Tendulkar in Australia, the Indian batsmen have failed to bat through a tough session.

Virender Sehwag averages 15.90 from ten innings, Gautam Gambhir 20.50 from 12, and VVS Laxman 20.28 from 14. That all three should be playing in Adelaide must seem a massive vote of no confidence against the younger batsmen who have travelled on this tour. The message to them is that they can't break into the team unless one of the incumbents is injured, or, as in MS Dhoni's case, banned.

It is not, of course, that the younger players have knocked the door down. Two openers - M Vijay and Abhinav Mukund - have been tried and found wanting. The No. 6 position, vacated by Sourav Ganguly in 2008, is yet to be nailed down. Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina have both failed to make it their own, and Virat Kohli can still only be said to have made a good case for himself after the tough test at Perth, where he was India's best batsman.

Much hope rides on Rohit Sharma, who first served notice of his talents on these shores during the one-day series four years ago, but the truth is that he has not managed to hold on to a regular place in the one-day side, committing the serial offence of abetting in his own demise through poor shot selection. Only recently has he shown the level of consistency expected of a man worthy of filling the shoes of one of India's middle-order giants.

Ajinkya Rahane's case is more curious. For over four years he has been prolific for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, averaging close to 70. However, he has found a place in the Indian Test squad after briefly sparkling in the shorter versions - he made a punchy Twenty20 debut after being drafted into the team in England by virtue of being among the six fit batsmen available for that match - but he failed in both tour games in Australia in the lead-up to the Tests.

The selectors can be held responsible in hindsight for trusting the same set of batsmen after the England debacle, but in reality it was hard to look beyond them for this tour. It represented India's best chance of claiming their first series win in Australia. Sehwag and Gambhir had played through injury in England, and Laxman, despite his failure in England, had been India's man for every crisis all through 2009-10; it would have been a brave selector who dropped him for the series against Australia.

If logic had the final say, India wouldn't be going into the final Test with an unchanged batting line-up. Fourteen successive failures away from home points to something horribly, perhaps irredeemably, wrong

While it can be argued that the changes should have been rung in after the loss in Sydney, India went to Perth with a theoretical chance of squaring the series, and with Gambhir and Laxman both having scored half-centuries in Sydney, and Sehwag always a worth a gamble for a match-turning performance, Kohli would have seemed the obvious candidate to drop. Thankfully, he wasn't.

Adelaide, though, presented an opportunity. The series is lost, and in more ways than one, an era has ended. It can now be said that it ended in England, but Australia presented a chance for redemption. The big cycle of change had begun for Indian cricket with that titanic series against these opponents in 2001, and a cycle within a cycle had begun with that ill-tempered series in Australia in 2008. For the remaining stalwarts of Indian Test cricket's golden age, this tour provided the perfect stage for closure.

That dream now lies in the dust and with no Test series in sight for the next eight months, there seems to be nothing more to achieve for a generation of players who began their journey in the '90s - the '80s in Tendullkar's case - and have formed the most luminous collection of batsmen in the last three decades. It's cruel that their journey should end on such a low, but when they are gone, they will be remembered for their peaks.

Everything points to them turning up together in Adelaide. But the result and the performances won't, and shouldn't, matter. Indian cricket has sunk to the lowest of lows: in another time these very men, as did they so single-mindedly at the beginning of the last decade, would have been relied on to forge a revival. But their time has gone now. Indian cricket has no option but to embrace the future, however uncertain it may seem.

Not all of them will go at once. In fact, there is merit in graduating the next generation under the watch of a master or two. But a line must be drawn in Adelaide. Every player who retains his place for the next Test series must have a clear role to play in creating the future.

But for the moment, push the gloom aside and keep your eyes peeled. Viru, Rahul, Sachin and VVS you might never watch together again, and not in that order. They might or might not stroke a couple of hundreds between them, or put together one of those monster partnerships, but if you care enough to watch, there will still be moments of magic: a murderous scythe through the covers, a picture-perfect drive down the ground, a cover drive that paints the most ornate arc, or a gentle swish that charms the ball to the ropes. It's the team, and the results, that ultimately count. But invariably it is individual players who leave the fondest memories.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 26, 2012, 18:47 GMT

    It is really hard to believe all d comments in this article.!!Men,who have shouldered d responsibility of Team India for so long are being asked,almost ordered to leave n be replaced by sum1 like Kaif.!!Unbelieveable.!!we have lost series,yes we have but look at dese series,your best batsman r Rahul Dravid n Sachin Tendulkar in England n Australia.!!they have to go sum day but they will decide dat not any1 else.!!Stop being so critical,who knows mayb a few years later,v wl b wishin dat dey come back....but den whn ur team is at 20/2 u wont be seeing a Sachin Tendulkar joining Rahul Dravid at d crease followed by a certain V.V.S.Laxman.!!

  • Naresh on January 26, 2012, 8:15 GMT

    @dravid_gravitas - disagree - all failing players should go. That is Shewag, Gambhir, Dravid, Sachin, Laxman, Dhoni, Ishant, Zaks(fitness). For India to blood youngsters we need the slots emptied. Kohli should captain - something he has done before - U19 world cup victor. We have plenty of batting talent - we need good pace bowlers for trips abroad. Yadav is good enough. By pace I mean the 145+ Indian pace bowlers are just right pace for batsman to feed on currently - overseas. Faster means wickets can be got with (accuracy)

  • Ravi on January 26, 2012, 4:55 GMT

    when rahul, v.v.s and sachin calls it a day indian team will become a garbage in test cricket.think for the comming succesors of these legends....who are they.....?

  • Munawar on January 26, 2012, 4:38 GMT

    The Test team for upcoming home series should look like this....Wasim Jaffer, Rahane, S.Badrinath/C.Pujara, M.Kaif (Capt.), V.Kohli, Rohit Sharma, W.Saha (WK), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma/Umesh Yadav and Pragyan Ojha. The other three spots could be for S.Sreesanth, Manoj Tiwary, and PA Reddy/ I.Khaleel (2nd WK).

    Extraordinary problems need out of box thinking to solve. Look at Aussies. They have appointed Bailey as Captain of their T20 international side even when Bailey is yet to make an international T20 debut.

  • Munawar on January 26, 2012, 4:32 GMT

    So we saw more of the same. Enough man.Time to rest Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Sachin and Laxman. Clearly, Sehwag is the most irresponsible player in team. This is proved time and again. Good time to bring Jaffer, Badrinath, Pujara and Kaif for the Test series at home. Wasim Jaffer, Badri and Pujara would be a great blend. Kaif would be a great addition as well. Kaif has always been a captaincy material. Make him the Captain. Besides youngsters, you need some experience too. Both Kaif and Jaffer are in early 30s.Sounds much better than greats in 38s / 39s. Time to blood in Rohit Sharma too.Bring back Harbhajan. Ashwin remains an avg. Ranji level offie who has carrom ball. Ashwin stands sorted out by international batsmen including lesser mortals like Bravo,Chanderpaul, Russel, Rampaul, etc. Pragyan Ojha should also be brought back in. He is a much better bowler with lot more variation and skills than this Srikanth favorite - Ashwin.Time to confirm Saha as wk and bring I.Khaleel as 2nd wk

  • sri on January 26, 2012, 2:52 GMT

    England series & Aus Series were dumbed by Tendulkar. Already played more than 700 international games , he put more pressure on the team. 20 innings u can not make a century , why did u omitted some one dayers . Listen some great pepole advice(like Kapil ) . You have enough welth. so why u playing IPL for 54 days. See M.Clarke always play for the nation . I am still your fan but do not distroy the test matches with BCCI. BCCI never run by cricket lovers only by money lovers.It is so sad

  • rob on January 25, 2012, 22:41 GMT

    Apologies to all. I posted a comment meant for another article ... whoops !

  • rob on January 25, 2012, 22:39 GMT

    I've seen plenty of aggressive Indian cricketers over the years, but most of them did it with the bat or ball (or both in Devs case). Sporting aggression to me means looking for weaknesses in the opposition and exploiting them ruthlessly and relentlessly. It comes from within and I don't think it matters where you were born or what culture you come from. You either have it or you don't. Teams can cultivate a swagger but when the going really gets tough, its up to the individual athlete to dig into the pit of their stomach. .. As you get older you start to loose the ability to go there. ....... @ Vas Venkatramani : You make an excellent point about overseas players getting used to Indian pitches. If the sub-c starts loosing its mystique, it is entirely possible that tourists may start to play better in India. .. maybe even take a series here and there. ...

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 9:55 GMT

    There is a saying "The flame burns brighter before it goes out". I think that's what happened to Rahul in England. I think both stalwarts Dravid and Laxman are not only failing with bat but also dropping vital catches. This shows both of them have problem of reflex and can't react fast enough. It is hightime both of them retire gracefully after this serires. Rahul who has strong admiration for his hero Steve Waugh should not prolong the agony.

  • ad on January 25, 2012, 7:27 GMT

    Dravid's reflexes have slowed down. Coupled with his horrendous slip-fielding, he should have the decency to announce his retirement. VVS should be the next to go.

    Elevate Sehwag to permanent captaincy and try to build a team around him.

    Sachin should start getting into retirement mode. He is still good enough to be in the team, but I think at 38 he should hang up his boots.

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