February 3, 2012

The last we've seen of India's old middle order

Dravid and Laxman will know their time is up. And Tendulkar will go sooner than later too

The middle of a series is an inopportune time to call for someone's head. A tour selection is like a contract and you must wait to see the term through. Yes, players can be left out, they can be injured, but to ask them to be consigned forever midway through does nobody any good, especially when we talk of players who are part of the game's folklore.

We are not talking of scraps of paper, more like authoritative works of reference. These are players who have given much joy, made you proud to belong. You looked into the distance and imagined them playing for you. It is understandable that you want to linger a while in your assessment, look once more. It must not be so, for sport is meant to be tough, but with the very special, the heart rules. It is never easy to sit in judgement over those whose feet you sat by. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar are names that will bring a sigh in old age when even the first glass of wine is untouched.

But the series is over, a series that could mark the beginning of a resurgent Australia and an uncertain India. There is no Test cricket for India for a while. It is time to peer into their future, to wonder if a spring will indeed follow this autumn.

Dravid's finest stroke in Australia came in Canberra, where the gentleman, the romantic and the historian in him painted a wonderful canvas of Indian and world cricket. For an hour in Melbourne the bat willed him on. It allowed him the familiar crispness of strokeplay and the power of defence. Then all of a sudden it vanished, and in its place appeared something that looked like one of mine in school. The intent was still there, the work ethic was immaculate, and he practised as hard as before, and harder than some of those around him. But this bat deviated from the pad and those remarkable young Australian bowlers kept finding their way through. It was like they had discovered a pass in an impenetrable mountain.

A year ago Dravid had faced a similar situation and battled through. Five centuries and an astonishing 2011 happened - it was almost like the Dravid of 2002-03 again. You rejoiced for him but this is a relapse and the body is a year older. Thoughts of a life beyond cricket will have become stronger.

As they would have for another extraordinary gentleman and artist. I keep mentioning that for sport needs its performers and its statesmen too. Laxman is as gentle and courteous as they come, and he has done the game an honour by being in it. But the twinkle-toed fencer who could, from a yard and a half outside the crease, hit the same ball from Shane Warne either to midwicket or through cover had long given way to a heavier, more defensive jabber. In his new incarnation of a back-to-the-wall fighter he kept many games alive for India, won some when he was the only one who thought it possible. The ball still left his bat with politeness, but he was having to work harder. It's a cruel thing, sport, because that awareness comes earlier than in most professions.

Both Dravid and Laxman are proud individuals. They will listen to the voice within, for it never lies. It is a voice that is gently telling them to listen to the applause and keep the memories alive. It is showing them a path, not to the middle but to Indian cricket's hall of fame. It is a gallery they will embellish, a place they can take their children to with pride and notice other fathers pointing them out to their children. This is a good time for both, friends and artists, to sign off their final work and begin another chapter, where doubtlessly their contribution will be invaluable.

Soon it will be time too to ask one of the greatest of the modern era what his thoughts for the future are. Two batsmen, both answering to the name of Sachin Tendulkar, turned up for this series. The first was a free-scoring colossus who made you gasp with the purity of his strokeplay, the second was someone who carried a tent with him and chose to go within for long periods. The second frequently cannibalised the first and that was the pity of it all because it was the first who left you in awe, who had brought memories of another day to the Don. So which Tendulkar will the rest of 2012 showcase? If it is the second, there is an element of the finite to it all; if the first vanquishes its current captor, then who knows!

If there was another such tour coming up it would have been time for the selectors to invite Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni for a cup of coffee too. But with two years of international cricket on the subcontinent, maybe that meeting can be deferred for a while, but not for too much longer.

The next time India play a Test match, the middle order will have a different look to it. That is the way of the world. Another flower must bloom, another boy must become a man.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ahmed on February 6, 2012, 18:17 GMT

    Harsha you are above this. Although I loved these three (SRT, the Wall and VVS) it is time, really time to move on. Get in new blood. Though i must admit that it would not hurt to see a player score that mighty 100th ton!!! WOW

  • Musti on February 6, 2012, 6:55 GMT

    @bks123: Tendulkar may have looked great while batting in Australia, whereas Dravid and Laxman might not have looked convincing. Despite having a bad series down under, Dravid has scored much better in the last one year than Tendulkar. What is the point in saying that X has looked great while batting, if he has not scored enough runs in three successive series? One bad series is understandable, but not three! After all you contribute to winning tests by making runs when needed and not by making just a few great looking strokes. In that respect, Dravid contributed exceptionally in England, despite being the victim of three bad decisions. After the series in South Africa, Tendulkar's performance has not risen above average. Since then he played 11 tests without a century. Now tell me who should be dropped, Dravid or Tendulkar? As noted by KarachiKid, may be everyone wants him to continue to get that meaningless 100th Intl. 100!

  • Owais on February 5, 2012, 20:15 GMT

    @Biophysicist: the reason no one is after Sachin is because India wants to see him score his 100th 100 come what may. Once he achives that, I think he himself will throw in the towel.

  • Ali on February 5, 2012, 1:23 GMT

    I'm bored by all this retirement talk. Many greats have moved on with much less fanfare. Time to move on.

  • bani on February 5, 2012, 1:08 GMT

    @Biophysicist...I guess you have only watched the score card and have not watched the recent matches live. Dravid had a huge gap between bat and pad while defending. If not getting bowled he is poking outside off unlike the dravid we knew. And the way laxman is batting says it all. We know that he is a back-foot player and his failure in ENG was expected in shimming and swinging conditions. But his batting in australian bouncy tracks where there is not much lateral movement was unexpected and the few runs he scored were scratchy to say the least. And then laxman is the worst fielder the world cricket has at the moment. He can't field anywhere except in slips. The number of catches dropped by laxman and dravid in last one year may double the number they had in their entire career. To add to that laxman is the worst runner between the wickets. He converts 3s to 2s and 4s to 3s while batting and does exactly the opposite while fielding. With all oldies our fielding side lacks energy.

  • Ashok on February 5, 2012, 0:44 GMT

    A fine summary of the 3 great cricketers who are on the verge of retirement. All people great & small must retire from their careers some day be it a film star , a cricketer, a politician or a pilot.All we can say to these 3 is thanks for your great contributions to the Indian cricket & you will be in the Hall of fame.They certainly left indellible memories and were classy sportsmen - brought lot of character & personality by their very presence. India has to plan ahead and get replacements for these greats which do not crop up overninght.It will be sad to lose them but just like our life, nobody is here for ever. Who will step into their big shoes - Kohli, R.Sharma, Pujara, M.Tiwary & Raina? .As you rightly say boys become men and learn to handle responsibility. India is rich in cricket culture and is bound to produce another Tendulkar soon. My salutations & farewell to 3 Legends who made India proud & made it #1 Test team during their tenure.May you continue to enjoy family life!

  • Chatty on February 4, 2012, 16:58 GMT

    Let them play a home test on a flat track, make a big score, which they will, have the fans appreciate them one last time, and then arrange them to retire. That's how it would have been done in SL, I think. I think that would work in India too.

  • Dummy4 on February 4, 2012, 16:34 GMT

    It just shows individual glory and past performance is the barometer for selection of indian team. I think India needs radical change in its team selection bcoz firstly there is too much cricket and frankly it seems cricketers are more interested in earning big moneys than playing cricket.

  • Jawad on February 4, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    Good one harsha it was really touching..... life goes like that...the one who has come has to leave the stage....please let them decide when they want to leave they are the true servant of indian cricket..Please do not treat them as we traet DADA.India should be proud to have dravid

  • Anand on February 4, 2012, 12:47 GMT

    What a fantastic article - really echoes the sentiments of millions of cricket lovers in India. I hope the future is bright for India in tests.

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