August 16, 2012

Anyone thinking of South Africa 2013?

The squad for the New Zealand series is just that, with hardly an eye on what will happen when India tour next

It has been a few days since the Indian squads for the World Twenty20 and the New Zealand Test series were picked, and I must say I have still not got over the selection of the Test side.

I was hoping the selectors would look at this pick as the first in a series of selections aimed towards the Indian tour to South Africa in November 2013. It's only on that tour that India can reclaim their lost aura as a Test team. Nothing that they do at home before that will help improve their image, if they then go on to have yet another disastrous tour overseas.

I believe after 80 years at the international level, with so many forces working in favour of Indian cricket, and also now that they are a former No. 1 Test team, India should look to set themselves the highest standards in world cricket. Which means they need to try hard to win at home but harder to win abroad. It is overseas that India lost their self-esteem as a Test team, and it's only there that they will find it back.

The ten Test matches at home before that South Africa tour provide the selectors the perfect opportunity to build a team that has the best chance to compete well overseas in the winter of 2013. All these opportunities at home should be given only to - particularly in the case of batsmen - players who can make the most of the chances and return the favour with good performances in South Africa.

I do not think, though, that this is how the selectors have thought, looking at the squad for the two Tests against New Zealand. I expect most batsmen who get an opportunity to get runs against New Zealand at home - or even, for that matter, against the likes of England and Australia at home. Test cricket at home for Indians, I have always believed, is grade two Test cricket; Test cricket in South Africa, England and Australia is grade one. The important question is, how many of these batsmen from grade two (who will most likely be in form at the end of the home run) can be expected to do well in grade one?

It's in this regard that India's opening batting combination should have been looked at more seriously. To go with Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag as India's opening pair again in Tests in South Africa would be a gamble. After what happened in England and Australia, India just cannot afford to gamble overseas again with the same hand of cards.

If I were the chief selector, I would have had a chat with Sehwag, conveyed to him my intent to bat him down the order, and had Gambhir open with Ajinkya Rahane in the first Test against New Zealand. Sehwag on many occasions has made it clear that he would like to bat down the order in Tests at some point in his career; I think that time has come.

With the retirement of Rahul Dravid, Indian batting has lost a lot of solidity and experience. To go to South Africa heavy on youth will not be a good idea, and this is where Sachin Tendulkar becomes important, almost indispensable for India.

I am not aware of what kind of a dialogue there has been between Tendulkar and the selectors over the last few months, but I hope they have conveyed to him that India need him badly for the Test matches come that winter tour of South Africa, 2013.

Another call that the selectors had to make was regarding VVS Laxman. I think his average of 22.75 against England and 19.37 against Australia, with a good home series against West Indies in between, tells us something about Laxman. It was an issue the selectors needed to address.

Opportunities in the Tests at home should be given only to - particularly in the case of batsmen - players who can make the most of the chances and return the favour with good performances in South Africa

I still cringe thinking of how India missed a great chance to test Rohit Sharma or Rahane in the final Test, in Adelaide, early this year, when they had nothing at stake, with the series already lost. But they stuck to the same losing formula to get another losing result. Who knows what might have happened if they had done otherwise? Picking one of the youngsters was an exciting option, with some promise of long-term benefit, which India refused to take, going on to lose their eighth consecutive overseas Test.

Come winter 2013, Laxman will be 39. His fitness in Australia (the last time we saw him in action) and his performances there told us something. In comparison, I thought Tendulkar looked a lot fitter and more likely to get runs than Laxman in those conditions. If I had to back one of the two veterans going forward, it would be Tendulkar: he looks a lot fitter than Laxman does, despite the large difference in the number of years they have each played international cricket for. At home, fitness does not matter so much but in grade one Test cricket, as we have seen, it does, a lot.

Laxman will no doubt score runs at home with the kind of experience he has and some skills still intact, but in South Africa, more than a year older, he will once again be a gamble. Also, every opportunity given to him at this stage of his career, considering his recent form, is an opportunity denied to a young talent who might yield long-term returns.

The team selected does not hint at long-term vision, nor has the chairman said anything to suggest it. The selectors have done the convenient thing and simply picked a team for the two Tests against New Zealand, leaving cricketing fate to take its own course.

As chairman of selectors Krishnamachari Srikkanth picked some good squads during his tenure, although the selections of playing XIs was often hard to understand. I wonder how much of a say he had in those, but his last pick will perhaps determine the legacy he leaves behind as an India selector: a man who had a tendency to make popular selections.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 19, 2012, 5:08 GMT

    I would Rather like Gambhir to come down the order as he gives a left handed option in the middle order.. with Laxman Retired now my top 6 for 1st Test would be - Sehwag, Rahane, Pujara, Sachin, Gambhir & Kohli

  • Harmon on August 18, 2012, 22:13 GMT

    @ansram: Your argument is hardly an argument. If I use your argument, what exactly have England achieved? They defeated an aged Oz side that was on the decline and struggling to find replacements, they defeated an aged unprepared Indian side that was tired after playing non stop cricket since Nov 2010 and in any case, that came at home. Show me which formidable team have England dominated? Actually the very word "Formidable" means the formidable team would be very hard to beat lol. Your stand says that any team India beats away would be a weak team on one reason or the other. What if one says that Oz never won the WC defeating a formidable team cos Pak scored 134, India conceded 359 and SL were blown away in 07 !!! You called a 3-0 or 2-0 win "A win over a weak team" and you called a 1-0 series win "A win eked out desperately" !!! Cricinfo pls publish, this ain't as asinine as the comment this is in response to. :-p

  • Nilesh on August 18, 2012, 21:34 GMT

    "Come winter 2013, Laxman will be 39. His fitness in Australia (the last time we saw him in action) and his performances there told us something. In comparison, I thought Tendulkar looked a lot fitter and more likely to get runs than Laxman in those conditions. If I had to back one of the two veterans going forward, it would be Tendulkar".

    Sanjay, you have now got your wish. Let's see if you are right and if Tendulkar can actually continue his form and make the SA 2013 tour. If he does, I will agree with your assessment here. Remember that Laxman would have been 39 but Tendulkar will be 40 years and 8 months come winter 2013. I personally don't care about anyone's age as long as they are fit and playing well although I do think it will be a big challenge for Tendulkar. I do agree with your view that Sehwag now needs to come down the order (likely at no. 5 or 6) and that perhaps we need to give Rahane/Gambhir combination a chance starting now.

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2012, 18:21 GMT

    sachin is mentally better after making a 100th hundred.. he will be in old form soon ...

  • Saravjit on August 18, 2012, 16:21 GMT

    This Guy who never won a Test for India is Talking About VVS who single Handedly Won at Least 10 Tests.................Does he know Joburg 2006 and Durban 2010 wins were due to VVS Heroics

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2012, 12:18 GMT

    My test team would have been Ms Dhoni, G Gambhir, S Tendulkar, S Badrinath,V Sehwag, A Rahane, V Kohli, C Pujara, Z Khan, R Ashwin, I Sharma, P Kumar, P Ojha, U Yadav, S Raina... Best 15 players

  • Jay on August 18, 2012, 11:39 GMT

    Sanjay - What 20-20 hindsight! It's easy to second-guess selectors' choices after the fact. Who'd have imagined a year ago that No 1 India would fall off the cliff so suddenly? Reality 1: Competition's more even nowadays: there's parity among teams. The dynasties are gone. The race is wide open: Eng, SA, Ind, Oz may look like top contenders, but SL, WI, Pak can be spoilers. That's why Sanjay's Grade 1 & 2 Test logic is a fallacy! Also bizarre is Sanjay's obsession with India's batting lineup, while completely ignoring its bowling problems! Reality 2: India's bowling is clearly its Achilles' heel! It's a slippery slope if the bowlers cannot take 20 wickets. Zaheer's ageing & nobody's replaced Kumble. Finding a core group of seamers/spinners/all-rounder is India's most pressing need - not VVS or SRT! Reality 3: Focus on NOW - NZ series! No point in "thinking of SA 2013"! It's too far away! Nothing is 100%. Except for the great VVS. Sanjay need not worry about him now. Happy, Sanjay?

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    I agree with one thing. I think Gautam Gambhir should open with someone else like Ajinkya Rahane so build a future opening pair. Just like how Viru and Gauti's pair was made, it's time to make a new pair.

  • Naresh on August 18, 2012, 10:57 GMT


  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2012, 10:14 GMT

    Manjrekar forgot the fact that India won one Test during last SA Tour due to Laxman's heroics and just him...

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