December 16, 2012

Be bold, India, England and Australia

It's the one piece of advice the administrators could do with as their teams look to improve their success rate in Test cricket

Over the next few months the fates of Australia, India and England are entwined. India are currently playing England and will then host Australia, who will head to England for the Ashes in July-August 2013. All enticing series, and as the teams stand at the moment, England are on the rise, Australia are treading water and India are regressing. Australia and India are in different stages of a rebuilding process, and with varied reserve stocks.

India have major headaches. They need to begin a revitalisation process with a change of leadership and a fond farewell to a champion batsman. This will take a large dose of selectorial courage, so far as rare in Indian cricket as sightings of the Loch Ness monster.

The big stumbling block to India beginning the renewal process is Sachin Tendulkar. While everyone waits with bated breath to see what he'll do, the team is stagnating. The issue has become "Will he or won't he?" instead of being "Will they or won't they?" What is needed is bold leadership, with the focus on India winning Test matches. It's time to thank Tendulkar for providing a glorious era and then to concentrate on forging a new group of successful players who produce an exciting brand of cricket. India are fortunate that they are not without talent in both batting and spin bowling. Their major concern is bowlers of genuine pace.

Australia, on the other hand, have a plethora of young pace bowlers, but the problem is how to keep those talented quicks on the park. Australia also need to repair a system that used to routinely produce exciting young batsmen but now churns out a production line of ageing (in cricket terms) debutants. Surprisingly, after years of the team basking in the glory of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, there are now very few wristspin imitators, and an art that Australia once dominated is now as desolate as the country's red centre.

Where Australia were leaders in producing and picking bold young cricketers, there is now a system that replicates the outdated one England appear to have discarded.

The most pressing need for Australia is to get the team, and in particular the batting line-up, settled quickly so they are in good shape by the time the Ashes commences. This will require a selection juggling act of choosing sides to win in the present but to also accommodate future requirements.

England have displayed a boldness that was missing from their cricket for a major part of their lean years. From the time they chose a dashing young Kevin Pietersen for the 2005 Ashes instead of plumping for an ageing stalwart in Graham Thorpe, England have been on the rise. That trend is continuing with the introduction of the determined young Joe Root into a crucial Test match in India.

However, they do have one major problem. They need to unearth a fast-bowling allrounder to occupy the No. 6 or 7 batting spot so they can retain the deadly spin combination of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. This pair has the capacity to be the modern version of Jim Laker and Tony Lock for England, and every stone should be overturned in order to ensure they can work as a pair rather than as single entities. One obvious option is the return of Stuart Broad to full fitness with a stronger focus on his batting.

In the light of their recent selection boldness England may want to take a look at Craig Overton, who played in the recent Under-19 World Cup. One half of a talented pair of twins, Overton bowls at a lively pace, hits the pitch hard and is a top-class slip fielder. Currently his batting lags behind the rest of his game and is well short of Test standard, but given the opportunity he could rise quickly.

There are potentially exciting times ahead for all three teams and their progress will be followed with interest. The most likely ingredient for immediate success will be boldness. Surprisingly it's England who currently lead the way in that regard.

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