June 26, 2013

More power to youth

India won the Champions Trophy in unfamiliar conditions and without many of their experienced players. What they had were free-spirited cricket and good fielding

When Sunil Gavaskar retired, there were concerns about what would happen to India. Who would now stand up to the big bad fast bowlers of the world? As it turned out, two years later Sachin Tendulkar arrived and we had another little master who not only stood up to the fast bowlers but also managed to put some of them to the sword.

This Champions Trophy-winning Indian team under MS Dhoni was devoid of the recent stalwarts of Indian cricket. No Tendulkar, no Sehwag, no Gambhir, no Harbhajan, no Zaheer, no Yuvraj. But the young team put up one of the most impressive performances by an Indian team overseas to prove that when stars leave, very often they just make space for future stars to come in. As long as the sport is popular in the country, this generally happens.

After India's disasters in England and Australia in the last two years, there was a feeling in some parts of the media that it was time to let the ageing players go. But with that came the typical apprehension: Who will take over from these greats? Is anyone good enough to replace them?

I believe however great a player you are, there comes a time when you become a liability to the team. Smart and brave selectors recognise the signs earlier than most and sideline these players before they can go on to do damage to the team.

In India this takes a little longer to happen, because selectors fear the wrath of the millions of fans, who are emotionally attached to these players, and the media, which generally whips up the popular mood. It needs a brave selector to take this kind of step at the right time and face the fury that his decision inevitably brings forth. Indian selectors tend to wait for the performances of ageing stars to dip hugely so that dropping them does not trigger a heavy backlash.

By that time substantial damage is done, like with the 8-0 Test losses in England and Australia and the 2-1 defeat to England at home. A player's experience is invaluable to the team but there comes a time when that experience starts to become heavy baggage for him, which he carries with him everywhere on the field. It's an extra weight on his mind and consequently on his body.

Let me give you a case in point. In the first game of this Champions Trophy, when India batted first in Cardiff, despite Dale Steyn's absence, the South African attack led by Morne Morkel, on an English pitch, against a team that had a reputation of being sitting ducks against pace and bounce, looked intimidating. The Indian batsmen were new, a bit wet behind their ears. Indian fans feared the worst.

Sure, the pitch turned out to be flat, but it was not one that lacked pace or had low bounce. The way Shikhar Dhawan went after the South African pace attack was sensational. He was aggressive against the short ball and danced down the pitch to the big South African fast bowlers to hit them over covers. In Cardiff, not Rajkot. Rohit Sharma, his opening partner, did not hold back either. For me, that partnership in Cardiff set the tone for India's eventual triumph in the tournament. Dhawan's free-spirited batting at the top, minus excess baggage, served Indian cricket well.

With youth in the team, along with free-spirited cricket, you also get good fielding. For the first time in the history of Indian cricket, India laid claim to being among the best fielding sides in a tournament. The average age of this team is 26. Ravindra Jadeja's run-out of Robin Peterson in that first match was the turning point, when it seemed that AB de Villiers and Peterson would pull South Africa through. Who knows whether India would have even qualified for the semi-finals if that run-out had not been successful?

Dhoni does not show his emotions often, but you could see the pride in his eyes when he looked around at the fielders he had in this tournament. It was like a long-held desire had finally come true. A good catch here and there, a run-out at a crucial stage to turn the game become more frequent occurrences when you have a fit, athletic side.

India won every match on the tour easily, because for the first time we saw them bat well, bowl well and field well - all in one game. I hope this win makes Indian cricket think of fielding as a skill that every player must possess if he wants to play for the country.

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

  • Naveen on June 27, 2013, 17:25 GMT

    @ glen1 - you already see "rohit sharma" being given rope for 7 th year now, he is no new breed no super star(beyond mumbai cricketing circle), never delivers beyond single match..you check stats of this tournament(50+ 2 times out of 7 innings) on him after taking up lots of deliveries.

    What makes you think these guys wont be spared on basis of reputation. Look at rainas batting performance.

    These might sound nit picking...but truth is these are not new players...young yes...but have not learnt anything in 7+ years of international circket.

    Fielding should be necessary...but whats the point in having 2 fielding all rounders who are afraid of perfume balls? unless they conquer those fear....all the best of Test cricket.

  • mukesh on June 27, 2013, 8:11 GMT

    @sandy bangalore : bhaji has done hardly anything (in tests) after kumble retired !! he was always overrated and ashwin is already better than him. as for gambhir i think IPL has spoiled him , i too thought he was a good opening batsman but he is simply not producing the runs needed anymore , and please don't compare IPL with international test matches !

  • Shirish on June 27, 2013, 6:22 GMT

    Whilst we are all getting carried away with the success of this Indian side, can I just point out that all of these youngsters had been tried for at least a couple of years, and had failed. That probably helped their development, but we have been here before. Remember 1985? World Series Championship and Ravi Shastri's Audi for man of the series and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan's bewitching leg spin? This is not an end point in itself, this is the start of a journey, if the players start believing the hype, they will become rubbish in no time. The true test for any cricketer comes in season 2, when the other cricketers have figured the person out.

    Yes, India does need to celebrate this, but use this victory as a stepping stone, not as the biggest achievement in the world.

  • Dummy4 on June 27, 2013, 5:56 GMT

    @sandy_bangalore: Nobody here showed any disrespect to Harbhajan or Gambhir. Yeah its true they WERE great in the past and won us World Cup but not anymore. Yeah your point about team starring down the barrel, I would any day/night have Ashwin in my team rather than Bhajji. Have you watched recent IND-AUS test series when team had Dhoni and Virat at other ends in first two tests respectively. What did your fighter with attitude who came at no.9 did? just swung the bat like a man without any brains and got out when the match was hanging in balance. If not for certain Bhuvi in 1st test we would have lost it. where was his fighting attitude?????? and don't talk about Gambhir. what did he say just before the start of Eng series at home? that he and Sehwag are the best opening partners in India. WOW. what an attitude!!!!!!! You should first perform before opening your mouth.Please don't say you have these players in your team. And for God's sake don't compare IPL with International cricket.

  • Arun on June 27, 2013, 5:47 GMT

    It is good that the selectors have moved forward and taken some bold decisions.Also, the quality of oppositions (Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) has detoriated and thereby helping.Whatever said and done, irrespective of greats what you need is a good team with the right combination that can win.The high fielding standards (atleast 6 top class fielders) and good running between wickets from the new team has contributed to the success.By comparing with India's performance in England and Australia in the last 2 years, Manjrekar is forgetting that the failures were more in Test cricket than ODI.India has always managed to comeback in ODI's as it has the right players for that.Still remains to see how is India going to do in Test cricket under testing conditions.The tour of south Africa may have many questions or many answers.

  • raul on June 27, 2013, 5:21 GMT

    Mr. Manjrekar, it's sad to see knowledgable person like you getting carried away like this!! Dhoni, Selectors, Coach and Players all deserve credit but I don't think INDIA this team deserves to be called india's best side. 1) All pitches were flat tracks helping spinners. 2) Lack of quality fast bowlers(Morkel and stye injured). 3) Pitches helping spinners(Indian bowlers and batsmen will always do well if pitch is turning). 4) Most teams either played half game or no game never got into rhythm as a team, due to weather. Only positive INDIA can take from this series is they have become good fielding side. India still needs Fast bowling all rounder (Irfan should be played n given chance/You wont find flat/spinning tracks in SA or AUS. Please don't compare Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir, Harbhajan and Yuvi with these young players. They still need to prove themselves. Even at match presentation DHONI said GOD(Sachin) wont come to save you!! Even he know what GOD and other Seniors were capable of

  • Unni on June 27, 2013, 4:37 GMT

    When every one trashes Mr.Flecher when team did badly and now all credit to Dhoni ,selectors etc in win is not fair .He and the support staff also deserves some credit

  • Sandy on June 27, 2013, 4:15 GMT

    I am completely surprised at the lack of respect towards Bhajji and Gambhir in the various articles since Indias victory. These guys are achievers and world cup winners, and have the attitude to go with their considerable talent. And in a tough situation, when India is staring down the barrel, who would you rather have - Harbhajan or Ashwin? The answer is obvous. Looks like Sankay and a few others forgot Gambhirs captaincy and batting for KKR this season, and Harbhajans spells for a winning MI side. ANd they are barely 32 years, with atlest 4 years of cricket left in them! And why no talk of Yubraj. This guy is a fighter, and can win matches singlehandedly, with both bat and ball. Please dont get carried away by the youth wave, and please remember these guys have just crossed 30 and have proved themselves far more than some of the names in the current squad. I would have Yuvi, GG and Bhaj in my Indian squad any day, as Mr Sourav Ganguly said the other day!

  • Amrutur on June 27, 2013, 2:49 GMT

    Manjrekar had written not too long ago about the absolute need of Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan for the tour of South Africa. The current Champions Trophy team has laid such promotion to rest. Hope, the days of hero worship are long gone, and we have a bunch of sportsmen who know they have to perform to stay in the team, and leave when their time has come. The previous heroes were needed because the land produced very few talented sportsmen, and in turn they were hard to dislodge. Look at the new guys and their team coordination; we have never seen such team work.