Indian cricket, it’s time to cut some legends
The Indian cricket team arrived in Australia with probably the most experienced and prolific top five ever assembled in Test match cricket. It included the two leading run scorers in Test history and three who average over 50.
Moreover their ageing legends in Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were experiencing a late-career renaissance – Dravid was the leading Test run scorer in 2011, despite recently turning 39.
But it didn’t help. They will leave as a defeated and diminished side with a number of their ageing stars no doubt forced into retirement. The Indians have become a formidable side over the last decade. Their foundation has been the stability of their batsmen – led by Tendulkar and ably supported by Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag.
The longevity of these players which has hitherto been a strength now looks like a weakness. The Indian public idolises these players in a way that other cricketing nations cannot understand. An adoring public does not like to let go – but it is time.
A lack of proactive renewal can have lasting consequences on cricket teams. When multiple greats all exit the stage together, it can leave a palpable void. We have seen it in our own history. The retirements of Lillee, Thompson and Marsh in the early 80s, and Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist in the last decade, both precipitated periods of rapid decline.
There are some good young batsmen in the Indian line-up, including the technically gifted Virat Kohli, but the truth is that India have not found the next Tendulkar or Dravid among their mammoth population.
However, the Indians’ more immediate issue is not how to win without these legends but how to win with them. They have been spanked in the first three Tests of this series, following a four-nil drubbing in England last year. The Indians have become easybeats away from home. At the end of an era in which they have arguably been the most consistent side in the world, they are at risk of damaging the legacy.
Greg Chappell was very unpopular in his stint as Indian coach because he forced them to make hard decisions, including the axing of skipper Sourav Ganguly. More hard decisions need to be taken. While I was not a fan of the decision to cut off Simon Katich’s career while still in good form, it has given younger players such as Dave Warner chances. It’s time for India to identify the next generation because the current one is past its prime.
Perhaps Tendulkar and Dravid will get to go out on their own terms – as is the right of a legend. The first to go will be Laxman who does not enjoy legendary status despite his very good record against Australia. He may even be cut for the last Test of this series in Adelaide.
Michael Clarke after the conclusion of this Test spoke of the need to keep the right balance between youth and experience – he said this was his priority when he became a selector. India need to take heed – otherwise this will not be the only series in which they turn out embarrassing performances.
The question is always: are there players ready to step up? While our own cupboard looked a little bare for a while, the Sheffield Shield has again proved to be the nursery we once knew it to be. It can produce great young players like James Pattinson, those who get better with age and experience like Ed Cowan, and even redeem players like Ben Hilfenhaus.
With the focus in India being on Twenty20 you wonder whether they have the right first-class structure to produce the next Little Master.