The New Hope?

41 Comments

With the recent one day series victory in Sri Lanka, MS Dhoni advances yet another step on the path of cricketing greatness. While no doubt not as attention-grabbing as the ODI series win against Australia in Australia or financially as rewarding as the T20 World Cup victory in South Africa, this unprecedented series win is no less significant, coming off as it does in Sri Lanka and against the wiles of a mystery man, who has dominated India unlike any other bowler in recent times. Add to it Dhoni’s ungainly but thoroughly effective handling  of Mendis and his stepping up to the plate as the team’s main batsman in the potentially debilitating absence of Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh’s continued state of cricketing discombobulation, and one may begin to understand the significance of Dhoni’s personal contribution to the victory.

However the risk is that in the midst of the modest euphoria, one will perhaps forget the disastrous Test series that preceded it.  Had it not for a heroic performance from Sehwag, it would have definitely been a 3–0 pasting—no doubt about it.

There was nothing sadder for an Indian cricket fan than to see four of the games giants struggling, match after match, to handle one bowler.

In their prime, each would have handled Mendis in their own way–Sourav would have seized the initiative with his footwork, Sachin would have two aggressive shots for every variation, Laxman would have been able to play everything perfectly off the pitch and Dravid would have just downed the shutters and frustrated Mendis into submission.

However, with their abilities waning and the hand-eye coordination nowhere near as it used to be, the Fab four now rely primarily on their memory and technique to score runs.  As a result, against conventional bowlers, they are typically able to produce workmanlike though mostly unspectacular performances. There is, from time to time, the odd flash of inspiration, like the kind Ganguly displayed against South Africa in the third Test, that still keeps us hoping against hope that our favorite cricketers still have years left in them.

This time however faced with a challenge unlike anything they have handled in their entire cricket career, the Big Four just had no answer.  Simply put, the bizarre nature of  Mendis made the “playing from memory” technique useless. New tactics, like the ones Sachin had adopted many years ago against a blonde Aussie spinning great with a fondness for threesomes, diuretics and flippers, needed to be thought out and implemented.

But that was evidently a bridge too far for the four of them. Seemingly content on just keeping Mendis out,  it became only a matter of time when the carrom ball would rip across the edge or the googly spin in, without a riposte from the Fab Four.

Sad to see the Gandhivs falling from the hands of the four Arjuns, for the first time all together. But not worrying.

What was however alarming was the sight of  Dinesh Kartik, a year or so ago considered to be good enough to play as a Test batsman and rated equal to Dhoni as a keeper-batsman, playing like my aunt at the family picnic, swinging his bat like a broom. Parthiv Patel, who has supposedly reinvented his batting, looked no better. And I am not even getting to their primary duties—keeping. Compared to their unintentional comic routines and gracelessness behind the stumps , the willow-flailing was positively artistic.

While it is naive to expect, four batsmen of the abilities of Sachin, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly to be “replaced” and that too overnight, the crisis is that there does not seem anyone except Sehwag among the current crop who has displayed a stomach for the longer version of the game.

Yuvraj Singh came spectacularly unstuck in Australia. Dhoni has yet to establish himself as a Test batsman of any kind of pedigree. And while it would be harsh to pick on Gautam Gambhir who was India’s second best batsman, it no doubt is true that despite being in the form of his life (and possibly the height of his powers) he was unable to make a single century in the series, let alone a big score.  Considering that a Test batsman and that too an opener is never remembered for the 60s and 70s but the 150s and the 200s, there is no escaping the fact that not a single representative of the so-called Youngistan has,to date, demonstrated sustained ability at the Test level.

In the last Test, Kartik and Gambhir kept getting up too early while fielding close-in, letting runs through continuously. Pragyan Ojha was listless in the field and the normally-brilliant Rohit Sharma missed a simple run-out apart from committing a few egregious errors. The root cause for all these mis-fields was probably the same,  the symptom of a larger malaise—namely the inability of the new generation players, used to the faster pace and shorter concentration times needed for the shorter games, to continuously focus on each and every delivery of the 540 that are bowled in a day.

So are Dhoni’s men, talented as they no doubt are in the shorter versions of the game, ready to take over the reins from the older generation and become, at the very least, Test batsmen of international standards?

We may soon find that out. And the answer we find—we perhaps may not like.

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41 thoughts on “The New Hope?

  1. Good analysis. Dhoni’s young brigade is coming along nicely in the shorter versions of the game, and the current lot should be an ideal nucleus to build a team for the 2011 World Cup (if 50-over games still hold any interest till then).

    Unfortunately, the lack of focus you talk of for the longer version is a direct result of the markets – why would any of the young players care when they are making huge amounts of money from IPL, national 20/20, and even the 50/50s ?

    The Fab 4 came through during the period when wearing the national Test cap was still considered a huge honor and you became famous both for your Test and ODI exploits. Test exploits may still be important especially against teams like Australia, Pakistan etc, but currently most domestic player probably aim to get a lucrative IPL deal or be part of the ‘world champion’ 20/20 national team.

    On a positive note, even in tests, we at least now have a good bowling line-up with Zaheer, Ishant etc.

  2. Well said. Although having the Fab Four Kumble has not exactly seen our results have the rest of the test world shaking in it’s collective boots, what was tantalizing was that they ‘could’. And did, every now and then.

    The potential crew may neither have the technique nor the patience needed to play test cricket… that ‘batten-down-the-hatches’ mentality when things are not going in your favour. And let’s face it, things generally do not.

    It’s going to be a jolly few decades for the test team 🙂

  3. I still think its time for one of the four to go. Badrinath has a great First Class record, and Yuvraj has the talent if not the temperament. We need to give these players some time. And while it is cruel to pick one of the Four, after much thought, I’d have to settle on my favourite of them all (and yours?) – Dada. He was the most uninspiring in the last series…

  4. Dear GB:

    This time I completely disagree with you. The new batsmen are not even tried yet in tests. By continuing still in test team, Gravid, Ganguly, Sachin, and Laxman are simply doing harm to the next generation. We are simply repeating the mistake that West Indies had done and now Australia is doing, i.e., depending on old batsmen and ignoring the new generation.

    I really wonder at the greed displayed openly by fab four. They just don’t want to leave the team, and even worse, Dravid and Ganguly openly express their desire to return to the ODI team. These four have been playing for nearly 15 years, earned crores of money, but still they don’t realize the need to give the next generation a chance and just want to limp on the pitch and earn more money. Badrinath is already 27 years old, when will he get a chance in tests?

    Regarding technique, Badrinath, Raina, and Rohit Sharma have solid techniques. It is a matter of time they adjust their technique to test matches. Even if they fail, no problem; we can try some other batsmen. This persistence with fab four is simply harmful for the next generation. They should be sacked right now without any hesitation.

  5. Good analysis, observations made are spot on and I agree to totally. However what’s required is we have to give the chance to younger players to come and perform in tests, just depending on fab four and criticising new recruits have no appetite for tests will not help. Lastly I feel we should not allow anyone now to play over 100 tests, come perform, rest or get dropped, come back again. Young ones should be looking for 50-60 tests in their careers, if they are good.

  6. A very good effort indeed by the Indian team to clinch an ODI series in SL – that is another monkey off the back now. Dhoni has clearly infused a lot of confidence into the youngsters who in turn are delivering for him. Of course, it does help that the skipper is leading by example. However, while not taking away anything from the team, it is also pertinent to note that India were significantly lucky on the toss front. Else, we may have been out for Dhoni’s head by now and calling for the seniors to be brought back.

    On the test side, I think the selectors erred on two counts:

    a) not planning a transition in advance – ideally, each one of the four seniors should have been made to sit out in rotation and others tried out. This should have started a couple of years ago.
    b) confusing between ODI and test form – why try Yuvraj Singh, Kaif and Rohit Sharma, who have hardly played any first class cricket in tests when you had the likes of Badrinath, Yashpal etc scoring so heavily in the domestic circuit? The latter at least have the habit of batting for long periods of time. To make things worse, the one player of the three ODI specialists tried out to be discarded is Kaif – incidentally, the one who has done the best among the three in tests. Why was he dropped? Poor form in ODIs!!

    Having said that, I dont think there is any need to panic at the test level in the immediate future. The big dip in form of the Fab four was largely a Mendis issue. I dont think either Australia or England – who we play next – have the attack to bother these players at this point.

  7. @Kishor

    Why blame the fab four for hanging on to their places etc etc? They are entitled to decide for themselves when they should quit. Would you quit your job just because you have earned a lot of money?

    It is for the selectors to intervene if they feel that anyone is not pulling his weight in the team. One can blame them for lacking foresight but surely not the seniors.

    It would have been an easier call for them as well had the likes of Yuvraj or Kaif grabbed the opportunities they got when Saurav and Sachin were not in the team for reasonable lengths of time. I think they got it wrong with Kaif but I wouldnt blame them for lacking confidence in Yuvraj at the test level.

  8. I’m still the “purist” at heart, still haven’t given up, by any stretch of imagination on the First Trio of Indian cricket, at least, if not all 4 and lucky smart as MSD maybe, without Test performance, a cricketing nation is not gonna be great ever. The Youngistan doesn’t have it in ’em yet and failed just as spectacularly as the OldGen the last series. Also think it was a bad case of selection for the youngsters in the Tests. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar are the two I’m willing to bet anything on, for they’d come back, play better than ever and in any case they just don’t need to prove themselves to anyone. Let’s leave the age debate at home, that’s no reason to stop playing if you’re fit. (Waugh? Jayasuriya?)And these men know themselves n love Indian cricket enough to do what’s right when it’s right. I hate the endless criticism they get anyway. IPL Bangalore may have flopped, but Dravid’s own record in a format as far removed from his strengths as possible was above average anyway. And just how many times will Sachin or Sourav or Laxman prove to the ever-questioning Indian masses their status. Much better than the dozens who come in and go every year with a few spectacular and a spate of forgettable performances.

  9. I think selectors should pluck out one by one like the way they did in ODIS – first Laxman, then Dravid, then Dada and eventually Sachin in the future.

    For tests, it should be Dravid (he has lost his touch bigtime, though fitness is there), Dada (his reflexes are doomed), Tendulkar (his health/fitness cant be any poorer) and Laxman.

    I think Laxman still has 2-3 years in him at tests. He didnt look that bad in either Australia or Srilanka. Though he has fitness problems of his own. But compared to the rest 3, his batting looks more solid and less prone to get out.

    Send all them packing together will do more harm than good to the current gen.

  10. The fab four have one last series against Australia on the cards now. Whoever fails – Sachin or otherwise – needs to be dropped. I don’t mind, if like Jayasuriya they can make their way back into the team at a later date – but now will be the time to blood the younger guys, we can’t wait till they are 28 for them to make their debut (quite like the Aussies end up doing).

    The contenders?

    – Rohit Sharma
    – S. Badrinath
    – Suresh Raina (has showed excellent technique so far)

    And we can keep Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik in the wings. Along with maybe Manoj Tiwari.

    We also can’t afford to have another off season for Kumble – his record as bowler has not been good, and his field placing as captain could use loads of improvement. At some point we do have to see Chawla and Ojha come in, as also young Iqbal Abdullah.

    Two years from now we are going to see a completely different test team, except maybe for the pace bowlers. Lets hope they can stand up to it.

  11. hold on, but didn´t the experts say that Tendulkar was one of the few who played Mendis quite well. In fact Mendis only got him out once, and that was when he was already injured…
    I think Tendulkar, like always, is still far ahead of the other Fab three- and if Jaysuria can do it at 39, Tendulkar will do it at 36.

    Or am I just an obsessed Tendulkar fan?

  12. I agree with manu. sachin was not uncomfortable against mendis. he actually had problem with murali’s round the wicket doosra’s more ( remembering world cup may be). BUT that is definitely not an excuse for HIM to get away with…

    however i still worship him 🙂

  13. Well – I agree with you totally. I am of the opinion that the Fab four need to be dropped and let all the younger generation play. We will lose a few tests and series in the first couple of years. But there might be hope afterwards!

  14. Time for a rotation policy in tests –

    Dravid —- Badrinath
    Tendulkar —- Yuvraj/Kohli
    Ganguly —- Raina
    Laxman —- Sharma/Kohli

    So lets say we play all seniors in the 1st test. They play for 2 innings and the lowest scorer (if he scores below 40) goes out and the younster comes in for the next test ie. two innings as well. If the youngster performs better he stays. Else the senior comes back in the next test.

    The trouble is , we don’t have a proper replacement for the great Jumbo yet.

  15. And if the youngster replacing a particular senior performs consistently over 3-4 series (in diverse conditions like Eng, SA and home), then the selectors shopuld drop the senior from the squad.

  16. I think most of the folks who are in their 20s or 30s are part of a generation that grew watching the trio play (I don’t really feel like counting Laxman with the others) and it will be hard for this generation (that includes me) to let go of them from their mindspace. Whether they play well or not, they generally form the core of all the cricketing debates. rediff message board just can’t get enough of them. Once they retire (sooner or later that is going to happen), there will be a huge void left behind on or off the field (in tv debates). I guess most of us are probably waiting to see them in their full glory at least once more before they hang their boots.

  17. Sh!t man we gonna have a team full of gavar’s after fab four leave us…!! Sophistication is gonna go out of cricket..!! I already feel so old (im 25)..have almost stopped watching cricket..Pray for india to lose..and hate it when they end up winning..!!

  18. Greatbong,

    I would like to know your take on kashmir issue. I know u wrote before, I am talking about the solution u see coming out. I know its going to be tough to get a solution but I would like to hear from u coz other bloggers whom i am fond off proved too naive, suggesting that we should let go kashmir n taht will end militancy which I think is pure ilogical……ur take???

  19. Judging by the same standards, Sangakkara, Jayawardane, Jayasuriya have waned, right? Since they couldn’t handle Munaf Patel and Pathan, they must have lost their powers, just after they played good cricket a few weeks back?
    And Sangakkara must be old.

  20. yeah I agree I am an obsessed Tendulkar fan, and I have reasons to be- he is the best sportsman the country has ever produced. Yes I have heard of Dhyanchand, Vishwanath, Prakash Padukone, and Mr. Bindra- but if you consider Sachin God Tendulkar´s impact on the world of cricket, it dwarfs the achievements of others, big time. Tendulkar would be to cricket what Pele is to football, and perhaps few other sportsmen are to any other sport!

    At a time when a country of 1 billion performs miserably at almost any sport, here is one man who stands apart. One man who has showed the world that an Indian can be the best in the world, ever.

    Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, I am proud to be an Indian because of Indians like you. I have grown up at a time when cricket in India is synonymous with your name, and I hope it continues this way for many more years. You are not just the best at what you do, you are a Legend!

  21. dibyo, I agree with aandthirtyeights – Virat Kohli has shown absolutely no reason to be included in the test squad yet, though I say he can be allowed to wear cricket whites – while playing in the Ranji Trophy 🙂 Yuvraj – maybe he deserves another shot at test matches, though I get the feeling on wickets where the ball bounces higher than waist hight or in conditions where it moves more than one inch or when it turns a bit…. ok, scratch that, I can’t see why he should be in the test side.

    I’m with GB on this – I’m not sure the newer guys (Is Yuvi that new?) are capable of doing better than whatever little the seniors have done in the last two series.

    So Australia will have to be the acid test – then we start dropping them one by one.

    Damn, that is gonna hurt.

  22. GB i fail to understand the tone of the post…were u for them or against them…the fab 4 i mean…or did u leave it on us mortals 2 fight it out among ourselves? well whatever ur intention was…its great actually…since we are back debating on the favourite topic in the Indian cricket scenario for the last 2-3 years.
    I would love to raise one question…are we actually being fair to them when we say they should hang up their boots now.
    True they are in their mid thirties and definitely past their prime,but can merely one test series of failure can seal the fate of the greatest bunch of batsmen (playing together in one era)? People who are going for Sachin’s head should remember his last fit stint was when he singlehandedly won the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia for us scoring a century and a 90 in the two finals.So should we now infer that he is better off in the ODI’s than in the tests?Let us retire him in the test arena then.
    Ganguly since coming back has been very consistent in the test arena scoring 3-4 centuries(including a double century)and loads of half centuries. His strike rate in the ODI’s has been a problem,but we are not considering him for the ODI’s any more…are we?So lets forget that. Dravid,yes,has been in indifferent form for quite some time now,but surely a batsman of his class and pedigree will come back with a bang.And why do we discuss Laxman?I dont have stats here,but speaking from memory,I can bet a 100 bucks that he has been scoring big runs every third innings he bats.
    Are we not going for the heads of four of the greatest batsmen in the history of Indian cricket only because we are bored to see them bat for the last 12-13 years (in Sachin’s case 19 years) and just want to see new faces who might not be upto the same pedigree?I repeat, can we seal their fate on the basis of three test matches?
    I would not.You might.But that is what a debate is all about, isnt it?

  23. @Anand & Aditya – I might well be wrong on the Kohli front. I guess you guys might have watched him play more than me. But in case of an injury we might be forced to throw him into the fray, unless you guys know of someone in domestic cricket who is a better bet than him.
    ———————————-

    @Kishore: What do you mean? I know you dish out codswallop most of the time, but just curious ….. maybe you have logic behind ur argument this time

  24. “Considering that a Test batsman and that too an opener is never remembered for the 60s and 70s but the 150s and the 200s, there is no escaping the fact that not a single representative of the so-called Youngistan has,to date, demonstrated sustained ability at the Test level.”

    only because the 4 grand daddies have been occupying all the batting slots for ages and ages. The sooner people like you get over their geriatric fixation the sooner we’ll have a test batting lineup worth watching.

  25. @Anon – how many of the fab four had 150s and 200s early in their careers? Players evolve (and hopefully improve) with time – hence the need to phase them in while you have enough well evolved players in the fray. If we dont start phasing the fab four now (we should have started some time back), we will soon come to a situation where we have four raw guys playing in test whites at the same time rather than just one or two.

  26. Its a endless debate. I’m a little surprised at the inclusion of Laxman in the list in the non performers list. By no means he wasa roaring success but while the other three were all at sea, but Laxman scored two half centuries batting with the lower order in a not so high scoring series. In the last few years, hes delivered as much as he can batting down the order. The captain, kumble pretty much wrote the same in his article after the series.

  27. @Deeps

    I entirely agree re Laxman. It is time we give him back his number three slot for good. He has been the only consistent player in the so called fab four over the last couple of years.

    At this point, if we are to get one of the fab four to make way, it has to be Dravid. He has been consistently below average over the last few years. However, I suspect Sachin may not be available for at least some of the matches on the Australian series – that will open up a slot. Dravid, in that case, should be moved to number 6 – who knows, putting him in a position where he has no choice but to take the initiative may actually help him get out of the current rut that he is in.

  28. Virat Kohli – how did he get into the one day side? I can name atleast U-19 4 team mates of his who are better than him – Shreevats Goswami(he can keep, too!), Ravindra Jadeja, Taruwar Kohli and Tanmay Shrivastava. Jadeja, thanks to Warne, did get column inches during the IPL as a competent all-rounder. His performances in the IPL were way better than the pathetic Virat’s. Taruwar failed in the IPL but he did much better in the WC U-19. Shreevats displayed his mettle in the last stages of Bangalore’s flickering campaign. But let me save my favourite for the last – Tanmay, when I saw him in Malaysia, displayed such fine technique and mettle, and more importantly, temparament. He dispalyed that in the limited chances he got playing for Mohali in IPL. IMO, Tanmay is the guy to fast-track. Unfortunately, there is no hype around him so that will not happen. I am sure he will do well for UP next year though and then let’s see.Along with Raina and Rohit, I see Tanmay as a possible candidate for super-3 a la fab four in the future

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