Sachin Tendulkar says that the current team is definitely the best batting lineup he has ever been part of (and boy has he been part of several).
Though it very well might be an off-the-cuff remark made by Sachin Tendulkar without serious deliberation, something that is only to be expected after a glorious display of raw batting prowess from himself and the team, it is the kind of statement that starts off a generational battle between the old-timers and the young guns and leads to much impassioned activity on bulletin boards and Orkut communities.
As a not-very-objective sentimental old-timer myself, my first reaction was one of “Really?”Surely a batting line-up that had the Sachin of old, Sourav, Dravid, Azharuddin, Jadeja sounds much more formidable than the one of today. The Sachin of today, with still the ability to bring a ODI 150 out of his bag, is not a spot on the Sachin of yore. Sehwag it may be argued is the new Sachin but there still will always be a difference in class and reliability. Which leaves Gambhir, Yuvraj, Raina on one side and Dravid, Sourav and Azhar on the other and a person-by-person comparison between the two, in terms of achievement and reputation, is a rather damning win in favor of the oldies.
But is a numerical comparison between records and reputations fair considering that the new players are in the process of defining their legacies and so should not be even expected to compete in this respect with the legends before them? It also merits consideration that while as individuals the records of the oldies may be staggering, India’s win-rate was never as high during their era as their personal records, mind boggling as they are, would suggest. Hence they were in a sense lesser together than the sum of their parts.
But the win-rate and ICC rank is a deceptive metric when it comes to comparing batting power across generations simply because the team of the late 90s and early 2000s had a much weaker bowling attack than what the present team does. So while today’s team overall is definitely stronger, the same cannot be said so unequivocally about the batting lineup.
Youngistan has two big advantages. One is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. India has never had the good fortune of having such an excellent wicketkeeper batsman, having been saddled with a line of wimpy glovemen of the likes of Mongia and Saba Karim whose contribution to the batting was insignificant. Dravid being made a keeper was an ugly though necessary hack and severely compromised the effectiveness of the team while fielding. And the extra batsmen who played as a result were not a patch on Dhoni in terms of the capability to wield the willow.
The second advantage that today’s team has is even more significant and possibly the only place where it stands head and shoulders above the old. It is in terms of physical fitness and the consequent improvement it has brought about in running between the wickets. The new Indian team is more effective in the middle overs, score more runs in singles and doubles and have less number of dot balls. So they are more likely to consistently score runs faster and yet at lesser risk than the old guys. This is an enormous plus point.
But then you can steal singles only if you are classy enough to survive at the crease in the first place, a tough thing to do against the best opposition on the worst of pitches. In 2006, on the fast tracks of South Africa, Chappell’s Vision Team came unhinged as the batting techniques of Gen Next were exposed leading to such a crisis that the discarded Ganguly had to be recalled. In 2009, many of the personnel are still the same and while Gambhir, Raina and Dhoni are vastly improved from their 2006 incarnations the question still remains—do they have the essential skills to weather the highest quality of bowling, the single-most important characteristic that defines a strong batting side?
The fairest assessment of that would be that the jury is still out. The new Indian team are fortunate to be not playing against a Wasim-Waqar, a McGrath-Warne, a Donald-Pollock, a Ambrose-Walsh and whether they would have emerged with honor like their predecessors or been reduced to a state of paralysis is a question that cannot now be answered. In their defense, they did meet a roadblock in the form of the freakishly talented Mendis, initially capitulated but then managed to gain some degree of control over him. However it would be correct to say they have yet to be consistently tested by the very best and it is once that happens with time and once each of them have built their own legacies, that we will be closer to a more definite conclusion.
Till then let the fans battle on.