By Nishad Pai Vaidya
We are not really sleeping, so we don't need a wake-up call – Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Team India’s captain may use his quick thinking and wit to avoid uncomfortable questions, but he cannot deny the fact that his side needs to introspect and chalk out a plan for the future. The wake-up bell has been ringing and ringing far too loudly and far too long on this disastrous tour of England. The wake-call is not just for him as a captain but for Indian cricket to see the painful writing on the wall and commence the rebuilding process in a hurry.
“The past two years have been great. We have to look to the future as well, but at the same time the important thing is not to panic because sides can push the panic button too soon,” Dhoni opined.
It is refreshing to hear the Indian captain say that the team needs to look into the future. The first progressive step towards that has to look at the side’s ageing batting. There is a crying need to create a line of young batsmen to take over the mantle when the time comes.
Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are nearing the end of their careers. They need to be replaced by youngsters who are ready to enter the big arena and not a bunch of tyros plucked straight out of domestic cricket. And that means, talented youngsters will have to be blooded and persevered with.
India’s squad for the England Test series includes players such as Yuvraj Singh (now injured) and Suresh Raina who have done really well in limited-overs internationals. But there are huge question marks over their skills in playing Test cricket. They look far too vulnerable to the short ball and simply don’t have the technique to deal with it in the longer version. The ongoing tour of England has made it very clear that India needs to deviate from the policy of selecting players for Tests based on their exploits in the shorter version.
Any person who follows Indian cricket would agree that there is no dearth of batting talent in the country. The likes of Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara have been scoring heavily in first-class cricket for years and have for long been labeled as “the future.” Sharma and Tiwary have played one-day cricket for India and Pujara has earned a Test cap, but Rahane remains an unknown quantity at the highest level. The four of them need to be taken very seriously when the selectors start planning for the future.
The Indian selectors shouldn’t make the mistake of stereotyping Rohit and Tiwary as one-day specialists. Rohit, in particular, is in danger of losing his prodigious batting talent to the glamour of T20s as most people remember him for his stellar showings in the Indian Premier League (IPL). He has a first-class average of 60.87 in first-class cricket which indicates a serious ability to bat in the longer version. He was on the verge of making his Test debut against South Africa in early 2010 when he was drafted into the side a cover for the injured VVS Laxman. A freak injury denied him of a chance to don the Test cap.
Manoj Tiwary, the Bengal batsman has been a real force in Indian domestic cricket. He has played three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for India without much success, but the fact remains that he hasn’t been given a fair run with the Indian team. After a solitary outing in Australia in 2008 he was shown the door only to be recalled for the West Indies tour where his two chances didn’t inspire a selection for England. His recent performance in the Emerging Players Tournament held Down Under is an encouraging sign and he should figure in the selector’s radar for Tests.
Pujara, the run-machine from Saurashtra, was already hyped up as the next Rahul Dravid. His sound technique and calm temperament were on display on his Test debut when he scored 72 in a crucial run chase against the touring Australians last October. An injury deprived him off the tours to West Indies and England which would have been ideal for him to cement his place. When he will attain 100 per cent fitness, he would have to work his way back to the eleven but the selectors must keep an eye on his rehab and draft him into the squad accordingly. They should avoid making the mistake of sending him back to domestic cricket and asking him to earn his place again as that would only complicate matters.
Rahane, the youngest of the four, made a huge impression in the recently concluded Emerging Players Tournament in Australia. Already a heavy scorer in domestic cricket, he has worked his way up to the A Team. Even when he has batted in the IPL he has shown that he plays according to the coaching manual and possesses sound temperament.
Apart from the four mentioned above, there are others such as Virat Kohli and Subramaniam Badrinath who look good for Tests. Kohli made his Test debut in the West Indies and didn’t have a good time, but he is very balanced at the crease and boasts of a strong first-class record. Badrinath isn’t exactly a young at 30, but it isn’t too late to give him a good run in the Test side. Australia took a chance with Michael Hussey and there is no reason why India cannot do the same with Badrinath.
Talent needs direction and the Indian think-tank need to realize it now. Dhoni also said that “Challenges make life interesting. If you only achieve success it becomes quite easy for you. It's the same in cricket or any other sport. It's just a phase we're going through. We are learning a lot.” Quite a few challenges lie before the Indian captain and one of them is handling the young talent well so that they are ready to fill in the big shoes of the great trio.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")