London: Aug 23, 2011
Ageing superstars, a shallow back-up pool and the national addiction to instant cricket have left India facing a depressing outlook at the Test level following their 4-0 drubbing by England.
It was the tourists' heaviest series defeat in two decades, dethroning India from the top of the Test rankings and relegating them to number three behind England and South Africa.
But there may be worse to come, gloomy pundits argue.
India rose to the pinnacle on the back of the combined brilliance of established stars such as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.
Two other pillars, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, have already retired and it won't be long before Tendulkar and Dravid, both aged 38, and Laxman, who turns 37 in November, are gone too.
The bowling cupboard too is bare as injury-prone pace spearhead Zaheer and spinner Harbhajan ponder their immediate future and younger bowlers struggle to come to terms with Test cricket.
"We were fortunate to have such good players all at one time, but they can't go on forever," legendary all-rounder Kapil Dev told AFP. "It won't be easy to replace them."
Tendulkar, the world's leading batsman, and Dravid are still good enough to hold their own for a while yet, but the transition could begin during India's tour of Australia starting in December.
Former opener Arun Lal, now a respected television commentator, said the defeat in England was a wake-up call to administrators.
"You cannot go on with 35 or 38-year-olds till eternity," said Lal. "We need to infuse new talent. What happened in England was in a way good. We needed an awakening."
Kumble admitted a return to the top will take time, but urged selectors to invest in younger players such as Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh.
"They have to be given a long rope," said Kumble, Test cricket's third highest wicket-taker after Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne.
"You may not see India come back at the top in quick time. But we have to ensure that with these youngsters, we remain in the top three and climb to the top spot after a few years."
Former Indian cricketers have expressed disappointment and surprise at the heavy defeat of the Indian cricket team. Moreover the huge margins of losses in each of the Test matches have saddened them more.
Former India batsman Dilip Vengsarkar expressed his disappointment by saying that this defeat was India’s worst defeat in recent times. He was quoted in Mid Day as saying, "It was a very embarrassing performance. It is our worst defeat in recent times. We were completely outplayed. Right from the word go, everything went against us. Zaheer Khan, who was bowling beautifully, got injured at a crucial time.
"We dropped many catches on the first day of the first Test at Lord's. Thereafter, we lost the advantage under overcast conditions. England piled up a big total and that put pressure on our batsmen.”
Former Indian pacer Balwinder Singh Sandhu believes Indian players did not do their homework before going to England. He was quoted In Mid Day as saying, "It is certainly a big disappointment. We did not expect a whitewash. If you don't do your homework, you will never be comfortable in the classroom. That's exactly what happened with the Indian team.”
Sandhu was also livid with the Indian team for not putting up a fight to the England team. "What annoys me is that very few players put up a fight. Agreed that failures are a part of every sport, but going down without putting a fight, is not a good sign from a world champion team. Each team member is answerable for such a bad show," said.
Vengsarkar felt that lack of bench strength was also one of the reasons for India’s heavy loss. “Rather than looking at what went wrong, we should look ahead to the future and plan things in a better way. We need to have a pool of players and talent-spotters. We shouldn't be digging the well for water only when we lose.
"We have to get our bench strength in shape. This will make it easier to absorb the shock of such heavy defeats," said Vengsarkar.
With the euphoria of India's limited-overs World Cup win in April wearing off, questions abound over whether the Board of Control for Cricket in India is serious about equipping the team for the rigours of the five-day game.
Critics have slammed the BCCI for poor planning, undue emphasis on the lucrative Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition, and a lack of injury management.
Whispers have grown in recent years of youngsters skipping first-class matches to ensure they stay fit to fulfill their million-dollar IPL commitments.
Former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi doubts if the cash-rich BCCI will follow Cricket Australia's example of ordering an in-depth review to pinpoint the ills in Indian cricket.
"The BCCI is not going to show a great deal of vision," said Pataudi. "Cricket will continue the way it is, but I sincerely hope that some sense does come in."
The BCCI's lop-sided scheduling is evident in the fact that India's exhausted cricketers will get no respite -- or a chance to work on their game at the nets -- after their return from England.
The Champions League Twenty20 competition, featuring domestic club teams from across the cricket-playing world, begins in India on September 19, just three days after the last one-dayer in England.
Among the IPL teams in the fray are Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings, Tendulkar's Mumbai Indians and Kohli's Bangalore Royal Challengers, while Gambhir's Kolkata Knight Riders will play in the qualifying round.
After the Champions League ends on October 9, India will host England for five one-day internationals from October 14 to 29, followed by a Test and one-day series against the West Indies at home till mid-December.
The hectic schedule leaves India with just one warm-up match in Australia ahead of four back-to-back Tests starting on Boxing Day (December 26). Late efforts are now on to pencil in another practice game. (AFP)