My previous post in August was just after the nightmarish English summer. As MS Dhoni put it, everything that had to go wrong, did! I genuinely believed it was a one-off and that is what it should have been, provided some remedial actions were taken.
As someone famously said "You cannot do the same thing repeatedly and expect different results". "Visionary" is a term in short supply in our great land. We have been rarely blessed with leaders that can see and live an India after 20 years. That same problem seems to plague even our cricket leaders. I would not like to talk about cricket administrators here because most of them are clowns beyond repair that deserve no print space and ink.
The lack of foresight is what hurts me most in what has been a humiliating, appalling, embarrassing three weeks for Indian cricket. All of our top players are fit, the 11 that played at Melbourne and Sydney are the best we could have put up on a cricket field. So no excuse from that perspective. Yet, how can we be mauled repeatedly? How can one explain that this team under MSD can be seemingly worse (atleast in the results column) than the pedestrian India sides Azharuddin and Tendulkar led in the 90s?
Here are some do's and don'ts for the actors that make Team India.
Virender Sehwag: That he is still a match-winner is beyond debate. Even outside the subcontinent. But his no-holds-barred license needs urgent review. It is one thing to be adventurous and explosive, but to be downright reckless when your team is lagging way behind in a test match and your middle order is struggling is a luxury India cannot afford.The 219 in a one dayer might end up doing a lot of disservice. The ego boost was really unnecessary!
Playing for your team is paramount in cricket and that sadly has been missing in his "I donno where my screw fell off" approach in the last 3 overseas tours. Kick up the backside, anyone?
Gautam Gambhir: Fighter,albeit filled with anger. Needs to know that 60s and 80s are not done for a test match opener. Gambhir is worth preserving(like Sehwag), but the message should be loud and clear. Make test match hundreds consistently, else we will not hesitate to invest in youth.
Rahul Dravid: The first of the 3 legends in the lineup. A mortal genius who should have known his limits better. Mohali 2008 was his rebirth and England 2011, his coronation. I wrote that he should have gone out on a high post England but he chose to stick on. Now, 5 bowled out of 6 and suddenly a Steve Waugh like farewell might not be in his destiny. Gut feel is, Laxman being in a weaker position will allow Dravid to drag on for a series or two more. But it shouldn't come to that.Hope he goes out on his own terms and real soon!
Sachin Tendulkar: calling for his head is sacrilegious in India. People don't want to listen to criticisms of SRT. I find that annoying. Oh yeah I love him too, but let us open our eyes for a minute. I am not suggesting the great man quit tests, no not yet. He has another year in him (the way he is batting in Australia), but for what joy is he playing One day cricket? Enjoying the game? Not a good enough answer. If SRT cannot make it to the 2015 World Cup, he doesn't deserve a place in the ODI side right now. Period.
By the way, isn't Mumbai 2011 THE finish a sportsman hopes for? What more do you want other than being paraded on your young teammates shoulders on your beloved homeground having just won a World Cup for your nation? Great people need to take bold decisions and by playing all IPL games and one day cricket, SRT has lost a little sheen in my eye and I say that with a heavy heart.
VVS Laxman: Our Houdini. A lovable human. But does that make him bullet proof? No. VVS looks the oldest of the 3 legends on a cricket field. His batting in England and Australia hasn't been convincing and he has looked a pale shadow of his halcyon days. Time to leave the room, sir. You will always be respected.
Virat Kohli: The young man has bottle. One to be persisted with. I won't be surprised if he leads India in the longest format within the next few years.
Rohit Sharma/Ajinkya Rahane-- The 2 Mumbaikars are very close to test match debuts. Rahane averages 68.18 in Ranji Trophy and that is way more than knocking on the selectors door. That is, pushing the door wide open.
Rohit Sharma is a superb talent whose temperament and shot selection are still big question marks for me. I only hope he doesn't go the Yuvraj way i.e. remain a "youngster" in test cricket all his life.
Suresh Raina: India material. If not for shot selection and repertoire, for his dedication to the India shirt. His determination will make sure he features again in Test cricket soon. Someone for the future.
Cheteshwar Pujara: Lots of talent and runs in domestic cricket to back his case. I see him as our future no.3 in test match cricket. Needs to get in at 3 the next home series and Dravid needs to bat 5. Passing the baton time.
Yuvraj Singh: Champion one day cricketer. Time for Indian selectors to slam the door on his test career. Real real hard.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni: I respect the man. A lot. One of my role models in life. Will be indebted forever for 2nd April 2011. But he has never been a world class test batsman. If we still want to live in the Mongia/More era, he is more than adequate. If we are looking for a Gilchrist, the answer is not him, not Saha/Parthiv/DK either. It has to be some young man in his teens somewhere in India. For now, TINA factor might save Mahi. His application has been a major disappointment in Australia.
Zaheer Khan: Our best bowler. Our only world class bowler. Is 33, but his body is way more delicate than that. I always fear what will happen of Indian cricket if Khan isn't fit for test cricket. Alas, I don't think that day is far away. His batting has gone to the dogs in the last 3 years (after Bangalore 2008) and over reliance on him might cost our team dear. Caution!
Ishant Sharma: The term "unlucky" has been abused of late. Ishant hasn't been unlucky, he has been plain mediocre. He doesn't have a place in colored clothes right now and might soon have to prove his worth playing for Delhi and North Zone before getting back to test cricket. IPL performances to be ignored, please. Hope he bounces back real soon.
Umesh Yadav: one of the shining lights of this sojourn Down Under. Seems to have a big heart, can rely on him to produce a back breaking spell when the opposition is 300/2 on a flat deck. You see that quality very rarely these days. Hope he keeps improving and goes strength to strength.
Ravichandran Ashwin: can bat, can turn the ball. Good cricketer is R.Ashwin. Whether he is a test class spinner or not, time will tell. But he is a team player alright. Running between the wickets needs urgent attention though.
Pragyan Ojha: Good at holding one end tight, but not a "run through the opposition" bowler yet. Needs to do that more often, else he might find someone screaming at him like VVS so famously did in Mohali.
Vinay Kumar: Venky Prasad reborn, without the effective leg cutter that is. He is from my state and have followed a lot of him in the Ranji trophy, but I don't see the killer instinct and that "world beater" attitude. I would pick Abhimanyu Mithun over him most days.
Irfan Pathan: someone worth trying out. A 3 dimensional cricketer. If the ball is swinging back into the right hander, a definite asset.
Harbhajan Singh: 400 test wickets is no joke. I just hope he has the guts for more glory and a Kumble like finish. Needs to pull up his socks.
Overall, I feel Dhoni and the senior players have set Indian cricket back by a couple of years by failing to plan the phase out process. In professional sport,most people don't get to go when they want to and how they want to. The sentiment should be avoided, for the larger cause that is Indian cricket. Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar owe a lot to Indian cricket for the love and faith shown over the past 15-20 years. By timing their retirements well, they could have helped rebuild Indian cricket but each one seems to be sticking to his guns. "Age is only a number" is all crap. There comes a time when you have to invest in youth, while yet not making wholesale changes. That time has more than come.
I wish these legends are NOT remembered for this small indecisive phase in their careers, as opposed to their glory years when they served our country with great distinction.The very thought that they might be, is excruciatingly painful for ardent Indian cricket fans.
Hope better sense prevails in these great men we love. Atleast now!