India faces a choice between evolution and revolution. Over the next few weeks the selectors must complete their plans for the forthcoming Australian series.
Is it to be a last hurrah for the great figures that have adorned the game for 15 years? Should they be given one more opportunity to nail the Australians? After all they only lost by a whisker in the previous series, and that in contentious circumstances. Or should the selectors start dismantling the side veteran by veteran? In short should changes be made before or afterwards?
It is not a straightforward matter. Although several batsmen are past their peak they are not hobbling around on walking sticks. And the sight of an Australian cricketer might have much the same effect on them as dawn has upon roosters. Nor have the younger brigade been pressing hard.Trapped midway
Chances have been given to various contenders and none has imposed himself. Mohammed Kaif and Yuvraj Singh, especially, have been trapped midway between promise and deed. As a result the selectors lack compelling alternatives.
Accordingly a case can be made for waiting. Apart from anything else it would placate crowds inclined to identifying strongly with their heroes. But it will not do. India cannot twiddle its thumbs until it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that the fine batsmen of the aging generation are over the hill.
Competitors of this calibre do not lose their powers overnight. Deterioration is gradual but irreversible as eyes slow, motivation fades and feet stop dancing. Certainly the middle order could serve a little longer but selectors are obliged to anticipate not respond. Moreover India has already leapt forwards in one-day cricket. Against the wishes of an abrasive coach, the old guard was given a last dash for glory in the World Cup. Early elimination meant the team could be dismantled without upsetting anyone.Winds of change
Mahendra Singh Dhoni was put in charge and several old-timers were put out to pasture. An immediate change came over the side. India was faster between wickets, sharper in the field and fresher of spirit. In any form of the game it is an effective formula. India won the 50-over tournament in Australia and has also prevailed in Sri Lanka.
It is not so much that the players are better but they are eager and less tarnished by time.
Now India must bring the same audacity to its Test selection. It is not sensible to wait upon events. Nor is it discreet to drop all the senior players in one fell swoop. Much better to give the newcomers a chance to play alongside Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid and to learn from them. Not that the other elders have nothing to impart. Just that these players have records telling of high durability.
India can make changes gradually, bringing in Suresh Raina, let us say, to face the Australians with another novice on standby.
It is cowardly to advocate the inclusion of one player without naming a man to give way. Whilst bowing to no-one in admiration for Sourav Ganguly and admitting that he batted superbly against South Africa, I think he must be first on the scaffold.The Australian method
Over the years Australian cricket has been characterised by its ruthlessness. Other nations were shocked by the way in which players like Ian Healy and Steve Waugh were unsentimentally discarded. But in retirement players are treated with the greatest respect. After all they know a thing or two. It’s the right way around.
Cricket belongs not to the individual but the team, not to the past but the future, not to caution but to boldness.