Photographs: BCCI Haresh Pandya
The solution to India's immediate problems in the wake of the home Test series defeat to England, says Haresh Pandya, lies in unearthing more young talent and giving them opportunities to prove their worth.
The unexpected disaster against England at home could be the last straw for the Indian cricket team, which had already suffered eight successive losses abroad not long ago. The fall is complete and it cannot be humiliated more. In fact, it is not in a position to bear further humiliation.
For a side long branded as almost unconquerable at home, the series defeat at the hands of the English, and that too after winning the first Test, ought to be an eye-opener. No more can the Indian team believe that it cannot be beaten on its own soil.
Also, nothing can be more shocking than the fact that the designer pitches boomeranged on Mahendra Singh Dhoni and company.
While it was the Indian captain's prerogative to order for turning tracks to suit his bowlers, what Dhoni forgot was the fact that England had better spinners to make the most of those pitches.
Entire set of Indian medium-pacers looked like a joke
The English spinners were given an early breakthrough or two by the irrepressible James Anderson, who produced more unplayable deliveries in the series than any other bowler from both the sides. Compared to Anderson, the entire set of Indian medium-pacers looked like a joke.
If England had played Monty Panesar in Ahmedabad, they would not have to wait till the end of the Nagpur Test to celebrate their series win.
How times have changed. Once feared for its great spinners, India is now unable to produce a world-class tweaker or two. By the same token, the Indian batsmen, many of who ostensibly considered the scourge of spinners, are proving vulnerable against Graeme Swann and others of his ilk.
Spinners never appeared to cause havoc in the English camp
While no praise can be too high for the English batsmen, the fact remains that in the past Indian spinners have troubled better willow-wielders. Though Pragyan Ojha did manage to take a bagful of wickets, he never appeared to cause havoc in the English camp.
Ravichandran Ashwin shone more with the bat than the ball. While there was no need to play Harbhajan Singh in any Test, Ravindra Jadeja, given his batting talent, should have figured in more.
So much did Dhoni depend on the spinners that their collective failure on helping wickets and in favourable conditions could be one of the main reasons why India lost the rubber it was confident of winning.
Maybe Ojha and Ashwin were less experienced. But Swann and Panesar were not only more experienced but also more talented, which showed in their vice-like grip on the famed Indian batting line-up.
'No player is greater than the game and bigger than the country'
Even the best of teams taste odd defeats, home and away, and therein lies the appeal of cricket and its "glorious uncertainties". But more than the defeat, it is the manner in which India lost the series which is disturbing.
So what needs to be done to make Team India a fighting, winning unit once again as far as Test cricket is concerned? It is a tough question, but the answer lies in some of the toughest decisions the selectors have to take now before the Australians land here and Team India embark on the difficult tour of South Africa.
Howsoever talented and reputed, no player is greater than the game and bigger than the country. Sandeep Patil and company must remember this and drop Sachin Tendulkar without waiting for the master batsman, who is probably looking forward to becoming the first cricketer to play 200 Tests, to call it day.
Let us accept it. For all his genius, all his greatness, Tendulkar's best days are behind him now and he appears to be a poor shadow of himself. Bitter but true, it is a torture to see the way he struggles for survival, let alone scoring runs, at the crease now. It is really surprising why a man of Tendulkar's ability and intelligence has allowed himself to be humiliated thus at the crease after the Australian tour, when it was clear that his days were numbered.
If Tendulkar cannot take any decision, the selectors must. He is more of a liability than an asset for Team India. Nothing is permanent in the world and nor should be Tendulkar's place in Team India for want of form. It is time the Indian selectors learnt something from their
Australian, English and South African counterparts, who always give more importance to the form of the players than their reputation.
No point continuing to play a cricketer on his reputation alone
The tragedy is that there are some players who seem to take for granted their place in the Indian team. Class and performance are two different things. You may be a class player but if you cannot perform despite many opportunities, you need to be prepared for the axe. By persisting with such players, eventually the team suffers. There is no point continuing to play a cricketer on his reputation alone.
Nobody needs to tell the Indian selectors which players are in form and which are not. You may love to see Virender Sehwag as long as he lasts at the crease. But can't anyone tell him to check his aggression and flamboyance a bit for the sake of the team when really needed? Was there any need to play the aging and already out-of-form Zaheer Khan, who is prone to bouts of fitness problems, in the series at all? His place should have gone to some fresh young fast bowler from the first Test itself.
When our experienced batsmen do not perform, when our bowlers do not bowl well on wickets tailor-made for them, when our players forget the value of sustained collective efforts, the team is bound to suffer and the blame rests squarely on the poor, unfortunate captain. But is it fair to castigate the captain alone for his team's debacle in a team-sport like cricket?
Dhoni tried his best with whatever resource he had at his command, but England proved just too good for India. The Indian captain even fought hard to ensure that our spinners get helpful wickets. But if his experienced openers repeatedly failed to give the team a good start, if his seasoned batsmen let him down more often than not and put heavy pressure on younger players, and if his spinners were exposed against English willow-wielders, how can you blame him and ask for his head?
Let Kohli play freely without the extra burden of captaincy
If India lost all the four Tests in the Old Country, and another four in Australia, and now the home series against England, was it all because of Dhoni's captaincy.
It would be hara-kiri to dethrone Dhoni and appoint Virat Kohli in his place at this particular point in Indian cricket. India still needs Dhoni's experience as a captain. And the time is still not ripe to give such an enormous responsibility to Kohli. Let him play freely without the extra burden of captaincy for some time.
Kohli, Ashwin, Ojha and Cheteshwar Pujara have proved that if given a chance, and further opportunities to blossom, talented youngsters have it in them to shine at the highest level while establishing themselves in the Indian team.
The solution to India's immediate problems in the wake of the just-concluded series lies in unearthing more and more young talents and giving them opportunities to prove their worth.
The selectors have to take some bold decisions and show the exit door to non-performers without caring a fig for their reputation and stardom. You do not belittle them at all by not selecting them. As selectors you are only doing your duty, which is to play the in-form players in the team and look for replacements for those who are not in form. It is as simple as that.
Unless the selectors show courage and take bolder, tougher decisions without being in awe of anybody, including the powers that be, the Indian team may continue to come a cropper against better, stronger sides in the heavyweight division of cricket.
And in modern cricket, you are respected only when you perform well and win against Australia, England and South Africa, not against teams like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and New Zealand.