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Friday, October 3, 2008

A dicey decisive decision

CLASS IS PERMANENT: It is premature to contemplate omitting batsmen such as Rahul Dravid from the Test side.

Few things are harder to organise in sport than the smooth passing of players into retirement.

As far as a cricketer is concerned it can be a traumatic time. Sometimes injury or an abrupt loss of form eases the passage, sometimes the sportsman withdraws the better to avoid a sour ending. All too often, though, the player is pushed out into the lonely night of the commonplace before he is quite ready whereupon a resentment sets in that can take decades to clear.

Over the years the Australians have learnt to manage older players respectfully but firmly. In recent seasons Australia has bid farewell to several great cricketers. In the antipodean way it has been an unsentimental affair.

Australian supporters are as close to their champions as anyone else but the game is run by hard heads. From time to time, too, the selectors remind observers that they are obliged by their terms of reference to think about the future as well as the present.

Treading a fine line

Now it is India’s turn to tread the fine line between experience and experiment. Perhaps it was too much to expect a new panel to act decisively.

Apart from anything else the collection of Indian batsmen currently in their mid-thirties is as strong as any comparable group produced by any country since the game began. Together they have completed the work begun by Sunil Gavaskar, a nationalist determined to contradict all notions that Indian batsmen were fragile and inept except in their own backyard. The seniors have taken Indian cricket from hope to expectation.

Sooner or later, though, no matter how finely it has been carried, the flame must be handed to another generation. If that time has not already past then it is fast approaching. Not that age is the only consideration, but it cannot entirely be ignored. Nor can the balance of the team. It is not sensible to allow a side to grow old together. A time is reached when such an outfit impresses more on paper than on the field.

Cold logic

Cold logic insists that one of the older batsmen ought by now to have been replaced. Actually it is unfair to lump the middle-order batsman together.

It is not so long ago that Sachin Tendulkar and V.V.S. Laxman were scoring heavily on antipodean soil. Subsequently Tendulkar failed in Sri Lanka but he had not played much cricket and was bemused by Ajantha Mendis.

Also his defensive technique was exposed by the review system. The Hyderabad player batted gamely on the spice island. It is premature to contemplate omitting either of them.

And the same applies to Rahul Dravid. Although his form has been patchy, he has enough runs on the board to justify further opportunities. A tendency arises to forgive the bad patches endured by emerging players but to dump older hands as soon as they falter. Batsmen of Dravid’s class are few and far between and ought not to be lightly discarded.

Most vulnerable

As night follows day so that leaves Sourav Ganguly’s position open to scrutiny. Despite his stirring innings against South Africa and fighting spirit, he is the most vulnerable of the seniors.

Although respectable, his record is not outstanding and his fielding and running between wickets are dubious. Of course he remains capable of producing stirring innings but younger contenders are pressing.

Rightly or wrongly the selectors have decided to let this team run its course. India must hope that the team is fresh in spirit and does not waste time looking over its shoulder. But the time for debate is almost over. Let’s get on with the show!

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