What next for India?

The past few months have not been kind to India (though I’ve heard many of their fans wanted England to lose more than Pakistan, so they’ll have some consolation). It’s been clear for some time that they need to make changes and I think after their latest result they may finally do so.

They first, and relatively simple, changes are to personnel. They have some very illustrious batsmen, but they are nearing the end of their careers, if not there already. There are at least some questions to be asked about every one of the Indian top seven, though some more than others. Gautam Gambhir is one of the least well known of the Indian batmen, but he is in the eighth year of his career and averages 45. It’s certainly quite respectable, but he has not made a big score for some time now and he looked badly out of his depth in England and Australia. (He was hardly alone, of course.) He has not done very much to suggest that he be dropped, but nor has he stood out. He also has the problem common to Indian batsmen of impatience to score runs, and he does not leave balls outside his off stump well. I would probably keep him around for a bit longer, but only until the replacements are ready. With Virender Sehwag, however, I would get shot of him as soon as possible. At the very least I would never include him in a squad to play outside Asia. He has no technique and does not even come close to having the temperament for Test cricket. He is the very definition of a flat track bully, averaging 61 in Asia and a miserable 36 outside it. Worse, he is one of the most selfish players in the game. He could be one of the best batsmen in the game, but he refuses to adapt his game in difficult conditions and throws his wicket away when the team need him to perform. No where was this more apparent than in the fourth Test of this most recent series. India needed to bat for over a day to save the Test, but he kept throwing his bat at the ball. He added 62, but he runs were purely nominal. India needed a draw, and he refused to even try.

The openers, Sehwag in particular, have consistently put India in a spot of bother early in the innings, but the failing middle order is probably the most pressing concern. The three pillars of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman have had, at best, mixed success in England and Australia, but they are all ageing. Dravid is the oddest case. He was a class apart in England, the lone aspect of resistance. In Australia, however, he has been all at sea. He has been horribly missing straight deliveries and all of a sudden he just doesn’t seem to be seeing the ball. For a batsman of his record, especially as recently as last summer it seems harsh to suggest that it will end his career, but he isn’t going to last forever. Tendulkar is probably only out of form by his lofty standards, but at the same time he seems to have lost his touch a bit. He is batting very aggressively and is certainly making starts but is not converting them. Most of his dismissals have been the result of good bowling, but they still tend to be predictable. He does not seem to treat good bowling spells with the respect he deserves. Despite what some may say, he is not god or even Bradman and at the moment he does not seem to realise that. He has some time left in him, but I suspect he his age means will get will get worse rather than better. Laxman is the worst off of the three. He is the only one who has been quite short of runs in both series. Unfortunately for him and for India his career does look like it’s over. He hasn’t had his touch for some time now, and even if he gets it back he is old enough that it is probably not worth waiting for. Of the three, I would drop Laxman immediately. Ideally he would be encouraged to retire, but however the official announcement goes he should not play in India’s next series. Dravid and Tendulkar are more tricky. Tendulkar’s fame is such that he will certainly never be dropped, but it’s unclear if he will have the wherewithal to retire soon. There is also the matter of the ‘100th’ century to consider; as silly as the notion is they still take it seriously. I think he should go soon, however. He still has the chance to go before he is embarrassed and it would improve his legacy if he does so. Dravid is the most interesting of the three. He may have a fatal flaw in his technique, but if there is one person that India should keep to tutor young players it is Dravid. He is the only one who seems to really care about the team and the only one who has been willing to try to dig in and fight when it is needed. None of the others have shown the same type of desire or application and India need their young players to follow Dravid’s lead as opposed to the rest of them. He might benefit from moving down the order, but certainly I would keep him around for as long as is feasible.

The rest of the players are less of a concern, though Dhoni is a poor captain and Adelaide shows that India have a perfectly good replacement for him as wicket-keeper. The problem for the bowlers is their demeanour. They can get early breakthroughs, but once a partnership starts to develop their heads go down and they seem to give up. At what point in the Sydney Test Australia were 37-3, but it wasn’t long after that India seemed to be bowling for the declaration! There is no clear way to fix that problem, though Duncan Fletcher should be able to help. (And if he can’t, he shouldn’t have the job.) A different captain may also help, though the only one with the right mentality is Dravid and he is not a long term solution. For a clear demonstration of the gap in motivation one needs to look no farther than the statements made by Dhoni and Sehwag about the 8-0 combined thrashing and the statements made by Andrew Strauss after England’s horror show in Abu Dhabi. India need more commitment.

India will host England for four Tests in November and if they play the same XI there as they did in Melbourne they will struggle again. In addition to bringing in younger players, they also must find a way to bet those players experience in alien conditions. Suresh Raina was dreadfully exposed against the short ball last summer, but Kohli showed in Australia that it is possible for them to adjust. A season playing county cricket would probably do them a lot of good, though the BCCI are very unlikely to allow them to do so. At the very least they need more ‘A’ tours to places like South Africa and England. Ideally in a year they will have no more than three of their current top seven still playing; they will still have a bedding in period, but they will at least be on the right track.

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