Testing times for Test cricket in India
Indian cricket, after the euphoria of the World Cup win in 2011, has been on the downhill slide. Their vulnerability against quality quick bowling in foreign conditions is not a secret anymore. So the drubbing that the team took in England and Australia in 2011 did not raise much of an alarm in the Indian cricket set up.
However, this continuous mismanagement combined with the ‘all is fine’ attitude of the BCCI has led Indian cricket into a deep abysmal pit. The defeat to England in India has resulted in India losing the consolation that they always fell back upon whenever they performed poorly in foreign conditions.
The humiliating loss to England in home conditions is probably the worst thing that has happened to Indian cricket in the last couple of decades. The only possible explanation that the BCCI could give to justify this embarrassment is that the team is going through a ‘transition phase’ and that the fans need to be patient with this fairly young and inexperienced Test side.
Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman’s retirement is, in fact, a big loss to Indian cricket but we always knew that a day would come when these stalwarts would decide to hang their boots. Now the question arises, what plan did the Indian administrators have in mind for this day?
From the way things transpired, the only plan that they seemed to have was that they would replace these Test giants with players who had performed well in limited overs cricket. A few selections were baffling to say the least. The selectors took the practice of ‘safe selection’ to a new low. There is no other justification for the selection of Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and the terribly out of form openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. The fact that they dropped Yuvraj and Harbhajan midway through the England series proves that the selectors were just throwing the dice and had no long term plans in mind for these players.
The concept of ‘transition phase’ seems like a convenient camouflage for the BCCI and the people in charge to hide their lack of planning and foresight when it comes to the team’s performance in the Test arena. They have got so busy with the ‘business’ of IPL that Test cricket has somehow, and for some unfathomable reason, taken a back seat. If the BCCI actually sees this as a transition phase then why have they not acted on players who have failed to perform for a considerable period of time? The openers are a case in point. They have been struggling to perform in the longest format for a long time. Now, if this is in fact a ‘transition phase’ why wasn’t somebody like Ajinkya Rahane given a chance in the Test matches against England at home.
Another equally baffling decision has been MS Dhoni retaining his place in the Test side even though he has done nothing of significance with the bat for a long time in the Tests. The domestic circuit is brimming with wicketkeepers whose batting is better equipped to the five-day format than the current Indian skipper. Wriddhiman Saha, Parthiv Patel, and even Naman Ojha have been knocking on the doors for a considerable period of time. However, Dhoni has managed to hang on to his place in the side only because there is nobody who could take over the reins of Test captaincy.
The lack of quality spinners in the domestic set up is a frightening reality. This fact was brought to light best by the selection of Harbhajan Singh for the Test series against England. The BCCI needs to ponder over this question. Why has India, the home of world class spinners, been unable to replace the legendary Anil Kumble? The only answer that comes to mind is that budding cricketers these days try to develop skills suited to excel in the IPL and the shortest format of the game. We have also lost a few technically strong batsmen to the lure of the IPL.
It is high time that the people in charge start contemplating India’s future in Test cricket. We have lost the tag ‘lions at home’ besides the tag of ‘dead ducks overseas’. A focus on domestic performances in the longer format being rewarded with Test berths would be one way of going forward rather than picking players who show glimpses of their talent in the T20’s or the ODI’s. The next home series against Australia gives the Indian selectors an opportunity to try out a few new faces and protect the ones that show potential from the devil named the IPL.