It will not be a hyperbole if one says that Indian cricket team is in its lowest point in fifteen years. The team, which lost eight consecutive away Tests in England and Australia, is now facing the danger of losing a home series against England after their humiliating defeat at Mumbai in ‘favourable conditions’.
It’s not that India had not lost Test matches in their own backyard in the past one and a half decade. They lost to South Africa, New Zealand and England. Adam Gilchrist-led Australian team even defeated India in India in 2003-04 series. Every time we lost, we fought back harder. Every time we surrendered, we came back stronger. At least we had hopes of resurgence.
Never before in the past 15 years did things look as gloomy as today; never before the future seemed so uncertain. Never before was there such negativity. After tasting defeat in England and Australia in conditions which were hostile, it was thought that Indian cricketers would do well on home soil. But that did not happen. In the two Tests that India played against England, apart from Cheteshwar Pujara, Virender Sehwag and Pragyan Ojha, every Indian player struggled.
Though in Ahmedabad India played well, the Mumbai Test shook our very foundation and showed us that the future of Indian cricket is in deep trouble. The way England spinners humiliated the Indian batsmen, the manner in which Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen hammered our tweakers on a track which was clearly helping spinners from the day one, shows nothing is going right for the Indian Test team.
It was clear that neither Indian batsmen nor the bowlers were capable of scoring runs or taking wickets on the fast, bouncy pitches of Australia or on the seaming conditions of England. But here England spinners proved to be better equipped to use the turning pitches and their batsmen, especially Cook and Pietersen showed that they can play spin better than most of the Indian batsmen.
After Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman’s retirement, Indian team is in transition phase. The great Sachin Tendulkar is finding it hard to make runs and he is not far from hanging his boots up. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are not getting younger anymore and they remain the most inconsistent performers in the Indian team, especially outside the subcontinent.
Despite Yuvraj Singh’s 70-odd runs in the first innings in Ahmedabad Test in his comeback match, his dismissals in both the innings at Wankhede has again put serious question marks on his ability to succeed in Test cricket. Apart from Pujara and Virat Kohli, no batsman in the Indian team is a certainty anymore.
If India has been a power house of spin, it is the Indian batsmen in the last 15 years who established the Indian team as one of the bests in the World. There was no Indian team of the past which could boast of the names like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly. It was a unit which not only shone in India but held their heads high on the hard, bouncy or seaming tracks of England, South Africa and Australia.
Among these top five batsmen, only Tendulkar and Sehwag remain in the team now. Since Sachin is almost in his twilight (maybe he is playing his last series) and Virender Sehwag is also finding it hard to score in alien conditions, it’s time to find some able replacements for them.
The most important thing in selecting a player is that besides looking at his numbers you have to consider how and under which circumstances and conditions these numbers have been gathered. So a century on a lively pitch and against a quality bowling attack is more important than a triple century on a dead track against a lowly team.
Why Ajinkya Rahane is being tipped to take over any of the openers in the Test squad is his ability to get runs in any conditions and against any opposition. Pujara has already cemented his place at number 3 and Virat Kohli would bat at number 4 once Sachin announces his retirement. Since Yuvraj Singh has not established his place, it will be a toss-up between Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, S Badrinath and Suresh Raina to fill the middle-order vacancies.
Apart from Manoj Tiwary, both Sharma (in ODIs and T20s) and Raina (in Tests) have got enough opportunities but they have failed to deliver so far. Sharma surely lacks attitude to succeed at international cricket while the inability to play good fast bowling has remained the reason of Raina’s downfall. In the batting department India’s future does not look bright. There are currently not many batsmen who are ready to play in the Test team.
In the pace department, Zaheer Khan is getting older as well as losing his sharpness. Ishant Sharma is still to prove that he has got back his wicket-taking capabilities. In recent times, only Umesh Yadav has proved that he is a ‘Test class’ but again he is in his first year in international cricket. We have already seen in the past how fast bowlers in India faded away as soon as they burst into the international scene with much fanfare. Munaf Patel, Ishant Sharma, S Sresanth, RP Singh-everyone performed initially but only to be fizzled away after some time.
Among the new faces in domestic cricket only Parvinder Awana looks promising. Ashok Dinda, who replaced Umesh Yadav in the Test squad, does not inspire much hope. Varun Aaron has pace but his ability to sustain the rigours of international cricket is under serious threat.
Among the other pace bowlers swing bowler Praveen Kumar looked really good in the seaming conditions England when India travelled there last year. But again it will be difficult for him to replicate that feat in the sub-continental conditions in Tests. Things are not at all rosy for India in the pace department. If India need to do well outside the subcontinent, they need to identify some good talented fast bowlers.
One of the biggest reasons why India’s future looks grim is their lack of talent in spin, a traditional force for them ever since they started playing Test cricket way back in 1930s. The situation is so grave that India doesn’t have more than three spinners who can be selected in the Test team. Some people have been questioning the decision to include Harbhajan Singh in the Test squad but the fact is that selectors had practically no option but to take him considering there are no other good spinners in the domestic front who select themselves in the Test team.
Apart from Baroda’s left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt, who made a stunning start in his debut Ranji season in 2009-10 by taking 47 wickets in nine matches to lead the Ranji wicket-takers tally, there have been no spinner who set the Indian first class season on fire ever since. But despite the earlier success, Bhatt could not continue his wicket-taking form and slipped away from the selectors’ radar.
Thanks to the lure of IPL these days, there is hardly any wicket-taking spinner in India. Jhakhand’s Shahbaz Nadeem, who plays for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, is among the top wicket takers of the ongoing Ranji season but those who have seen him closely know that he is basically a containing bowler. The other ‘talented’ bowlers, like Delhi’s Vikas Misra, who also represented India in their victorious under-19 World Cup campaign, is struggling to take wickets in this year’s Ranji Trophy. His under-19 team mate Harmeet Singh, who showed some promise last season for Mumbai, is injured and doubtful for the rest of the season. His Mumbai colleague left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdullah is another bowler who bowls flat and certainly more suited for the shorter versions.
There are some bowlers like Maharashtra’s Akshay Darekar, who is a good orthodox left-arm spinner, but he needs more exposure to develop himself as an attacking spinner. One example will be suffice to highlight the lack of talent in spin. Jalaj Saxena, an all-rounder from Madhya Pradesh, was selected in the India A team as a main spinner a few months back despite having very moderate performances in the last two seasons in domestic cricket.
There are leg-spinning duo of Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla but they failed to come up with good shows despite getting fair chances.
Despite so much talk, the pitches for the first class cricket remain hugely tilted towards batsmen. These pitches will never produce quality cricketers. Batsmen will pile on runs but they will struggle in the international arena. Pacers will hardly be able to show their skills and spinners will continue to be belted around the park without much success.
So the next two years will be a tough time for Indian cricket team, especially in Tests and more so when they will play outside the sub-continent. But again the future will depend on how we will struggle, react to the losses, identify new talents, and how we overhaul our ‘primitive’ domestic set-up.