In Adelaide, shock it up and shake it up
I know a man who was once ravaged by a vicious depression. His doctors tried it all. Tweaked the dosage of his medication. Attempted various combinations of mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. Sent him off for therapy. Offered counseling. But to no avail. Left with no alternative, they advised a radical step: Electroconvulsive therapy.
In common parlance we know this as ECTs. To the uninitiated, that is just a fancy medical term for 'shock treatment'. The idea is to pass electric currents through the brain, deliberately triggering a brief seizure. The intention is to cause changes in brain chemistry that can immediately reverse symptoms of the illness. It often works when other treatments are unsuccessful. In this man's case it didn't really, but that is beside the point.
For the Indian cricket team, and in particular it's much feted batting line-up, Adelaide is the ideal setting for Electroconvulsive therapy. The time for cautious medication is over. Much like the sick man I knew, Indian Test cricket is writhing in agony. Mild doses of medication will provide no relief. Not any longer. Shock the core of this team and hope for the best. Frankly, there isn't much to lose. It can not get much worse.
It is amusing that the argument for drastic changes still needs to be made. Here are the bare facts. This Indian team hasn't just been beaten in seven consecutive overseas Tests, it has been decimated. Not one of these Test matches has been competitive. Four have been lost by an innings. One by over 300 runs. One by nearly 200 runs. One by over 100 runs. Only two have gone into the fifth day. The last defeat came in under two and a half days.
For a team that started this dismal decline as the top ranked Test nation in the world, the ruins are staggering. Perhaps the only other national sports teams that enjoy the same passionate and wide-spread support as the Indian cricket team are South American football teams. How many Brazilian superstars would keep their spot on the starting line-up if they were thrashed in seven straight games?
Over this period of thrashings, the men who have been on India duty have a permanent place in the highest echelons of our game. But a spot in the history books and one in the playing XI aren't joined at the hip. Reputation and performances in the past provide the guarantee of a long rope. But even the longest of ropes run out. However, every time a legend's spot comes up for debate, his glory days become a convenient stick to beat the doubters with. "You don't just discard a proven performer on the back of a few poor innings," goes the argument. "And who are his replacements?" they snigger.
Since the England tour these are the averages of India's top guns in overseas Tests: Sehwag: 15.90. Gambhir: 20.50. Dravid: 52.42. Tendulkar: 37.29. Laxman: 20.29. Dhoni: 26.83. Yet to question any of their spots is sacrilege. Alternatives on offer from the 17-man squad chosen for the tour are being cast aside with disdain. The message to Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma is this: You were really on the plane to make up the numbers. No matter how woeful the senior pros get, their positions remain untouched. No matter how good your first-class records might be or how obvious your talent is, you are the designated bench-warmers. Only when a permanent resident makes way of his own volition will a spot open up. Till then wait, watch and twiddle those thumbs. And oh yes, have a net.
The flag-bearers of status quo also point at the opposition camp. "Look", they argue, "Australia persisted with Ponting and Hussey and the runs came. Class, you see, is permanent. Form is only temporary." But Team sport is unique animal, especially Test cricket. On occasions, the individual rides on the collective. And on others the collective burdens an individual. So, while Australia have floundered in recent months, they haven't imploded in the manner India have.
Michael Clarke started the series against India having won one in Sri Lanka, drawn one in South Africa and drawn another against New Zealand on his watch as captain. Australia's results were patchy, but they weren't consistently embarrassing. Yes, they were bowled out for 47 in Cape Town but rebounded with victory in Johannesburg. Yes, they were stunned in Hobart but had already won in Brisbane. Australia gambled on Ponting and Hussey because while their ship was wobbling, it wasn't sinking. India have sunk to the lowest depth imaginable, yet entrust the same men responsible for this fate to hoist them back to the surface.
In Adelaide, India must field a team devoid of emotion or misplaced hope. It must cull brutally and front up with clarity of vision. India must prepare to lose but with an eye to finding clues to its future as a worthy Test playing nation. For me this XI should play in batting order: Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Wriddhiman Saha, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav and Abhimanyu Mithun.
Laxman must sit out simply because the wait for the magic of old to flow again from his bat can't be endless. Dravid must make way because since his first innings half-century in Melbourne he has been feeble and unsure. England is now a pleasant yet distant memory as six innings have delivered all of 168 runs in Australia. And his stumps have been shattered in five of these six innings. Let Rohit have a crack at three and show us if there's substance to the hype that surrounds him. Rahane was picked as the spare opener for the tour and his time to confront the new ball is now. A best opening stand of 24 in six innings won't take too much to better. And failure won't be much worse.
Tendulkar's spot is not in question not purely on reputation but because both in Melbourne and Sydney he played accomplished innings. And is India's highest run-getter on the tour so far. Even to the untrained eye Sehwag's discomfort against the new ball is blatantly obvious. Perhaps a return to the middle order will be a new lease of life. Indian cricket owes him a debt of gratitude for his willingness to open the innings although his formative years in the game were spent in the middle order. That he is among the greatest opening batsmen of all time is an incredible story in itself.
Virat Kohli must stay at six, because it is here that he found his feet in Perth. And top-scored in both innings. Test cricket is tough enough and the comfort zone of a settled spot is vital. Ishant Sharma must make way because four wickets at 81.00 are simply unacceptable for a front-line new ball bowler. Vinay Kumar provided little spark in Perth, perhaps Abhimanyu Mithun has more. Perhaps not. But then again till we see it, we won't know.
Bottom line is this: Adelaide could be the end. Or it could be a fresh start. In either case the scoreline could well be 8-0. Here is a monumental crisis in the history of Indian Test cricket. Submit meekly and suffer its consequences. Man up, and who knows there might be a sapling of hope planted. ECTs don't always work. But hey, there is no harm trying when all else has failed. Seven straight times.
More about Gaurav KalraGaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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