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Tuesday , January 31, 2012 at 10 : 20

India's golden age has come to an end


The heartbeat of India - the batting - does not beat anymore. The golden age is over. I know my fellow columnists differ on this but I am convinced that we will not see some great gentlemen of the batting order in the middle again.

Collectively, they were too timid, technically deficient against the swinging and seaming ball, full of faults in the mind even as slower physical reactions robbed them of the nous to be a force on testing foreign soil. In England, Australia and South Africa, they will no more be the formidable force they once were.

These batsmen have been such great performers over extended careers that they can prove us wrong individually if they are given an extended run, especially on home soil where their age and their faults will be well hidden. But put them in a competitive situation against the top teams in the cricket world and together they will not amount to much. This is the stark truth and, as a nation, we have been too sentimental on the issue to take corrective action in time. It's too late for regrets now.

The road back is going to be a long one. There are no easy answers to the myriad problems. By the time India builds a bating lineup that will compete on equal terms abroad again the members of the pace bowling brigade will probably be lesser bowlers. The signs are already seen in Zaheer Khan's declining speed, for which he makes up with his cleverness, and Ishant Sharma's distinct lack of firepower. When last did the spinners win away Tests in the three countries whose teams are ranked with India in the top four?

The reasoning is simple. By the time India hits the road again at least two batsmen - Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman - would have chosen to retire gracefully. It is likely the chairman of selectors would have conveyed to them already the committee view that they would not be picked again, hearing which they would be free to choose the timing of their announcement. Given the void it is doubtful if Sachin Tendulkar would choose to travel again since the next overseas Test tour for India is more than a year away.

It will be harder for Sachin to call it a day soon after he gets his century of centuries, which he well might in the tri-series Down Under. Having signed up a valuable endorsement management contract for three years worth hundreds of crores of rupees, his decision would have to be based more on commercial considerations.

So what are the selectors waiting for in terms of preparing the youngsters? Why was the tour committee so cowardly as not to play Rohit Sharma in the XI despite knowing that the old formula was just not working? It did seem that many in the top order were like the pitcher that goes too often to the well in danger of falling in.

The smart shortcuts that the selectors and the tour committee did on two important tours rebounded on them. Remember the time a fast bowler was brought out of a holiday in Miami and handed the new ball to bowl the first over in a Test match, an over so poor that the opposition was up and running straightaway? That stratagem was too clever by half. The same kind of fuzzy logic was used whenever the team ran into a fitness crisis and the results were there for all to see.

The chief selector kept saying how much he rued the situation in which India was 214 for 2 shortly before close on the second day in reply to Australia's 333 in Melbourne and how the team blew it from there. The recall simply reinforces the point about the team having failed to deliver even at the most promising of situations for it to be able to battle against the odds when it was down. The blame obviously does not lie elsewhere but in the batsmen who, even at the height of the early success as at the MCG, were unable to deliver the finished product.

Hearing Sehwag talk, it would be easy to believe everything is hunky-dory and the 8-0 result was simply some nightmare that never happened. He is more culpable than the others, especially in getting out to two full tosses when he was captain of the team. That could not have left too great an impression on his colleagues.

The message Sehwag's batting held out was no matter the result Indian batsmen will do what they have always done. They will not attempt to reform as the Australians did with a boot camp days ahead of going into the series against India. Indian cricket will be making its greatest blunder if it entrusts the Test captaincy to Sehwag. The rule is give the captaincy to a thinking man.


More about R Mohan

Ramaswamy Mohan, one of the country's leading cricket writers, fell in love with the game after watching his first Test match in 1960 as a 10-year-old. So fascinated was he with cricket that he dedicated his early life to becoming cricket correspondent of The Hindu, a post he held with acclaim for close to 20 years while reporting live 130 Test matches, five World Cups and over 300 One-Day Internationals. Having risen to Resident Editor at the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai, he still remains a keen student of the game who follows the happenings in Indian cricket with a particular relish.