Onus on selectors as half the Indian team approaches the tricky age of 35 – The Hindu

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June 14, 2023 12:30 am | Updated 12:30 am IST
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Is the future of Indian cricket arriving faster than expected, and are we formally in the transition stage with a new captain and a new head coach to take over soon? The losses in two consecutive finals of the World Test Championship (WTC) might suggest that the Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma period is ending.
India haven’t done too badly, twice making it to the final, but there was a tiredness about the Oval performance, a lack of spark that suggested a world-beating team calibrated to ‘repeat’, and repeating its mistakes endlessly. It brings the efficiency of the support staff into question.
Even Ravi Shastri, that votary of the IPL (who once called Lalit Modi ‘Moses’ for taking cricket into a new world) has said that to prepare for the WTC, players will have to miss the IPL. It will be interesting to see what happens when that is left to individual choice!
By the end of the year, six of the 11 who played the final will be over 35 (only two players are in their 20s). Growing older is neither illegal nor anti-national, but to imagine many of the lot retaining form and fitness for the next final (if India make it in 2025) is unrealistic. Assuming the selectors reach that conclusion, then it makes sense to blood youngsters and give them a long run. Change is a continuous process in sport, and a natural one.
A judicious infusion of younger, fitter players with ambition could alter the feel of the team. The top players are likely to fade away at around the same time, leaving a gaping hole. The selectors have a crucial role in finding the youth-experience mix. Which is why that currently headless body needs to find one immediately. There is the tour to the West Indies coming up and later the 50-over World Cup.
Head coach Rahul Dravid, a brilliant bridge for young players moving from junior cricket to the international arena failed to enthuse the seniors, giving the impression of being risk-averse. The pipeline — tours by the ‘A’ team — has dried up recently, and players have been making it into the national squad on the basis of IPL performances which is less than ideal.
Have the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Umesh Yadav lost their mojo? It would be unwise to swing the axe indiscriminately — that gaping hole needs to be made as small as possible. India need to groom specific types of players — a late middle-order batter who bowls brisk medium pace (like Hardik Pandya at his best), a left-hander opening and possibly in the middle order, young fast bowlers and possibly a spinning all-rounder.
Once the requirements are broken down, then it is possible to recognise the players with the skill sets who are already successful in domestic cricket.
Opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, for instance, averages 80 from 15 First Class matches, and is the man in form. He should be a shoo-in for the West Indies. What is the plan for Umran Malik, India’s fastest bowler? Or Ishan Kishan? What about those who have played occasionally? Where does Washington Sundar fit in, or Arshdeep Singh?
India need to make bold selections, picking some players on potential rather than performance. The best selectors pick players for the long haul, seeing in them the elements for success that are not always obvious to the casual watcher. Many of India’s successful bowlers made it to international cricket in their teens, with very little First Class experience. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar played for India six months after making his debut in club cricket.
Like the ‘shadow’ cabinet in Britain, Indian cricket must have players ready to take over when the tide turns. There are three phases in a player’s career, each of which has to be handled with sensitivity and common sense. The debutant must feel he will be given a fair run, mid-career players must be made to realise that being dropped is not unusual, and those approaching the end of their run must work out an exit policy.
India have players who fit into all these categories. Recognising the stage of development and acting unsentimentally in the interests of the team is the management’s responsibility. That things must change is a given. Only the quantum of that change needs to be worked out.
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