x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rebuilding starts now for India's Test future

Misfortune is not enough to explain India's poor showing against England and a lot of work is needed to improve things.

Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, right, and captain MS Dhoni have a lot of work to do to get the India Test team firing again following their 4-0 whitewash in England.
Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, right, and captain MS Dhoni have a lot of work to do to get the India Test team firing again following their 4-0 whitewash in England.

Bad luck and injuries can stymie the best of teams. What they cannot do is explain two innings defeats, and two other Tests lost by a combined margin of 515 runs. When you are so comprehensively outclassed, with more than half your squad made to look second-rate, then it's time for introspection rather than excuses.

What Indian cricket cannot afford to do right now is confuse formats. The one-day team may yet be competitive against England. But regardless of that result, the concerns about the Test side will not go away.

A great Test cricketer, whether that be Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne or Jacques Kallis, can adjust "down" to any format. The reverse is certainly not the case, as the likes of Yusuf Pathan and Suresh Raina have discovered while making the "upwards" transition.

Ultimately, India's status as a cricket power will not depend on how many billions the Indian Premier League(IPL) is worth. It depends squarely on the health and success of the national team.

The IPL administrators cannot be delusional. People tune in to the IPL because they get to see players who have excelled at the very highest level. They don't pay premium ticket prices to go and watch Palani Amarnath bowl to Sunny Sohal.

Let the national team slide, and soon your brand will be worth nothing. To prevent that, Indian cricket needs to take three clear-eyed decisions before the next Test assignment against the West Indies in November.

The first of those is the trickiest: managing the transition from legends to youth. No Indian selector is likely to be as ruthless with Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman as the Australians were with Simon Katich. But there has to be recognition that a new generation needs time to find its feet.

The West Indies Tests in November need to see Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma or Cheteshwar Pujara given a full series, even if each of the big three return for the tour of Australia.

The end of that tour should ideally see one of them exit the Test stage. A second spot should be freed up once the home series against England finishes in 2012, leaving the last man standing to take a bow at the World Test Championships in 2013, assuming India are still in the top four by then.

The order in which they go can be worked out in consultation with the selectors, but by 2013, India need to be ready to embrace the future.

The same foresight needs to be shown with the bowling. Given his frequent injury problems and the fact that he turns 33 in October, you cannot expect Zaheer Khan to add much to his 79 Test caps. Sreesanth tailed away badly in England, while Ishant Sharma didn't get the results to match his efforts. Only Praveen Kumar, who had be jostling for the third seamer's spot in a decent attack, made any impression.

Given the variety of pace bowlers India have called up in recent years, going back to RP Singh - who last played in January 2008 - seemed bizarre, and that too when he was on holiday. That fiasco highlighted the need for a pool of quick bowlers to be groomed.

When England were winning the Ashes in Australia last winter, a development squad was in the country playing games.

An injury, like the one that ruled Stuart Broad out of contention, didn't have catastrophic results. England's handling of Broad is also an object lesson in how to nurture young bowlers.

Having made his one-day debut five years ago, it wasn't until this summer that he finally produced a series where performance matched undoubted potential. At 25, he could well go on to great things, mainly because Andy Flower, and others, showed patience.

Contrast that with someone like Irfan Pathan, who had racked up 29 Test caps and 107 ODIs before his last appearance for India at the age of 24. Michael Holding, who knows more than most about bowling fast, insists that no developing pace bowler can afford to play more than 10 Tests and 20 one-day games in a year. England's handling of the promising Steven Finn is a case in point.

Most importantly, though, India need to get their fitness right. The team who lost in England were as poorly conditioned as any in the last decade. Under Adrian le Roux, the South African fitness trainer who worked with them before the 2003 World Cup, and Greg King, his compatriot, things had improved drastically.

Since then, with players choosing their own routines, the results have not been the same.

A foreign face is needed, ideally someone with little cricket background who won't care about the reputations of those he's working with. No one is asking for body builder physiques, but you can't step on to the park looking like you've just finished a plate of eclairs.

sports@thenational.ae