x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

India's old boy network needs young blood

Selectors have to call up new talent and make sure their ageing batsmen do not all retire at the same time, writes Chris Cairns.

So India now stand on top of the cricketing world. Last week I indicated how the sport has its skin and bones in Dubai but its heartbeat in Mumbai. This time around it is on the pitch and the powerful side that India have crafted in recent years that get my pen dripping.

It is the batting. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh. Hmmm, fancy a bowl? Actually I would prefer to sit at home and pummel my left index finger with a very big mallet. How would you start at the team meeting? The ones we had under Stephen Fleming were always well thought out, very detailed and normally too long. You would need seven hours and as many dossiers as a public library to try and unravel this Indian top six.

But I believe something like this might be said: "Don't pitch up to Sehwag or he'll smack you and, oh and by the way, don't drop short either because he'll smack you over midwicket. He'll also smack you wherever you bowl." Righto, so the size of a one Dirham piece to land it on. Good luck. "Gambhir is a lefty [OK, got that] so angle across him but not too wide because he'll cut you and don't get too straight because he'll then whip you through midwicket."

This one is interesting because you basically have a channel the width of dental floss to bowl down. "If we get Dravid in early we've a chance to nick him off but the opening pair average 75 [that doesn't sound good]. If he doesn't get in early you've got more chance of seeing Elvis singing a duet with Rihanna on News Year's eve than getting through Rahul's defence. "Sachin has issues with really big scores over 200 so if we get him for 140 we've done well."

"Laxman. You know, the guy everyone always forgets about. Don't bowl too straight to him because he has wrists that are made of rubber and will nonchalantly take the ball from 10 inches wide of off-stump and smack it with the full face down to fine leg. "Yuvraj suffers from being too aggressive and you can get under his skin. I have seen [England fast bowler] Stuart Broad wind him up and, he really got under Yuvi's skin so let's give that a go."

The problem is this is a rather shotgun game plan and, let's be honest, about as much use as an artificial limb made of jelly. Now, this top six must rival any that have played the game but as many runs as you think they can hammer out of hapless attacks it is always going to be taking 20 wickets that holds the key to winning Test matches. Batters set up Test matches and bowlers win them. It is only in ODIs and T20s that the batters have more of a say and the bowlers are more of a defensive option in the game plan.

Bowling in the subcontinent for us fairer-skinned mortals is akin to living in a sauna for a day. It generally takes a good two weeks as a tourist to adjust to the heat and conditions of India. The Indian boys have to adjust to the cold when they tour and that can be tough on them as well. In this Indian attack, the leg-spinner Anil Kumble gets a mention because he helped get them there. A gentleman and a great bowler. His slightly tormented off-spin sidekick in Harbhajan Singh is a great asset, especially when you need someone to punch your fast bowlers during domestic cricket.

Ishant Sharma has been a recent find and despite sporting a Jason Gillespie mullet early on, he is an excellent bounce bowler. The main man for me though is Zaheer Khan. His stint in English county cricket, I believe, made him the champion bowler he is today. He is what we call a "heavy" bowler. This is not someone who gorges wildly at a buffet lunch but someone who hits the bat hard. He is equally devastating with new and old ball. He bowls well all around the world on different surfaces. Quite simply India's go-to guy and a tremendous bowler.

So, there you have it: The best Test team around. But the question is how do they hang on to pole position? When do you start bringing in new batsmen like Rohit Sharma? Will it be Laxman or Dravid who goes first? India cannot afford to lose their icons all in one hit and will have to decide which one of the legends has to depart. Will they continue to play and let the selectors make the call to put them out of the team or do they wrap up on their terms? Interesting times ahead.

Tendulkar will play for a few years yet and amass many more runs. Fifteen thousand looks like a distant peak that he wants to scale and it is his Everest. We will not see another like him in our lifetime. Enjoy him while you can. Just a quick word on the umpire referral system: why can we not just accept that, like players, officials are human and will make errors? I don't have a problem with run-outs and stumpings being referred as this is clear cut. Black and white - in or out.

But catches and LBWs need a three-dimensional angle and until technical wizard Peter Jackson of Lord of The Rings fame decides to create a cricket-specific 3D model, we are best to let the onfield umpire deliver the verdict. It is said that the umpires will have more confidence giving decisions knowing that their mate in the TV room will rectify their errors. I think it will make them concentrate less because they have this as a crutch.

And it is not a crutch we should be talking about but a crotch because that is where we should kick the referral system and send it on its way. sports@thenational.ae