x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Time to change India's old cricket guard is now, starting with Laxman

With a tour of Australia – India have never won a series there – looming at the end of the year, the priority has to be to fix the mess.

Today is not going to be one of the most cheerful Independence Days that India has known. One of the nation's most-loved actors, Shammi Kapoor, has passed away, and a Test series in England has been surrendered in pitiful fashion.

Four months after the 50-over World Cup win, this tour of England was supposed to show the world at-large how Indian cricket has come of age.

Instead, a ruthless English side has taught a lacklustre team a brutal lesson.

It will hurt, and it should.

It is not just that India have lost so badly.

It is also that they did not give themselves the best chance to win.

The World Cup aside, this was clearly the major event in India's 2011 cricket calendar.

The first was prioritised and won. The second was treated as an afterthought, and grapes of wrath have been harvested.

The easiest thing to do after a debacle is to slip into a cycle of recrimination.

The blame game is easy.

Already, fingers are being pointed at senior players who did not address injury issues in time, at a board that drew up an itinerary suitable only for beasts of burden and a captain who reckoned, quite bizarrely, that technique was not such a big factor in these conditions.

But accusing fingers do not give you answers, and with a tour of Australia - India have never won a series there - looming at the end of the year, the priority has to be to fix the mess.

And, as is the case with any team with ageing legs, that involves the dreaded T word – transition.

Rahul Dravid has batted beautifully on this tour. Despite their relative lack of impact on these Tests, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman have enjoyed three prolific seasons.

But Laxman, who turns 37 in December, is the youngest of the three.

Suresh Raina's travails in England have shown how hard it is to replace Sourav Ganguly, who retired in 2008 and who used to occupy the No 6 slot.

But if India skirt the issue too long, they could end up with the situation that Australia faced in 1984, when Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh all retired together, pulling the rug from under baggy-green feet.

All three have done far too much for Indian cricket to be sacked summarily, like Australia's Simon Katich was recently.

But the selectors need to sit with them when they return to India and work out a two-year exit plan.

Depending on factors like fitness - Laxman looks the most vulnerable - and desire, new faces need to be tried so that when the legend walk into the sunset it does not plunge the team into darkness.

The home series against the West Indies later this year will be a good time to start.

A Dravid or Laxman tour de force there serves little purpose. Instead, play a Virat Kohli or a Rohit Sharma - Cheteshwar Pujara, if he is back to full fitness - and tell them that they have all three Tests to show what they can do.

There can be such a thing as waiting too long.

Javagal Srinath lost a couple of the best years of his career because Kapil Dev hung around too long in pursuit of Sir Richard Hadlee's record.

Abey Kuruvilla had lost much of the pace that made him an eye-catching prospect in domestic cricket by the time he was blooded in 1996/97.

Both careers could have been different if handled better.

Most of all, India need to be patient.

Laxman scored just one hundred in his first 20 Tests. Give the boys of the future the same length of rope.

Instead of looking back in anger at this thrashing, India need to look forward with cautious optimism.

 

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