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Time for tough decisions - Suresh Menon column
by Suresh Menon
Aug 13, 2008
On the day that India abjectly surrendered a Test series in Sri Lanka, an Indian won the country's first-ever individual gold at the Olympics. The shooter Abhinav Bhindra might have tempered the anger and disappointment following the cricket defeat, but the question will have to be asked sooner or later: Is it the end of the road for a generation which carried the team on its shoulders with performances most players can only dream about?

The famed middle order had an average of 18 in Sri Lanka, with just three scores over 50 in 24 innings combined. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman and Sourav Ganguly have together played 480 Tests, scored over 35,000 runs and 91 centuries. Ganguly is 36, Laxman 33 and the other two are 35.

There are two courses open to the selectors: drop the lot and pick a new middle order knowing that it can't perform much worse, or phase it out so a couple of the seniors can mentor the relative newcomers. It says something for the smug approach of the selectors that no one, with the possible exception of Yuvraj Singh, has been groomed to take over from the Big Four although it was likely that they would all bid goodbye at around the same time. There is a danger of thrusting four youngsters into the fray, against India's next two opponents - Australia and England.

Fortunately for India, both these are home series. There are seven Test matches to come, just enough time to give the seniors a chance to redeem themselves, and find a new combination before they tour Pakistan at the end of the year.

Going by the performances in Sri Lanka, Tendulkar alone seemed to play with any confidence. At the other end of the scale was Ganguly who never looked comfortable either as batsman or fielder (and that's another area where these four come up short). Dravid wasn't too comfortable either, but seemed to have emerged from his shell in two of his last three innings, while Laxman inspired confidence only in patches.

It may be a cruel thing to say, but there doesn't seem to be much cricket left in either Ganguly or Laxman, and it is difficult to see them on the plane to Pakistan. The same cannot be said of Tendulkar or Dravid, both of whom are capable of climbing back into form in Bangalore, where the first Test against Australia will be played in October. They deserve another chance, with the clear understanding that they must perform or they will perish. 'Perform or perish' is not a mantra that is familiar to Indians who, unlike the Australians, carry great players as passengers in the team till the inevitable gets up and bites them in the face.. It happened with Kapil Dev, who had to be carried till he surpassed the then world record wickets aggregate of Richard Hadlee. Tendulkar needs another 77 runs to go past Brian Lara's batting aggregate record.

You could make an argument for playing Laxman because Australia hold him in high regard, and he has made tons of runs against them both home and away. Also, the fact is there are no serious contenders apart from Yuvaraj and Badrinath, both of whom will have to be given their chances in the home series.

These are difficult days for Indian cricket. For apart from the batting stalwarts, Anil Kumble the bowling Colossus too displayed frayed edges in Sri Lanka. Thatʼs another 130 Tests in the kitty, and 616 wickets. He will turn 38 during the Australia series.

To bid farewell to five all-time heroes of Indian cricket at the same time is both tricky and unnecessary. Selectors must combine emotion with reason. Seven Tests is time enough to knock a team into shape. Tough decisions will have to be taken - unless the seniors see the writing on the wall as it becomes clearer, and step down themselves.
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