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Transition to youth is the way forward - Partab Ramchand column
by Partab Ramchand
Aug 15, 2008
The loss in the Test series in Sri Lanka is bad enough but what is even more disturbing is the form – or the lack of it – displayed by the Fab Four – though one should cease calling them that going by recent performances. Perhaps one should say Fab Five for besides Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman another senior man who is now increasingly under the microscopic eye is Anil Kumble.

A batting line-up that boasts of over 40,000 runs and more than 100 centuries could muster up only one three figure knock and seven half centuries between them in the three Tests. Therein lay the crux of the problem, particularly when placed against Sri Lanka's tally of five hundreds and six half centuries. It was pathetic to see the famed quartet in the middle order struggle against a rookie bowler, unable to read him even after three Tests, just groping forward and hoping for the best. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir succeeded in part because they adopted a positive approach. Laxman despite notching up two half centuries was not very convincing against Ajantha Mendis. What was equally astonishing was the fact that even Muthiah Muralitharan who the quartet has been up against in Tests as far back as 1997 troubled the vastly experienced middle order. All are in their mid-thirties and one wonders as to whether their skill or reflexes have deteriorated to the point where it is time for them to call it a day.

When one looks at the figures it is difficult not to agree with this view. Ganguly got 96 runs at an average of 16 while Tendulkar scored one run less at an average of 15.83. Dravid thanks to his half century at Colombo was able to stretch his aggregate to 148 runs and his average to 24.66 but his tenures at the crease were no doubt painful for him and certainly painful for his legion of fans. Laxman got 215 runs at a seemingly impressive average of 43 but his batting was less than so. Moreover he is just not the type of batsman who can take control of the innings when he has only the tail for company too engrossed as he possibly is by his own elegance.

It is not just a question of one bad series as those defending them are saying. The decline has been seen over a fairly extended period. At his peak Dravid's career average was 58.8; it has now fallen to 53.9. Tendulkar had reached an all time high of 57.7 and he now averages 54.2. As far as Ganguly is concerned one has to ask the question whether the last has been seen of him in the Test arena. There are a number of gifted young players who have already proved their worth in limited overs cricket and are waiting for the elevation to the Test ranks. Now is the time for the transition to formally take place.

There should be a major transition in the bowling too for even though this involves only one player it happens to be a bowler who has been around since 1990 and is the third highest wicket taker in Tests with over 600 scalps. The disparity between Kumble's bowling record at home and abroad is well known and this series only augmented that fact. A tally of eight wickets at an average of 50 – five of the scalps were tailenders - does not befit a bowler of Kumble's reputation. The zip was missing in his bowling and perhaps after 18 years and 130 Tests and sending down over 40,000 deliveries he is feeling the strain which is not surprising. The old Kumble aggressive spirit is still there but at virtually 38 he surely is in the twilight of a long and illustrious career.

To make matters worse for the Indians the fielding and the wicket-keeping left much to be desired. The Sri Lankans are the best fielding side in the sub continent and by contrast the Indians were sub-standard. Dhoni's absence was painfully felt with both Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel failing to cash in on the opportunity that his opting out of the tour gave them.

One player who certainly made the most of the opportunity the series opened for him was Gambhir. His approach was positive, he was consistency personified and his footwork in playing the spinners was exemplary. He and Sehwag provided the Indian team with crumbs of comfort but these were just not enough. The transition towards youth has already started in the ODI side. Perhaps the time has come for the Dilip Vengsarkar-led selection committee to adopt this approach in the Test team too.
 
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