Last year’s Test tour Down Under was a turning point in Indian cricket. Not only did the senior batsmen look totally helpless and clueless in preventing a 0-8 whitewash on foreign soil, but youngster Virat Kohli outscored the five senior batsmen in the Indian team in the Australia series.
The writing was on the wall, but the BCCI rarely notices. It was the humility and greatness of both Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman that they announced their retirements.
As a result of that, Cheteshwar Pujara got his comeback in the team and has not disappointed. In the last three Test matches he has scored 463 runs and his career average now stands at a phenomenal 71.25.
Pujara has shown the temperament to be a long-term option for India and wouldn’t have been on the scene had Dravid and Laxman not retired. In both his partnerships with Virender Sehwag, Pujara outscored him, which is a rare occurrence indeed.
Interestingly Pujara has scored a double century at a younger age than Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid or Virender Sehwag.
How many more such potential gems are there for India? If we do not try them out, we will never know.
When we were 0-3 down in England and all was lost, it would have been a sensible decision to rest the seniors and play the bench. Nothing of the sort happened and Kohli, Abhinav Mukund and Wriddhiman Saha just watched from the sidelines.
History repeated itself in Australia and we were 0-3 down again. The selectors refused to experiment again. Abhimanyu Mithun, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma watched from the sidelines. This was all the more alarming because Rohit was in red hot form at that time and deserved a Test debut.
Tendulkar has been without a century for about 25 Test innings now, but it looks like the BCCI will give him an infinitely long rope. He looks tired and jaded and it will be a disaster if he runs out of steam just before the South Africa tour.
Then some youngster will be thrown in the deep end in that particular tour. It would be a better idea to pick someone now itself and prepare him for that all-important tour. But even the talk of retiring Tendulkar is sacrilege in this country.
The other person under the scanner is Sehwag. Sure he scored a fine century in the first England Test, but it has come after two long years and the question to be asked is if he can sustain it, especially on foreign soil.
Throughout his career, Sehwag has never relied too much on technique, but more upon hand-eye co-ordination. He is 34 today and his reflexes will definitely be slowing down which may be one of the reasons for his slump.
In the first half of his career, he scored a century in each and every overseas series. The second half has been a disaster. So the question to be asked is whether it is a better idea to shield him from the new ball and get him 4 down.
He could still play his explosive batting down the order and would be a boon when the second new ball arrives, something that has been India’s nemesis of late.
Gautam Gambhir also looks out of sorts and he also could be pushed down the order. The decks would be cleared for India to look for a fresh opening pair. The reason for this is that if the Sehwag-Gambhir duo continues to falter in the next couple of series, then in South Africa we might have to throw a new opening pair at the deep-end. Not an ideal scenario.
Captain MS Dhoni has totally avoided veteran Harbhajan Singh in the spin department but R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have come good. Even in the second innings of the first England Test when the opposition looked to be getting a match-saving total, Umesh Yadav picked up three crucial wickets, tough on such a slow spinning track.
The focus clearly has to be on youth.
The other heartening factor has been the return of Yuvraj Singh. When Yuvi got cancer, he had said in an interview that the doctor gave him 60% chance of survival. The chances of playing cricket again were even less and doing well in Tests even lesser.
But Yuvi made a great comeback in the T20 World Cup and in the first Test against England scored a fine 74. This is his last chance of becoming a permanent Test player and so far it appears that he is taking it with both hands.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/