It feels like no time at all since England were collapsing to their dusty doom in Ahmedabad, yet now the teams are readying themselves for one final battle. The vanquished have become the vanquishers and take a 2-1 lead into the Nagpur Test with their opponents in total disarray, while their selection dilemmas, so troublesome just three weeks ago, have let the red mist float away and are in hibernation until the new year. At least they were until Stuart Broad cunningly injured Steve Finn right before the game again, having forgotten he too was injured this time. Even despite that little hiccup, there’s so little to say about England that this preview is an India special.
The home team’s camp is currently in a state of full-blown panic; their Plan A of ‘picking some spinners and waiting for England to fall apart’ having been blown to bits by their own batsmen falling apart in the face of some mild turn, leaving them desperately searching for the Plan B they forgot to draw up. The vultures, circling for so long, are already tucking into Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan and finishing off any bits of Harbhajan Singh they missed last time around, while a whole host of others are desperately trying to fight off the dark forces trying to hurl them into the lions’ den. From some of the coverage, both in India and around the world, you would be forgiven for thinking Indian cricket was a lost cause, about to have its crown swiped from its lifeless body by the IPL and its merry band of sponsors. In truth, things aren’t actually that bad.
Yes, the squad probably needs a revamp, but wholesale changes for the final Test would have been little more than a misguided attempt to placate the vast hordes of furious fans. That they made as many as three is something of a surprise, although dropping Harbhajan is a bit like watching someone burgle your house then shooting a lamppost as they ran away. The core of the next-generation already exists; in Pujara, Kohli, Ashwin, Ojha and Yadav they have talented players still developing at international level, while even Gautam Gambhir can stick around for a while yet if he remembers which end of the bat to hold. There are a whole host of young batsmen with very promising futures waiting in the wings but you cannot simply throw them all in at once and hope for the best. They have blooded younger players when they’ve had the opportunity but no team, anywhere, in any sport, would suddenly ditch the likes of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. Those players will decide when they want to go and the challenge which confronts every side as an era of great players retire at the same time is basically just to do the best they can with the transformation.
It’s very easy to respond to a couple of beatings by saying how obvious it is that the likes of Tendulkar should have been long gone by now, but when would this mythical optimum retirement time have been? At what point did he stop being completely brilliant and become mortal? It’s impossible to tell. To some extent, these things are down to luck; if Kohli had come in a year ago and begun churning out runs, it would have released the pressure on the older heads. Instead he has struggled to recreate his one day form, yet no one in their right mind would argue he shouldn’t be in the side.
Nagpur may prove to be Sachin’s swansong, and we may have seen the last of the three men axed after Kolkata, but India are not in crisis. Whatever you think of the quality of the Ranji Trophy, they have a wealth of talented batsmen making big scores domestically waiting to fill the void. One of them, Jadeja, will get the chance this week, and it would be somewhat fitting if the man held up as an example of the worst of IPL excess was to make it as a Test player. All teams have bad spells and all teams have to deal with the changing of the guard, it does not mean there are deep-rooted problems which mean a long period in the doldrums unless they undertake a massive overhaul of their entire thinking. A few tweaks, rather than sweeping changes, are the order of the day.