I could hardly wait for the India/Australia test series to begin. To see the Big Three in combat always got my blood flowing. True, only Dravid did the job in England. But England was just an aberration, and had they not returned to form against the West Indies?
Furthermore, Australia was not that awesome. Didn’t a fairly green New Zealand attack not just blow them away? Weren’t they decimated for 47 by South Africa? Their most dependable opener was absent injured and the great Ricky Ponting was a wicket waiting to fall over.
Besides, taking on Australia was bound to find them at their finest. After all, Australia’s battlefields had seen some of their greatest triumphs and the fact that this was surely the last time they would be down under as warriors was bound to provide extra incentive. So I could hardly contain my excitement waiting for hostilities to begin.
They lost the first test. But that was ok. They often underperform at the beginning of a series anyway. They were sure to improve, and there were a few encouraging signs: Tendulkar in the first innings looked as skilled and as fluent as I have ever seen him in scoring 73; Dravid was solid enough for his 68; Zaheer looked fit and Yadav seemed capable of doing a fair bit of damage.
But that first test was India’s highpoint of the series. From there they went even further downhill. So bad were they that I sometimes found it difficult to watch. I was supporting India mainly because I so much enjoyed watching the Big Three, and especially the high art of VVS Laxman. Together, they had scored over 37000 test runs with 104 centuries. With such talent available India has had little to dread from any bowling attack. So to see them crash and burn as they did disappointed me (and their many fans I’m sure) intensely.
The great middle order had aged and was not as formidable and as feared as it used to be. The Wall was awesome in England, but the owner of possibly the most impenetrable defensive technique in cricket has now been bowled 9 times in his last 12 innings.
Laxman has simply not been Laxman. Restricted perhaps by a longstanding back complaint, his mobility has been inadequate. His footwork has been sluggish and his lazy elegance has hardly been in evidence. There was none of the wristy flicks and precious few of the flowery drives, and of the three he might be the one most likely to retire or be replaced.
While Tendulkar started adequately at Melbourne, he sometimes looked tentative and strokeless afterwards. Still, he might be the least vulnerable of the trinity, and retirement may still be some way off yet.
So what does the future hold? How will India recover from this humiliation and what will they do to rebuild their crumbling batting?
Virat Kohli has shown that there is raw material available. Scorer of his team’s lone century he grew in confidence after a poor start at Melbourne. On this trip also is Rohit Sharma, as promising a batsman as there is in the game, while waiting in the wings are others like Pujara, who has already shown that he has a lot to offer, and Rahane.
It is the natural order of things and of sports: the young succeeds the aging. As a unit, the service that Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman have given to their country might never be surpassed. But all things end. The team is losing and so the calls for change will have to be heeded. The time has come to decide on appropriate ways to say goodbye to Dravid and Laxman. They have served well and deserve high honor. Tendulkar, if he decides to play on, should be the one to provide some sense of stability and to ease the young batsmen into the side.
India badly needs the spark that eager young players will inject. In Australia they sometimes had a kind of geriatric look in the field. Rohit Sharma and one other young batsman should be played in the next test, which is more than six months away. India must move on.
The many heroic deeds of the big three might not be seen again for a long time. India was fortunate to have had them for as long as they did. Now, all concerned need to get behind the young batsmen. They might not succeed at once and there will probably be need for patience. It took Kohli a while but he has showed that he has what it takes. Laxman did too, and look what he became. Have them in place for the next engagements at home so they will be more seasoned by the time the next tour comes along. Failure to act now is to prolong the pain.