Its not a prompt start to the Trent Bridge Test and sure enough the discussions wander off to the topic thats always kept on simmer these days. The fab four.
Ten days ago, just ahead of the Lords Test they were singing praises of Sachin Tendulkar again, for instance. ‘The Second Bradman says Tony Greig’ kind of features were on Cricinfo. And they’ll probably be back if he gets a century in the next few days.
But leave aside the noise and try and listen to some serious voices out there. Like this piece by Peter Roebuck in the Sportstar last week.
After years of relative stability, the time is ripe for the emergence of a new brigade of Indian batsmen.
Nor will it be sufficient to slash a few timely runs in fifty-over matches, let alone the twenty-over frivolities currently not so much capturing the imagination as amusing the brain. Despite the crowds and the razzmatazz that accompanies the shorter versions of the game, Test cricket remains the measure of a batsman. Everyone in the game acknowledges this harsh reality. Greatness can only emerge when it is demanded. Pleasure is not to be mistaken for fulfilment. Aspirants must confront this inconvenient truth. No batsman has proved himself till he has prospered for a sustained period in the five-day maelstrom.Beyond argument India will presently need a new breed of batsmen and it’s no use expecting to find another Sachin Tendulkar. Batsmen of that calibre come along once in a hundred years. Nor is it wise to expect youth to match Rahul Dravid or Sourav Ganguly or V. V. S. Laxman or even Virender Sehwag because these players have been exceptional. Moreover they were the last of their generation, the last products of old, educated, middle-class mainstream Indian cricket, sophisticated, relaxed, proud, combining the best of past and present, east and west. Rather it is a question of uncovering a new bunch of forceful characters. Most likely they will be from the raw parts of the domain.
Strong teams are full of distinctive performers.
In the past few seasons numerous players have been introduced into the Test team. Some have stayed long enough to make an impression, others have vanished as quickly as a shadow on a cloudy day. Some waited a long time for a chance, others were chosen before shaving became a daily requirement. None has made himself indispensable. All have been caught midway between the thought and the execution. Accordingly the old guard has repeatedly been recalled.
Unsurprisingly the inability of emerging batsmen to secure regular places in the five-day outfit has provoked concern about the prospects once the tried and trusted put down their willows. Everyone has watched with dismay the painful decline of the West Indies. Anxious to avoid such deterioration, India has given promising players a chance to play alongside the veterans but it has not really worked.
None of the newcomers can be put alongside Michael Clarke or Alastair Cook. What price a young batsman unable to prosper in the protection provided by the most prolific batting order in Indian history?
And yet the protection may partly explain the failures. Every young cricketer worth a rupee yearns for responsibility. Growing plants need light. Not even the most encouraging words can convince a novice listed alongside Tendulkar and Dravid that he matters as much as them.
Moreover India reveres its sporting gods. Not easy for a promising lad to join his heroes and to regard himself as an equal.
Eventually the senior men will go and then the flame will pass to the next generation. Probably those immersed in underperformance these last few seasons will remain the same because failure grips the soul, becomes habitual.
Hope rests with still incomplete and underexposed batsmen, including precocious teenagers, a group more easily found in less hierarchical lands.
Although the outlook may appear bleak, all is not lost. India has a wealth of talent, a functioning democracy, a growing economy and an enduring devotion to the game. Inevitably the outstanding batsmen of the last 15 years will be missed but their departure may hasten the maturing of hitherto obscure successors.
The argument is fine. And the whole idea about continuity is nice too. But life is not that easy. Not even when its a simple game like cricket. Definitely not when its a game like cricket.
The truth is : There are no easy answers.
Does the existence of the ICL enter the picture at all? Would the BCCI sack, say Sachin Tendulkar, and risk that he joins Lara, Warne, Mcgrath and Fleming at the ICL ? Would they risk compromising a revenue stream? Is there a big picture cricket vision in there that allows such steps? Would they do it with 4 such middle order bats? Who would you watch? Are you sure?