January 11, 2020
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And Now, The Real Test

With the World Cup over, Indian selectors must rebuild a young side for the future

And Now, The Real Test
NOW that the Cup is over and thousands of words written on how Sri Lanka defied all odds to beat the Aussies in the final at Lahore, it's as good a time as any for India to look ahead to the tours of England and South Africa this year.

It Won't benefit anyone to dwell too much on the disaster (from the Indian point of view), for no postmortem can alter the results. The times are such that one-day cricket gets more prominence than Tests which, I feel, are the true index of a player's ability. In this context, when the selectors sit down to pick the squad for England, one hopes they won't attach undue importance to performances in this Cup or, for that matter, in limited overs cricket in general.

I feel only a few players have survived with their reputations intact: Sachin Tendulkar, Ajay Jadeja, Navjot Sidhu, Anil Kumble and, to a lesser extent, Javagal Srinath. Mohammed Azharuddin came in for a bit of stick for his handling of the two games against Lanka, at Delhi, where we went in with four seamers at the cost of a specialist spinner and at Calcutta when he wrongly decided to field first. His batting, overall, didn't reach the heights we have been accustomed to, but I would be surprised if he's divested of captaincy for the coming tours.

Among the disappointments have been Manoj Prabhakar and Sanjay Manjrekar. Manoj, for one, looked very jaded and he won't find a place in my team for the tour of Old Blighty. Age, too, is against him and it's high time that we looked around for replacements, or at least picked a youngster as an investment for the future. Likewise, Manjrekar looked out of sorts during the Cup. I won't set much store by the theory that he's a better Test player. He has been given enough opportunities on his come-back, but I will say he has not measured up to expectations. As with Manoj, I would not pick Manjrekar for the England tour.

One-day cricket has bred a tendency wherein we attach too much significance to results. It's so overwhelmingly batsman-friendly that statistics tend to get magnified. The batsman has the luxury of edging the ball through the slips without fear of getting caught or freely going over the top during the first 15 overs.

The bowlers are cramped by penalty for sending down the short stuff, a common weapon in Tests. Consequently, the bats-men have little to fear from even the best of pacers. The spinners, on their part, have to be necessarily restrictive. All these factors, coupled with the usually flat surfaces prepared for one-day cricket, have made the batsman's job that much easier.

We have thus reached a stage where the specialists are gradually making their way out and the in-thing is the bits-and-pieces cricketer. This has been the most unfortunate contribution of one-day cricket. We now prefer a bowler who can bat or a batsman who can bowl, rather than a specialist in his particular craft. My earnest wish is that Test cricket will be spared this development.

Coming back to the England tour, the selectors will do well in blooding some youngsters. For one thing, the conditions in England will be ideally suited to swing and seam bowling and not so much out-and-out fast stuff. I feel bowlers like Ventakesh Prasad and Srinath will perform better than before. The other name which springs to mind is that of Bombay's Paras Mhambrey. He has been getting a lot of wickets in the domestic season and is suited for Test cricket. Considering his slow pace and ability to cut the ball, I feel he will be the right choice for the third seamer's berth. He's far superior to the likes of Salil Ankola. If anyone deserves a break, it's Mhambrey.

I will say the same about Karnataka's Rahul Dravid. He was unfortunate to miss the Cup, but having seen him bat at close quarters through the current season, he must make the team to England as a middle-order batsman. Hyderabad's V.V.C. Laxman, who has been in such wonderful form this season, too deserves another look. With three centuries in as many games, and an aggregate of 775, Laxman has done enough to stake a claim. The selectors must be having him in mind: they included him in the 'A' team that played in Sharjah recently.

Both Rahul and Lax-man will have sufficient opportunities in England because of the many side games and I am sure that they will benefit greatly from the experience and exposure. While on the subject of batsmen, I feel Sidhu will find conditions to his liking. The low bounce will suit his batting style and I am confident he will be a success in England.

Basically, the present Indian team is gradually ageing and we must think in terms of rebuilding a young side for the future. I feel that the two forthcoming tours to England and South Africa will be make or break for the national side.

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