‘Tough times don’t last, tough people do’ is an age-old adage. India’s senior cricketers know this only too well. Not that they are tough folks; but they are aware that if they can’t get runs against tough opponents South Africa, Australia or England in overseas conditions, there’s always someone easier to milk at home. Maybe Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or even Afghanistan!
Thus their tough times are limited to only South Africa, England and Australia. Two of the tough tours – to South Africa and England – are out of the way, with just Australia to contend with this November. Meanwhile, there is a home series against West Indies in October which provides seniors ample opportunity to lick their wounds and simultaneously puff themselves up and strut around as the cat’s whiskers before Australia once again force them to tuck their tails between their legs and scoot.
Other things being equal, a batsman’s best years are between the ages 27 and 31, give or take a year or two. It is during this period that he would be most productive in terms of runs, centuries, fitness and dominance of bowling attacks. By the age of 27, he would have batted in different conditions, soaked up the lessons and learnt to adapt to different situations, conditions and bowlers.
This would stand him in good stead for the next three years at least before the downward descend starts. Virtually all batsmen go through this curve and Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane, three of the worst culprits in India’s loss in England are no exceptions.
The trio let down skipper Virat Kohli and Indian cricket so badly they should never be allowed to play red ball cricket for India again.
Dhawan and Vijay were chosen as opening batsmen on the tough tour for their experience as well as the rare opportunity to field a left-right combination at the top. Had they got to the odd good start in England the team would have benefited. Instead, individually and collectively they turned out to be a disaster.
Take Dhawan. The surprise was that he was chosen at all. He had been an unmitigated disaster on tours outside the sub-continent. On the 2014 tour of England, he made a mere 122 runs from six innings. The same year, in Australia he made a paltry 142 in 5 innings. Later, in West Indies, he tallied 138 from 4 innings. Earlier this year in South Africa Dhawan could score no more than 22 runs from two innings. Thus with such a ridiculous track record, why was he selected for an overseas tour?
Dhawan is a sucker for deliveries angled across the body. Pace bowlers position covers and point in such a manner that he would be tempted to go for the checked drive. A boundary or two later that stroke would meet with grief as he inevitably snicks to the slip cordon.
On this tour, Dhawan enjoyed a fair share of luck as the butter-fingered English slip fielders put his down time and again. But he was not good enough to ride the luck. Was it any surprise that he made just 162 runs from 8 innings?
Another who was hurtling on a downward spiral was Dhawan’s partner Vijay. In the past, his patience and grit had won him many admirers. But the 35-year-old opener looked way past his best as his 2018 statistics of 6 Tests, 11 innings, 233 runs for an average of 21.1 reveals. Prior to 2018, Vijay had an average of 41.5. That is nearly double his 2018 average. But in 2018 he had just one innings above 50, a score of 105 vs Afghanistan in Bengaluru. Vijay was a flop in South Africa and now in England.
Much was expected of Rahane after his 2014 success in England. Strangely his career has nose-dived after those heady days. Now at the age of 31, his best days as a batsman cannot be ahead of him.
The last two years have been a disaster for Rahane. It cannot be a loss of form. That happens for a few innings or matches. In Rahane’s case he has been a failure for over two years. That is far too long a period to be explained away as loss of form.
In fact, in the last 20 Tests, he has a total of just 891 runs for an average of 27.8. His best and only century during the period is an innings of 132 against Sri Lanka in 2017. These are not the statistics to be expected of a frontline batsman.
Rahane’s last overseas century outside the sub-continent was in 2014. Had he developed on expected lines after that, he could have been as solid as Dilip Vengsarkar or Rahul Dravid for the current team. Instead, he looks less assured than debutant Hanuma Vihari.
It is obvious from their past and recent records that this trio of batsmen needs to be immediately retired from Test cricket. Not only are they useless to Indian cricket but their very presence is hurting the team’s fortunes. It is also holding up the development and growth of younger batsmen.
Karun Nair was dropped in the very next Test after he had made a historic triple ton against England only because the selectors wanted Rahane to reclaim his spot. Nair had played the Test because Rahane was injured. Instead of allowing the latter to fight and get back his spot in the team he was handed it on a platter. The results are for all to see.
It is not just Nair. There are a whole lot of young, hungry batsmen in Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill and even Shreyas Iyer who need a look-in as soon as possible. The two-Test series against West Indies might be just the platform to unleash young talent.
Dhawan might still be handy for white ball cricket but there seems little sense in giving either Rahane or Vijay another chance. Hopefully, MSK Prasad and company will not waste the series against West Indies on a bunch of losers. Tough decisions taken now will define what constitutes long-term planning. Go ahead MSK! Bite the bullet. Rid the team of dead wood.