Asked in 2006 to explain the one big reason why Australia were dominating world cricket, Adam Gilchrist said intense competition among just six regional teams in first-class cricket, and a strong set-up, meant players were ready when they reach the national side.
What the modest player left out was that even such a good system cannot throw up talent like him, or Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne. The trio's retirement in quick succession pulled Australia down, and they are fighting to find a new way to return to the top. When India look at their own climb to the top of the Test ranking, they will acknowledge the rigour with which Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had approached their game for years. As they survey the wreckage of the 0-4 Test series rout in England, it should set alarm bells ringing about what the future could hold in store.
There is a dire need for the cricket board to make sure there is no gap in planning. That will avoid the way players assembled from the West Indies and elsewhere and straightaway went into the Test series. There is also a need to manage the maddening schedule that has led to player breakdowns. With the IPL there to stay, it is time the board drew up a proper schedule to manage workload.
Keep the faith
England left the visitors totally broken. India will have to worry about bench strength as the youngsters struggled to make a mark. With Suresh Raina's failure showing India have not found a replacement for Sourav Ganguly, it only adds to the concern over the impact the retirement of the Big Three will have on the team.
"Once the three leave, there will be a big void. But when we try youngsters, we have to persist with them. Simply dropping them once they fail is not the solution," feels former Test opener Chetan Chauhan.
The board and selectors should make sure there is no knee-jerk reaction. "Marvan Atapattu made zero after zero but Sri Lanka persisted with him. So if you identify talent, you should back them."
That has not been the case. Virat Kohli was handed his Test debut in the West Indies but was rattled by the fiery Fidel Edwards and promptly dropped. Left-handed opener Abhinav Mukund was promising on his Test debut in the Caribbean but was dumped after two failures in England. As it turned out, both Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were far from fit. He scored a century in a warm-up before the final Test but stayed out despite Sehwag's fitness woes.
Chauhan, as well as former India player and coach Madan Lal, say talent as such is not a big worry but Indian cricket establishment should become more accountable and proactive to stop further slide.
Both believe Rohit Sharma, who is yet to play Tests, is the best bet among the young talent. But fresh talent will need discipline and application to find their feet in Test cricket. They are now vulnerable to the lure of glitz and glamour that comes with success in limited overs cricket. Sharma admits he has learnt from his past mistakes, when inconsistency and attitude trouble cost his spot.
"Having talent but not working on technique will not help," says Chauhan. "Coming into so much money so early, there is a danger of younger players getting distracted. So guidance and mentoring is very important."
Bowling, especially the pace department, is a bigger worry that batting. In England, once Zaheer Khan broke down, Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth looked lost. They appeared unfit, their pace dropped alarmingly and they never looked like they could force a batsman into mistakes.
In the last three years, India have owed much of their key wins, especially overseas, to the Zaheer-led pace attack. But no genuine fast bowlers on the horizon, barring the untested 21-year-old, Varun Aaron, preserving those in the reckoning becomes vital.
That is where the board needs to tighten its fitness management. It has made it a must for players to go to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and be cleared to play. But there is a crying need to make sure no player is allowed to return without proving his match fitness.
"England played the same eleven except for Jonathan Trott and Chris Tremlett, who got injured," says Madan Lal. "That shows their level of fitness. It not only lifts your confidence but the fielding as well. If you are not fit, you cannot focus for long and will make more mistakes. "We compromise on fitness and there is a tendency among those in charge sometimes to oblige each other by overlooking injuries."
All this shows what India need to do if they are to give their Test team a chance to recover and make sure there is a line of succession, instead of waiting and hoping.