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Time for youngsters to grow up

Shane Bond gave Greg Chappell a chance to find out the real mettle of his boys, writes Arun Sivasankaran.

india Updated: Aug 29, 2005 01:26 IST

It should get better for Sourav and his men in the coming days. It is incredibly tough to go down further.

The defeat against Fleming and his boys was certainly not unexpected - not even Sourav would have had India as favourites - but the timid capitulation against fast bowling on a pitch that had bounce showed that nothing much had changed, that many of the batsmen lack the technique, if not the spine, needed to stand up and be counted when the heat is on. Much like a roadside baddie who turns chicken against a real toughie, India have come up short too often against quality opposition for it to be just an accident.

It is easy to forget with all the hype going around, but India has only four players who can win battles against fast bowlers on bouncy and seaming tracks and of those, one is now in Mumbai getting his elbow ready for the battles ahead and the other in Hyderabad wondering why the selectors have different yardsticks for different players. Taking into account the fact that both Dravid and Sehwag failed, the margin of defeat was actually not too bad.

It was entirely unintentional, but Shane Bond did India a huge favour. By slicing through the Indian top order without even breaking into a sweat, he gave Greg Chappell a great chance to separate fair weather players from those capable of performing well on a consistent basis, against all comers in all conditions. There are too many of the first kind in the team and it surely would not have escaped the Australian's notice. No, don't expect the new coach to seek large-scale changes, but the `shape up or ship out' messages would have gone out already.

An exit on his own terms is the least Sourav Ganguly deserves for all that he has done for Indian cricket, but clearly, he has not been helping himself of late. There was nothing in his performance during the Sri Lankan tri-series to suggest a second wind, and against the pace of Shane Bond, the Indian captain did not look capable of staying long at the crease, let alone scoring runs. Zimbabwe, and the much more friendlier pace of Health Streak and his men, will provide Sourav an escape route, and there are reports that a toe injury will keep Bond off the playing field till the final. Can the Indian captain grab his luck?

The big boys - Sachin, Dravid, Sourav, Sehwag and Laxman - have won many games on their own but, ironical as it may seem, India may have to pay for their coruscating brilliance. With the seniors carrying the team along, and doing a good job of it most of the time, many of the youngsters grew far too comfortable playing bit parts, and now when it is time to graduate and ease the load off the stalwarts, they are finding it hard to step up to the plate.

Yuvraj Singh, whose casual waft outside the off stump against Andre Adams made one wonder why he was even considered as an opener in Tests, lacks nothing if you are speaking of talent and Mohammed Kaif is not one to take a step back, but the two have simply not been consistent enough, as batting averages of 29.78 and 32.01 in 122 and 93 ODIs respectively would reveal. The time to talk of promise is long gone, and all around them, boys have grown into big men and started taking responsibility. Andrew Flintoff, Andrew Symonds and Kumar Sangakkara are all doing much more than hitting the occasional big knock and saving a few runs on the field. Greg Chappell and his tactical nous will add up to nothing if the youngsters in the team decide there is time still to grow up.

It is early days yet to pass judgment, but Dhoni, India's answer to Gilchrist if one were to believe a few trigger-happy writers, too seems to be falling into the trap of becoming satisfied too easily, of resting on one big effort for the next few games. His keeping, sound to begin with, has suffered in recent games and while batting, he has shown a suicidal lack of respect for good bowling and testing conditions. From headlines to oblivion is not a long journey, and maybe, Greg would have already reminded the talented youngster of it.

With all the competition around him, Agarkar virtually stood with one leg out of the door even before the tour started. Such situations bring out the best in fighters, but what the wiry pacer dished out against the Kiwis was dross, even though he did end up with two wickets. The man seems incapable of not bowling at least one hit-me ball every over, and his batting has not won India a game. Unless he does something special in the remaining games, it should be an easy decision for the selectors when they meet next.

With the World Cup less than two ears away, most of the competitors have settled teams, captains firmly in command and even strategies in place. Greg does not know with whom he will be discussing tactics with in the West Indies nor does he have much of an idea of the men he will have to make a dream come true. Not the best situation he has been in his life, but then big men like bigger challenges.

First Published: Aug 29, 2005 00:25 IST