Cracking the future code

It’s time to look to the post-World Cup India cricket team when Dravid, Tendulkar and even Sehwag, will not be around; but the game’s custodians are busy counting bucksAshish Shukla DelhiIndian cricket team is in transition. It is plain to see Sachin Tendulkar, after 18 long years, is unlikely to be around for long. Rahul Dravid, for all his reserves of energy, will be lucky to make it to 2011 World Cup. Anil Kumble? Fat chance and so it appears, given the present form, with Virender Sehwag. We would remain tormented whether to qualify Yuvraj Singh as a cricketer who has finally fulfilled his promise, or ask yet again if his glitter is for real. Mohammad Kaif will remain a journeyman who would miss more matches than he plays.Devoid of these stars, we would be looking more and more for our Suresh Rainas and Munaf Patels to come good. We would be hoping Greg Chappell, for a change, would be as good as his word and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, after all, will be the next superstar. Will Sreesanth, VRV Singh and RP Singh be the fast bowlers who would lead our attack in the next decade? Don’t tell me you are squirming in discomfort in your seat at the thought. Otherwise, there would be another round of experiments.If Indian cricket at present appears to be a House of Horrors, so it is. For all those riches and adulations of millions, we are being short-changed in the game we love. We surely would have a new coach in the post-World Cup era. The worry is we might also be required to be absolutely clear about the next leader, who would take the mantle from Rahul Dravid. At present there are no easy choices.The role of the captain in cricket can not be over-emphasised. Clive Lloyd was a father figure who united the disparate identities in the Caribbean; Imran Khan led by the sheer aura of his performance and regal demeanour. Arjuna Ranatunga was the shining beacon for a nation trying to establish its international roots—he was charismatic in performance and who raised a whole breed of Vaas’ and Muralis at his own home in Colombo. It was cricket’s “poultry farm”, if you must. Mike Brearley knew how to inspire his men and Allan Border made Australia rediscover its roots of greatness. Even our ‘Tiger Pataudi’ is spoken about with awe by the usually irreverent Bishan Singh Bedi.All these are history men, but possibly for Mike Brearley, who had one essential quality in them: they commanded a regular place in their sides. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the present Indian team. Sachin Tendulkar will and should not be the captain again. He relinquished captaincy a long time ago and going back to him now would be a retrogressive step. Sehwag, even in his most punishing form, doesn’t have the body language of a leader. He appears too laid back and casual when India would need a proactive leader in years to come; someone like Ajay Jadeja with skills. Yuvraj Singh has fallen by wayside: his talent is not in question, but his temperament is. That the next name we get hinged on is Dhoni’s, which doesn’t say much about the options Indians have about their next leader.Dravid would thus have to be persisted with as captain in the post-World Cup 2007 era. Let’s hope that he would retain his brilliance, for, otherwise, the picture is too gloomy. India’s two tours next year would be a mighty challenge: they have a visit to England in the slot and they round up the calendar with a trip to Australia. There are no easy games and only the best would survive.Somehow leadership in Indian cricket hasn’t been given the importance that has traditionally been acknowledged from times immemorial. Indian cricket always looked to give the hot seat to those who, by temperament, were timid or pliable. Whoever started to assert himself was shown the door. Kapil Dev, for instance. The great all-rounder to this day believes that by the time he was removed from captaincy in 1987, the team had begun to form a good nucleus of promising players. Sourav Ganguly was an exception, but it had a lot to do with his equation with Jagmohan Dalmiya and the clout he wielded in Bengal.A look at our cricket annals makes this dilemma plain. We have the classic cases of Lala Amarnath and Tiger Pataudi being hauled over the coals; Bishan Singh Bedi was made the scapegoat after the tour to Pakistan in 1977, when just a year earlier he had shown his mettle by refusing to be part of the Packer Circus and slugging it out with Australia for a 3-2 loss. Ravi Shastri, for all his flamboyance and in-your-face attitude, never got to captain India in more than one Test.It is in this context that the follies of last year hit us in the guts. All the investment in our seniors, our Zaheers and Souravs, Laxmans and Nehras, went down the drain because of clash of egos. Fair enough, the set-up needed a bit of a shake-up, but what has followed is to go to the extreme. The seniors have been done in with a vengeance and a fair crop of our cricketing fields has been laid waste.The likes of Zaheer Khan should have been around to teach the Munaf Patels and Sreesanths the tricks of the trade. Laxman, these days, is extremely edgy and unsure and hardly looks the cricketer who has played in over 70 Tests and whose epic innings in Kolkata was described by Wisden as one of the best knocks ever played in the game’s annals. He doesn’t feel part of the set-up, is never accorded the respect that his stature demands and actually feels unwanted. Anil Kumble, for all his heroics, is not a regular part of the one-Day squad—he has been recalled on October 30 for the South African tour—and it has never been sufficiently explained to him, or to the nation, why it is so.It is thus important, by way of providence or clever planning, that the Indian cricket team has a few stalwarts to steer them out of the marshy land. Tendulkars and Kumbles, Sehwags and Dravids need to leave the reins in good hands. The next two years could be critical for Indian cricket.The game has moved at a frenetic speed in the last decade. More science and technology have become part of the game and the old amateur spirit is long gone. Not only cricketers, even the set-up in which they mushroom is extremely important. However, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) honchos appear keen to log a few extra million dollars in their kitty rather than look to provide a solid infrastructure. Just witness how, despite the promise of transparency and professionalism, these two are the first casualties of Indian cricket.In early 1990s, Rajsingh Dungarpur, then president of BCCI, gave the slogan ‘Team of the 90s.’ It was this call that threw up cricketers such as Dravid and Ganguly, Kumble and Srinath. It seems the baton now must pass on to the next generation. So hectic has the game become that, after every decade, a new influx of cricketers is a must for every international team. It’s only a question of how bumpy or smooth the transition could be. In our case, there doesn’t seem to be any easy answers.