At the end of the 2007/08 series Ricky Ponting, taking a dig at Indian cricket, spoke about the transition period that both Australia and India were staring at. “They (India) will be going through a very similar phase that we have gone through and it will be really interesting to see how their team backs up from that,” Ponting had remarked, the gist being ‘we will see how India copes’.
It had been early days since the departure of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist. And, Ponting was confident that his team would maintain its supremacy despite the vacuum created.
No one doubted it, though. Some dents would be difficult to fill, but largely the Aussie Armada would roll along in its dominating fashion, after all, their cricket model was touted to be the best in the world with the ability to keep churning out quality products.
It was Australia’s golden era; impressed by their team’s success, all cricket boards were blindly ready to follow the Aussie-way. Examples of their grade (inter-club) cricket, domestic structure, their research centre (Centre of Excellence), were being given at every cricket conclave. The MCC coaching manual was passé and the Indian cricket board set-up its National Cricket Academy largely on their model.
However, the reality has been harsher. As Australia went through a miserable Sunday’s play at Lord’s, their inability to cope with the transition stares them in the face. The big question being asked is what happened to the famed cricket structure?
The test of the strength of a team is in when younger guys come in and you don’t notice the transitional phase. But in the Australia team, they have got a few new faces in and the team is being cruelly exposed. When they were routed in India, it was said it was due to the lack of experience of spin-friendly conditions. It has been the same, sorry story against swing in England. The lack of depth in Australian batting is disappointing, against spin as well as swing.
Ironically, it is India who have comparatively coped better with the loss of their seniors. The key for India has been the emergence of Cheteshwar Pujara. He has taken the responsibility of the lynchpin of batting, and has got solid support from the likes of Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan.
As Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh started slipping, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja came up the ranks to ensure that India’s future is in safe hands. MS Dhoni is providing the experience at the helm.
The most dramatic role reversal, however, has taken place in the department of fielding. For long, Indian fielding has been the butt of jokes, now the current lot is seen as one of the best in the world.
Even in junior cricket, earlier this month the India Under-19 team routed their Australian counterparts, in their backyard, in the final of a three-nation tournament.“The one lesson that we can all learn from India is that the best way to do it is to play as much competitive cricket as possible at the youth level. I have long believed that the best way to learn how to play cricket is to play a lot of it. The young cricketer in India has access to better equipment than ever before and the BCCI is investing dramatically more resources at the youth level, than previously,” said former Australia captain and India coach, Greg Chappell, in his column in The Hindu.
Former India skipper Sourav Ganguly for once spoke on similar lines with his former coach when he told HT: “Natural talent and getting gifted players is something that cannot happen with planning. You cannot fight an AK 47 with a pistol, can you?” This he had said just before the Ashes. The India team too will find it difficult to replicate abroad the success of their last generation, but should be able to put up a better fight against stronger oppositions like South Africa. For the health of world cricket, a strong Australia is a must. It is already poorer due to the decline of West Indies.