Need to plan for Aussie challenge from now on

Success in shorter formats should not obscure weaknesses in Tests

India's win in the first T20 at Pune was so facile as to make many wonder why the team had faltered so badly in the Test series.

An exuberant young fan even ventured that England would now be thrashed roundly in the limited-overs matches.

We’ll get the revenge for last year’s whitewash one way or the other,’’ he said.

Therein lies not just the flaw in understanding of the game amongst fans, but also the danger the Indian cricket establishment getting its priorities mixed up. To assess Tests, ODIs and T20s with the same yardstick is to compare marble, limestone and chalk the same breath.

This, of course, does not take away anything from India’s fine performance in Pune. Every contest demands ability and motivation, and teams must play to win.

Moreover, this victory will taste sweet to the Indian players, especially skipper MS Dhoni, after two months of heartburn and setbacks.

Also read: Living in denial, BCCI style

However, victories in limited-overs matches should not obscure the frailties that exist when playing Test cricket. In Indian cricket, that has often been the case and, as has become evident over the past 15 months, a recipe for disaster.

After the second T20 against England, India are scheduled to play a five- match series against Pakistan ( two T20s, three ODIs) followed by a five- match ODI series against England. All these are international fixtures and important to win. But even if all matches are won, it should not cause a memory lapse of how the recent Test series was lost.

There are lessons to be had from the defeat against England: inadequate fitness and planning foremost among these. Unfit players are a cardinal sin at the international level and lack of forethought perhaps even more so.

For most of the Test series, the focus was needlessly on pitches — almost as if to psyche the English players out — and not on performances.

 As it happened, England were not only mentally tough, but also showed better skills and adaptability to cut the ground under Dhoni and Co.

The difficulty for India’s selectors begins when they start putting down names on paper of those likely to play against Australia.

The core group has shrunk drastically, and the list becomes meagre when you consider calibre, form and fitness.

Of those who would make this list without ado, I can think of only Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Dhoni — though he would have an asterisk against his name where captaincy is concerned, and Sehwag because of his iffy fitness.

Harbhajan Singh has lost form and Zaheer Khan both fitness and form. Even more vexing is the case of Sachin Tendulkar, who seems to be in an existentialist crisis. Will the selectors speak to him and work out an exit plan? It’s about time they did.

These are all high quality players who can make a difference if fit and in good fettle. They should be thrust into domestic cricket, and their progress closely monitored.

Selection for Tests and other internationals should not be based on reputation.

Looking ahead to the Test series against Australia, therefore, the planning has to start right away.

Barely three months remain before the Aussies arrive here, and considering how poorly India have fared recently, this may just not be enough time. Remember, England planned for almost six months prior to coming to India.

But better late than never.


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