India’s decline in Test cricket began in England last year, and it has touched its nadir against the same team here at home now. This 18-month period is also when Sachin Tendulkar’s batting has gone from bad to worse. The two are connected because he occupies the No 4 slot in the batting line-up, normally reserved for the best batsman in the side. His failure in match after match, with a solitary fifty in the last 13 innings from eight Tests, and not a single triple-figure knock in 17 Tests, has put huge pressure on the Indian captain.
Others have failed too, notably the experienced opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, but not as badly as Tendulkar — they average around 35 this series compared to the former master’s 18. Besides, it’s far easier to bat at No 4 once the ball has lost its zing. Sehwag would love to change places with Tendulkar. Dhoni could also have been better served in the middle order by an Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma or Manoj Tiwary, who have been piling on runs in domestic cricket. After all, the only bright spots in India’s batting over the past couple of years have been newcomers Virat Kohli, who got centuries against Australia and New Zealand, and Cheteshwar Pujara, who got a double hundred and a century in this series.
It’s our administrators and selectors who are primarily responsible for our Test cricket having hit rock-bottom. They have been too slow to groom new talent in place of ageing stars. In Australia, the talented Rohit Sharma, picked for the series when he was in peak form, saw a regular procession of batting failures without getting to make a single appearance. Ajinkya Rahane, who came into the reckoning with 1,000-plus runs in a season, has been warming the benches for three series now while his more illustrious fellow Mumbaikar is allowed to carry on with impunity despite his flops.
MS Dhoni may well be a misfit as a Test captain, like a former selector said this week, but shouldn’t he first be allowed to lead a side without handicaps? It’s strange that Mohinder Amarnath says the selectors wanted a change of captaincy after the whitewash in Australia, but when it comes to Sachin Tendulkar they just want the great man to think whether it’s time for him to go. What if he is reluctant to let go of all the sponsorships that come his way by virtue of his place in the team?
Besides, it smacks of double standards. If Tendulkar can’t be dropped because of his past records, how can Dhoni be replaced? He has two World Cups under his belt, and a fabulous Test match record until 2011 when the Indian batting went into terminal decline in England. Amarnath may be quite right to be peeved at the board president interfering in selection and preventing him from sacking Dhoni. But the “bunch of jokers”, as Amarnath once described the selectors, have no locus standi to talk about Dhoni’s performance if they are going to continue to shy away from their responsibility to get the monkey off the Indian captain’s back.