Indian cricket has entered a critical period with the retirements of V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid. History shows us that teams struggle with restoration after the departure of a great generation. Dravid and Laxman were, together with Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, and Sourav Ganguly, the nucleus of a side that ascended to the top of Test cricket. That era ended with the eight defeats in England and Australia, and Dravid and Laxman have made space for renewal in the Indian middle-order. It’s crucial the next generation isn’t condemned by comparison, for these were two of the finest in setting up and winning Test matches. This generation is vulnerable to both the short and the moving ball. How would they not be when they hardly experience such things growing up? Bowling, cricket’s only act of creation, shapes the batting that counters it. India’s bowling, domestically, hasn’t improved in the 2000s, the period of incubation for the current batting generation. Nor have the pitches helped. Matting wickets, which sharpen back-foot play in young batsmen, aren’t as prevalent. A vast majority of the turf wickets are batting beauties; others, often in matches of consequence, underdone turners. Neither enables the maturation of all-round batsmen.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India appears to have addressed this with the increased frequency of ‘A’ tours. But the pitches at home demand greater attention. There must be a range of surfaces that preserve the contest between bat and ball. Just as important is the balance between formats: there is a very real danger that the Indian Premier League, because it’s so lucrative, will weaken a player’s loyalty to longer duration cricket. Virat Kohli is a case study of the many problems a young Indian batsman has to overcome. First, the IPL’s good life very nearly claimed him. Then, after he had committed his entire being to becoming a top-class batsman, the pressure of expectation and the fear of failure affected him in the first two Tests in Australia. Kohli managed a spectacular turnaround because he focused on his preparation in the lengthy period between the second and third Test: the work he did was as important as the change of focus from result to process. It helped greatly that the team management backed him. This is exactly what’s needed as Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, and S. Badrinath join Kohli in building around Tendulkar, who won’t be around forever. It will be a difficult, tricky period. Unless the board and the team are in it together, patiently tackling the problems at every level, aiming only at improvement, greatness will prove elusive.