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Young enough for a comeback, but old enough not to be picked

Will Ishant Sharma play for India again? Unlikely, given the country’s riches in pace bowling and the promotion of some of his younger colleagues into mentors themselves.

Will Ishant Sharma play for India again? Unlikely, given the country’s riches in pace bowling and the promotion of some of his younger colleagues into mentors themselves. | Photo Credit: AP

The passing of a generation and the advent of a new one is a bitter-sweet experience. You miss the heroes you have grown up with, but you also look forward to where their replacements will take the team. As someone said, if transition isn’t painful, you are not making progress!

It doesn’t happen overnight. Over a few years you realise that the team has a new feel to it, a different texture. A change that was in the future is happening now. It is like watching a batsman go about his business without fuss — suddenly you look up and see he has scored 30 or 40 runs.

It happened when India’s famed middle order and world-class bowlers bowed out of the scene. Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble bid farewell in 2008-09, followed by Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh.

Generational shifts

That brought what is referred to as the Golden Age, or the Tendulkar Era, to a close. Many of the next lot — the Dhoni-Kohli generation, if you will — had early careers that overlapped with the erstwhile greats; that is how generational shifts happen smoothly.

And now we seem to be at the starting point of another. Surely, Dhoni’s premature retirement from Test cricket in the middle of a tour of Australia in 2014 may have been unnatural, but as India prepares to take on England in the final Test of their interrupted series in July, the contours of Indian cricket are beginning to take on a new shape.

Ishant Sharma, not yet 19 on debut, with 300-plus Test wickets and 100-plus in the ODI may be only 33 and has grown from the young, energetic colt who troubled the world’s leading batsmen through sheer pace, into the senior pro who guided a new batch of young bowlers.

Will he play for India again? Unlikely, given the country’s riches in pace bowling and the promotion of some of Ishant’s younger colleagues into mentors themselves.

Ishant Sharma deserves to be properly feted for his large heart, which was as obvious as his long hair and crooked smile even as he made his debut. File

Ishant Sharma deserves to be properly feted for his large heart, which was as obvious as his long hair and crooked smile even as he made his debut. File | Photo Credit: K.R. Deepak

The role of the pace spearhead has passed from Kapil Dev to Javagal Srinath to Zaheer Khan to Ishant to Jasprit Bumrah. Ishant must be celebrated both for who he is and what he has done. Significant service is not always justly rewarded in sport.

Properly feted

Ishant deserves to be properly feted for his large heart, which was as obvious as his long hair and crooked smile even as he made his debut. In his second Test, against Pakistan, he gave evidence of all three, bowling tirelessly to claim five wickets in an innings.

Performing dual role

As has happened so often in Indian cricket, the spearhead had to be both the shock bowler as well as the stock bowler, roles Ishant performed well. Of the Indian team that played in Ishant’s debut Test, only he and Dinesh Karthik remain active in international cricket.

Another significant player likely to be part of the transition is Ajinkya Rahane, batsman of charm and class, who too served India well in the 82 Tests he has played. His century at Lord’s in 2014 helped India to their first win at that venue in 28 years.

As a close-in fielder, he holds the world record for the most catches in a match, and as replacement skipper for Kohli, he led India superbly to a series win in Australia after the team had been shot out for 36 in the first Test.

Did Ajinkya make a mistake in playing the IPL when he might have profited from a county season himself?

Did Ajinkya make a mistake in playing the IPL when he might have profited from a county season himself? | Photo Credit: K.R. Deepak

Along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Rahane was dropped from the Indian team following a poor series in South Africa. Pujara, with no IPL contract, decided to play for Sussex in the English county to rediscover his mojo. Centuries, including a double in the championship, meant that he could not be ignored especially since India were playing the Test in England.

Skip IPL for County?

Did Ajinkya make a mistake in playing the IPL when he might have profited from a county season himself? There is no guarantee, of course, that he would set the Thames on fire, but at the age of 33, his international future too seems uncertain. That is an intriguing age for an out-of-form batsman, though. You are young enough to make a comeback, but old enough not to cause comment should you not be picked again.

Ishant, Pujara and Rahane are, temperamentally, not the kind of players the country might be worked up over.

They are all self-effacing professionals, who do a good job and leave the dramatics and media attention for others in the squad more flamboyant and flashy. This does not make them any less valuable or unworthy of a nation’s collective gratitude. Pujara, 34, with 95 Tests under his belt, might have extended his career, while the other two can still do so.

Interesting times

These are interesting times. The next generation has been knocking on the doors of big cricket for some time now, and the sound is getting louder.


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Printable version | May 25, 2022 3:11:14 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/young-enough-for-a-comeback-but-old-enough-not-to-be-picked/article65457117.ece