Never has the importance of senior players been more apparent. Teams can be undermined as much by jealousy and laziness as by incompetence. Captains are responsible for the performance of cricket teams but without proper backing from influential players, they walk naked onto the field. Without cooperative and selfless team elders, though, they swiftly become isolated and exhausted.
Over the last fifteen or so years India and Australia have been especially lucky in their senior players. Other nations, too, have betimes been blessed and always it's been obvious both from results and the way in which youngsters are nurtured. Whereas selfish seniors will discourage youth for fear of losing their places, sincere old hands will happily pass on their knowledge. That does not necessarily entail molly coddling. Sometimes the hardest taskmaster is your best friend.
Of course it is the same in other sports. Team elders can convey a culture of commitment to the newcomers. Doubtless that is exactly the role played by Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson presides over not only a great team but a great club, proud of its traditions and determined to maintain the highest standards. Everyone at Old Trafford understands that the club is bigger than all of them. No wonder Ferguson is loath to let his veterans go. By all accounts, too, Giggs is still the fittest player in the squad.
Indian cricket has been blessed with a bunch of seniors that not only prevented the bookies destroying the game but also set out to change the team's reputation as poor travellers, a task they achieved with aplomb. After Sunil Gavaskar it was no longer possible to sustain the patronising notion that Indians were afraid of fast bowling. The current generation has disproved the belief that Indians can succeed only in their own backyard. In both cases confronting a caricature provided powerful motivation.
Indians' current old guard has also set a towering example Asked why he had insisted on Anil Kumble's selection for a tour, John Wright replied that he needed him in the rooms. In a trice respect for the leggie soared.
Sourav Ganguly has been another influential character albeit an impish one. Outsiders sensed that match-fixing was beneath him, comrades realised that he was not to be intimidated. No wonder IPL sides seek their services. That IPL gives young Indians the chance to rub shoulders with men of that ilk counts amongst its greatest assets.
That Australia has also been blessed can be told from their parts played by Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist in IPL and the contributions made by Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor and Allan Border elsewhere. Indeed Border's greatest contribution to Australian cricket was to restore a strong team ethic and a sense of service.
Not every country has been as fortunate. The malaise in West Indian cricket is due in part to the patchy example set by the team elders. A succession of coaches rapidly became frustrated with them and in most cases wanted to drop them. It is extremely unlikely that all these coaches were fools. They reluctantly concluded that the top performers had become liabilities. That was exactly the conclusion Somerset reached in 1986.
Pakistan, too, has been held back by the fractiousness of its elders. Now and then the players put aside their differences whereupon morale and results improve but it does not last. Pakistan will not rise until common cause is found. Until, then, too, the rumours will continue. In that regard the recent revelations about the World Cup appearing in Sports Illustrated require the closest scrutiny.