After some deserved strictures on how India went about its business in the recent triangular ODI series, Harsha Bhogle spends some time mining the batting riches being thrown up in recent times.
Every time I see Manish Pandey, I see another dimension to him. Opening in the IPL, playing solidly in the middle order in the Ranji Trophy, and at all times being brilliant in the field. I am going to enjoy the next few years watching Kohli, Raina, Sharma, Pandey and Cheteshwar Pujara. Throw into that list Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan and, if you like to see good batting, you have reason to smile.
In fact, while on this topic, how about this A side to tour South Africa, Australia and, in a few months, England. Vijay, Rahane, Sharma, Kohli, Pujara, Pandey, Wriddhiman Saha, Mithun, Ashok Dinda, Sudeep Tyagi, Iqbal Abdulla, Piyush Chawla, Aushik Srinivas, and Irfan Pathan as captain. In fact, many years ago we used to have an Indian Colts team led by a certain senior player; it would be beautiful for these young men if Rahul Dravid could be persuaded to lead this team once in a while, for they can have no better teacher in the modern game than him.
The idea of bringing all these talents into an A team, and scheduling tours to the top nations, is perfectly timed [and for the nth time, I find myself wondering why such ideas seem to occur to the likes of Harsha, but never, ever, to the honchos ‘running’ Indian cricket].
A major problem for the youngsters is lack of opportunities at the highest level. This is when they are fizzing with talent, self-confidence, and the fearlessness of the young. It is also the time when they look around and realize they have very few, if any, opportunities to break into the topmost tier.
Sehwag and Gambhir at numbers 1 and 2; Rahul Dravid at 3, Sachin at 4, VVS at 5 and MS Dhoni at 6 currently command the batting slots at the Test level — and if you are a talented youngster looking to make a case for yourself, you find the jury has returned its verdict even before you’ve had a chance to speak: SRT, RD and VVS will, you realize, be around for a while yet, so no matter how eloquently you let your talent speak for itself, there is just no way you can crash that middle order. Worse, from the young one’s point of view, you also do not know when opportunities will open up.
So you wait, motivating yourself for the occasional big domestic game, and mostly marking time on flat batting tracks against dispirited bowling line ups — and with every passing day, you lose a bit of that effervescence that is the hallmark of the talented young.
Upshot: by the time you are roped into the team, you’ve lost the buzz [sometimes, and Ambati Rayudu is merely one case in point, you lose your way entirely during that seemingly endless waiting period] that made you noticed in the first place — and you then have fans and the media wondering what they saw in you in the first place.
The antidote to all of this is exactly what Harsha suggested — bring these young kids together into an A team and schedule as many games, against as many quality opponents, as possible throughout the year. Playing home and away against the likes of Australia, England, South Africa etc will keep their buzz going, help hone their talents and prepare them for national duty — and I suspect, given the batting and bowling riches contained in that list, that their games will be followed as keenly as those of the national team [more keenly, if said national team is playing Sri Lanka again].
In passing, I wonder if Harsha sometimes feels the way I do just now: you write some 200-300 words that you think makes sense, and just as you put the final period in place, you realize the whole effort is wasted — because none of this is even remotely on the radar of those in charge of the game.