Nowadays Sachin Tendulkar isn’t even Mumbai’s best batsman. Does he still deserve a place in the Indian side? There, I’ve said it. I’ll also say this: the process of rebuilding the Indian Test side must begin with Sachin. No, make that without Sachin. For so long Sachin has carried Indian cricket on his broad, unflagging shoulders. For how long must Indian cricket carry Sachin? In the past, Sachin lent strength, solidity, and a life-force to the Indian team. Sadly, his continued presence in the eleven has turned the Test side into an effete bunch of coasters.
In the past, Sachin was the shining example of excellence Indian cricketers drew inspiration from. He is still an example, but not in a good way. Now the others are liable to look at Sachin and say, or at least think, they may not be evaluated, too critically, if they don’t perform to their potential. After all, the selectors are looking the other way while the most senior player in the side is not delivering what is expected of him. Of all the top order batsmen in the side, Sachin has returned the worst numbers in the last two series. True, the others have done only marginally better. Still, as far as they’re concerned, it’s probably good enough to keep them in the side because they have still outperformed the not-so-great Sachin!
Unfortunately, it’s a foregone conclusion that Sachin will be picked to bat at No. 4 against Australia when they come to India in February/March 2013. For Sachin’s sake, one hopes he will do well against them. But what if he fails, yet again? If he does, he will probably announce his retirement from Test cricket. But what if he doesn’t? He may decide he wants a crack at the South Africans. Will the Indian selectors have the cojones to drop Sachin if he averages less than 40 against the Australians? Will they have a chat with him and run the risk of going to South Africa with a young batsman in the line-up to fill his mighty boots? I don’t mean to sound like a xantippe, but why not have that chat before the series against Australia? There are a few compelling reasons they should.
India desperately need a good opening batsman. No, make that two good opening batsmen. Neither Virendra Sehwag nor Gautam Gambhir has done enough to warrant automatic selection for the job. But they cannot be disturbed. Why? Well, because Sachin cannot be moved. And both Gambhir and Sehwag have scored more runs than Sachin. This means three players who don’t deserve a place in the Indian eleven cannot be touched because one of them (Sachin) is untouchable. What’s more, all three are senior players and ought to play the role of mentors to the less experienced ones. But considering the three are unable to sort their own games out, one can only imagine how hard it must be for them to devote to the rookies. Maybe this is why M S Dhoni keeps urging the senior players to set a better example for the juniors.
Now that the side has three big names who must be picked, you also have to pencil in the man Dhoni, ironically, dubbed the ‘Tendukar of the Indian bowling attack,’ Zaheer Khan, for non-cricketing reasons. God knows Zaheer sets a very poor example when it comes to one of the most crucial areas fast bowlers need to focus on: fitness. So there goes the bowling! When you have four senior players who aren’t pulling their weight in the side, it sends out all the wrong signals to youngsters in the side. Put simply, it tells them one can continue to play for India even if one is not good enough to play for India. And when the selectors force Dhoni to make compromises by picking players who weigh his team down, he, too, might feel it’s fair dinkum to ask for favours in return. For one, it becomes much harder to question his captaincy because he is not being given the best eleven players in the country. And it all starts with Sachin’s unquestioned presence in the side.
Say goodbye to Sachin and it sends out a strong message to Sehwag, to Gambhir, to Zaheer, and, even, to Dhoni. It puts the fear of god into them and other underperformers. It informs them in no uncertain terms that if Sachin is not going to be spared, nobody else will. Indian cricket needs a shake-up even more than it needs a new coach. Dropping Sachin is just the shock the laid-back lot needs to be administered to rouse it out of its slumbering ways.
The writer tweets @Armchairexpert. You can follow him if you’re into that sort of thing.