Sachin Tendulkar was just a 16-year-old boy when he was presented the India cap. Virat Kohli was 19 on India debut. Likewise, a whole lot of other highly successful Indian batsmen, including Dilip Vengsarkar, GR Vishwanath, Saurav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sunil Gavaskar, were in their late teens or early 20s when they were pushed into the deep end of international cricket.
Unfortunately a similar sort of bold, inspired selection spirit seems to have evaded our current lot of selectors. Consequently, their lack of foresight is destined to haunt Indian cricket in the days to come.
These past four years the national selectors were tasked with finding the ideal number four batsman, the best left-arm swing bowler and a good replacement wicket-keeper. They had a number of opportunities, including India A tours, to groom, hone and develop appropriate talent.
Further down the line there were under-19 tours and matches which, with better co-ordination and understanding with junior selectors, could have been utilised to feed talent to the main Indian team. But the selectors simply failed in their objective.
Perhaps the present batch of selectors was conscious that they themselves had not played a lot of international cricket and this paralysed their decision making ability. It is possible that they were intimidated by the presence of some stars who had played a lot more cricket and hence cowed down to the easy and non-confrontational path by filling the team to West Indies with any number of 30 year old plus batsmen.
Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Sikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadav, Cheteshwar Pujaya, Wriddhiman Saha are all on the wrong side of 30. (Pandey will turn 30 during the tour). While three or four of these players are no doubt invaluable to the team, it would have been prudent to introduce a couple of rookies, particularly someone with the talent of Shubman Gill.
Actually the benefit of pushing young, talented batsmen into the national team is based on sound logic. The youngster at this impressionable age would benefit immensely from close proximity to seasoned stars during match situations. He would soak in the charged atmosphere and imbibe numerous lessons even as he observes the experienced batsmen handle pressure.
Additionally, a young, talented batsman would be supremely confident of his ability and would not get fazed by the reputation of opposition bowlers. In fact the youngster would be cocky and look forward to taking on big names and carving a reputation for himself.
The Tendulkars, Gavaskars and Kohlis revelled in similar situations and went on to become household names. Tendulkar's heroic efforts in his debut series against the Pakistani pace attack of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Imran Khan, not to forget leg spinner Abdul Qadir, is too well known. So too Gavaskar's prodigious 774-run glut against the likes of Garfield Sobers, Vanburn Holder and company in the West Indies on his first tour.
It is in their inability to spot and groom young batting talent that the shortcoming of this selection committee stands out by a mile. By sticking to tried and tested batsmen they are simply not laying the foundation for the systematic development of young batsmen, some of whom could be assets in the next decade.
Of course they have India A tours that provide plenty of opportunities to bring a youngster along. But here too emphasis ought to be on young talent getting the opportunity to play and learn from experienced international batsmen.
However, India A performances notwithstanding, the real challenge is at top level international cricket and it is here that the selectors need to show foresight and planning if the Indian team is to continue to be a crack outfit in 2020 and beyond.
The selectors might argue that the West Indies Test series is the first of the World Test Championship series for India and hence they needed a team that could gobble up maximum points from this away series. But that's an argument that could be used almost always and hence does not really cut ice.
New, young batsmen, at least one or two of them, should have been introduced in this series considering that the West Indies are not the powerhouse they once were. It would have been an excellent opportunity to groom the youngsters, whether in Tests, ODIs or T20s. But that was not to be.
Instead, there are no teenage batsmen, just one batsman in his early 20s, a couple of them in their mid to late 20s and a whole lot of them in their 30s. This is just the sort of batting set-up that could pay dividends in the present but would be a disaster for any long-term planning.
What a pity it would be if the selectors who are paid Rs one crore and more opted to play it safe and not rock the 30s boat.
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