India's fab four need disbanding

So the worst fears are being realised. A middle order, perhaps the best middle order that ever existed in Test cricket, is slowly, surely ebbing away. It is a melancholy sight.

In Bangalore yesterday, the inevitable erosion began to gather pace, as if after successive poundings the dam, once so formidable, had been all but breached. There is time for some running repairs, but on the evidence presented, not much of permanence.

None of India's illustrious quartet – in order of illustriousness, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly – looked remotely convincing. Only one, Dravid, made a half-century, and if he, like Ganguly a little later, was unlucky it was a misfortune waiting to happen.

Ganguly had already announced his intention to retire at the end of the series and left little doubt that he had received a gentle nudge from the selectors. It should not be long before his colleagues these past 12 years are given a similarly ominous hint.

If suggesting to Tendulkar that he might like to consider his options is tantamount to violating a Hindu god, there comes a time in the affairs of man, as W C Fields, that shrewd observer of the human condition, said, when one must take the bull by the tail and face the situation.

Together, Sachin et al changed the way in which India approached Test cricket. India have had batsmen of extraordinary gifts before – Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath and Mohammad Azharuddin in the recent past – but not so many in the same era.

They were as dashing as they were brilliant, and it has been their different methods that have made them such an awkward proposition. Together, before the start of this series, they had scored 35,011 runs, to which they added a miserable 111 yesterday. In 76 Test matches together, they have made 21,576 of India's 40,966 runs.

There has been a gradual, if interrupted, decline. Indeed, Ganguly had enjoyed something of a renaissance with the number of runs he has scored recently – 1,565 of them in 19 Tests since the start of last year. There was much trumpeting about the quartet's collective contribution to the stirring Test series against Australia which spanned last year and this.

True, India came back well; true, Tendulkar, stricken by treatable but debilitating injuries for years, seemed to defy a growing number of mutterers by scoring two centuries.

Yet even then there was the faint suspicion that the real glory days were behind them, that reflexes and desire were fading together and that they failed to recognise the slow decline of either. There have been indications since only of deterioration, which did not quite square with the huge expectation before this series, partly fuelled by hype, partly because of Australia's own gentle but discernible downturn, partly because of that recent, eventually tight series between the pair.

India drew a home series against South Africa, but had to come from behind on a cabbage patch at Kanpur to do so, and they lost in familiar conditions in Sri Lanka two months ago.

In six matches, Laxman has scored 342 runs at 38, a success compared to Dravid's 326 runs at 32.6, Ganguly's 307 at 30.70 and Tendulkar's 95 (in four matches) at 28.5. It is always sad to see greatness decline and it is all but impossible for selectors to decide when the day must be called (although it is tougher for sides when that day is called virtually at the same time).

Something has to give. There was the sense from the Chinnaswamy Stadium yesterday that the final surrender of this greatest of all middle orders is imminent.

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