On the one hand, there are three senior batsmen – one of them senior to anyone else in the cricket world – but none of them is anywhere near the kind of form that made them heroes to Indian fans.
On the other, there are frontline bowlers who are not given the ball and a batsman, picked after he scored two triple-centuries in five first-class matches this season, who was not sent in to bat at No 6, the position he was filling. The Indian team is in trouble and things have been compounded because of some of the decisions taken during the course of the Nagpur Test match.
When Virender Sehwag gets going, he can change the complexion of the match on his own. That’s common knowledge. In the past, Sehwag got going often and was one of the prime reasons for India’s rise to the top of the Test rankings. Nowadays, the frequency of the “Sehwag single-handedly…” headlines has diminished. And when an opening batsman plays inside the line of an inswinger and sees the ball hitting his middle stump, there is cause for concern.
His opening partner, through India’s heady rise and now the downslide, has been Gautam Gambhir. His last Test century came in January 2010. Since then, when he has scored runs, it has been with a mix of scratchiness and pluck, not always class.
Between them, Sehwag and Gambhir induce so little confidence that you wonder why they are not being given a little break – if only to do them a favour. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane are all opening options with the Indian team. They might not be as good as Sehwag, or even Gambhir, once was, but there’s enough to suggest that they can deliver more than the two are at the moment.
Which brings us to Sachin Tendulkar, who has just added another two to his extremely unflattering recent sequence of scores – broken only slightly by the 76 in Kolkata – and added another number under “bowled” in his chart of dismissals. Tendulkar’s future has been the biggest topic of discussion in Indian cricket in recent times, and the debate is unlikely to end until he ends it himself.
Should Tendulkar retire? That call is his and his alone – there can’t be any other answer to that. But should Tendulkar be in the Indian Test XI? That decision cannot belong to him. And instead of sentiment, if bare, cold facts – like an average of 23.8 from nine Tests this year – are taken into account, then India must find someone better. And there must be someone – Subramaniam Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary, Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu are contenders – with the potential to be a long-term option.
Having three underperforming batsmen in the top four is a bad enough situation to be straddled with, but what has made things worse for India are some of the on-field decisions we saw in Nagpur. Ravindra Jadeja, brought in for Yuvraj Singh as the No 6 batsman, was bowled more (37 overs) than any of the three frontline spinners – Pragyan Ojha (35), R Ashwin (24) and Piyush Chawla (21.5) – Mahendra Singh Dhoni had at his disposal. And then, almost to confirm that he had no faith in Jadeja’s ability with the bat, Dhoni walked in at the fall of India’s fourth wicket.
So was Jadeja picked in the team, ahead of Rahane, as a bowling option? If not, then why wasn’t he batting ahead of Dhoni?
Criticising the Indian team should really not be as easy as it has become, but with the portents being as ominous as they are, what really is the option? An overhaul has to be in order – not just of the personnel, but also of the thinking – unless the Indian fans are expected to get used to what we have witnessed during this England series.
Shamya Dasgupta is senior editor at Wisden India, wisdenindia.com