Old Oz out, young India in

2010-10-16 00:00

A MESSAGE on the scoreboard in Bangalore told the tail. Australia had just been trounced by seven wickets and the locals were delighted. As the winning runs were collected so the scoreboard conveyed the news — “India stays number 1. Australia goes to number 5.” The Aussies could not argue with their ranking. The fall has been gradual and caused mainly by the loss of great players. It’s hard to build a strong team without them, and hard to replace them because they stay around for decades and then leave a big hole.

Indeed both teams playing in India face the task of replacing outstanding veterans and building a new team. Generational change is underway in Australia and cannot be delayed much longer in India.

As far as the Aussies are concerned, the current side is a bridge between the old guard and the youngsters hovering in the wings. Within 12 months it’s likely that youth will be given its head. Most of the batsmen are in their 30s.

However, the Australians will not want to lose Ricky Ponting, still far and away their best player. The idea that batsmen are finished in their mid-30s has been blown out of the water by Sachin Tendulkar’s masterly displays in the past year, performances that have taken him to third in the rankings. Before long he might claim top place.

The Australians fear that Ponting may resign even if the Ashes remain in English hands. Moreover, it is unusual in Australia for former captains to stay in the team. It did happen a few times in the 1970s and 1980s but that was mostly due to the Packer complications. The establishment and an established team worked about as well together as the “Unity” Government in Zimbabwe.

Ponting needs to be urged to keep playing regardless of his position. After all, he might have an Indian summer. For now he seems powerless to stop the decline of his side from first to fifth place — below the Poms. It’s been a long time since Australia was ranked below the Poms.

In contrast, the Indians had every right to relish their victory. At the critical time, young India stood up to be counted and old Australia floundered. A confident partnership between two novices called into the team as replacements for established players put them on the road to victory on a disappointingly one-sided final day. To the delight of a huge, boisterous and increasingly sporting crowd, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara squashed Australian hopes with an assertive partnership. Appropriately, it was left to the old stagers to collect the remaining runs.

Sending Pujara in to bat at first wicket down proved to be an inspired move. He is a highly regarded batsman and has been pencilled in to replace Rahul Dravid, India’s first wicket down for the last 100 years or so. In the first innings he had been forced to sit with pads on whilst the third-wicket pair added 300. Inevitably he fell foul of a grubber as soon as he took guard. Promoting him was an act of faith and a way of adding experience to the middle order. It also meant that fearless youth was given its head. Older players know about failure. Youngsters consider themselves immortal.

Pujara took his chance impressively and seemed capable of matching Vijay’s first innings hundred. After losing Vijay he enjoyed the privilege of batting with his hero. He was a year old when Sachin Tendulkar played his first Test. Now he was batting with him. For that matter he was not born the last time the Australians lost three consecutive Tests.

Australia did not put up the expected resistance. To lose by seven wickets after scoring 478 in the first innings tells the story. Thereafter Ricky Ponting’s side batted, bowled and fielded badly. Rather than bowling stump to stump and setting a tight field as the wearing pitch demanded, they banged the ball halfway down and allowed the second-wicket pair to take singles at their leisure. And Nathan Hauritz looked lightweight.

Soon it will be South Africa’s turn to try their luck against these Indians. Fast pitches are required. These tracks have been slow. More­over, the Indian speedsters are better with the old than the new ball, better at reverse swing than the orthodox variety. That will not work as well hereabouts.

If India can win in SA they will move well ahead of the field. If they are beaten it will confirm that cricket has entered a period when no team dominates. West Indies were supreme from 1979 to 1995, Australia from 1995 to 2007. The next champion side will emerge from the country that makes the best of the resources at its disposal.

 

• Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands, and currently covering Australia’s tour of India.

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