India begin their home Test series against Australia today. The series comes with its fair share of baggage, after the controversies and ill feeling between the two sides that dominated the Test series in Australia earlier this year, a series that Australia won 2-1, but will be remembered more for the public mud slinging that went with each game.
While this series presents India with a chance at revenge, an opportunity to set things right, and gives Australia the chance to show the world that they are still the best team around, with a general feeling that the once mighty baggy greens are a team there for the taking, with a host of retirements to their aging, but dominant team.
While talk has been dominated by references to the last series between the two sides the Indian team have had other media distractions to contend with. The naming of the squad brought about much debate about the inclusion of Ganguly and the “Fab Four” of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly, in general. Ganguly’s form of late has not been great. The “Fab Four” have just shown glimpses of their past greatness in recent years and there has been wide spread call for their axing, and for a more youthful Test line up. After the failure of the ODI team in the last World Cup many of the older members of the team, including Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman, have been left out of the ODI and T20 teams, as the selectors have favoured youth.
There have even been whispers that a deal has been struck with some, if not all, of the four, where they will be given this series as one final hurrah, they will be picked no matter what their individual form, and then they will retire. Ganguly has thus far been the only one of the four to announce that he will indeed be retiring after this series.
Former England batsman, and now commentator and writer, Geoffrey Boycott has suggested that the time may be now for the Indian legends to say goodbye. He even went as far as to suggest that one of the reasons for them prolonging their careers may be for the endorsement deals that go a long with being an Indian cricketer. That may or may not be the case, but he does go to make some valid points, such as the fact that Tendulkar now seems to be injured more than he is fit, and that the foursome are not the once awesome force that they once were, and don’t make the impact that is needed by the team to win series. Perhaps the best point that Boycott makes however turns out to be one in favour of their inclusion. There are no better replacements.
It’s all well and good crying out for the inclusion of young blood, but what is the point if these new players aren’t good enough? Indian cricket is blessed with an abundance of potential stars, but are they ready for a Test series? More to the point, are they ready for a series against Australia? Without the baggage of the last series this would be a hard and testing series, as much about mental strength as it is about cricketing talent. With the goings on of the last series this just becomes more intense. It would be asking to much to take away the batting spine of the team over the last decade and throwing in some new players, based solely on domestic form, in what could be the hardest series they will ever play in. That just seems like a recipe for failure, and a potential stunting of careers that have yet to begin.
Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman have nothing to prove to India or the cricket world. They all have great individual records, with Dravid and Tendulkar having exceptional records. Ganguly is also the most successful Indian captain of all time. Age does however catch up to us all. They can decide how and when they want to end their careers. Shaun Pollock called time on his when he was still at the top of his game and was given a heroes reception at each of his final games during the series against the West Indies. They can go down that path, or they can continue on until they are forced out. Ganguly perhaps saw the writing on the wall and decided this was the way he wanted to leave. A big performance in this series will ensure he leaves as a hero.
If this were a series against a weak team then perhaps it would be the time to begin a new chapter in Indian Test cricket, one without the “Fab Four” and the time to blood new talent would present itself. However against Australia, where the mind needs to be stronger than the body at times, India needs its old guard. What it needs the most though is for them is performance, domination, and a glimpse at the past. If only for one last time.