A Note On The Indian Batting Legends

The consensus on India’s batting failures runs like this: They are clearly past their prime and need to go, but thanks for the memories. There are vocal minorities that push the harder view — Tendulkar isn’t all that; Laxman needs to be dropped immediately and can’t move his feet; Dravid can’t sight the ball (Ganguly even had the nerve to question his technique, which I found rather surprising). The overall narrative: These are aged players, they are in decline, India needs to be rejuvenated.

Let me propose an alternative story: While some claim these last eight Tests have exposed the Big Three, what if these men — through their sheer talent (and fortuitous grouping) actually masked the structural weaknesses in Indian cricket for the duration of their careers? What if these men, fighting an unresponsive and politician-riddled system, managed to take an always mediocre team and make them — for a brief year or two — unbeatable? What has been exposed isn’t Dravid’s technique or Laxman’s legs, but the fact that other than a few diamonds, there’s a lot of dust in Indian cricket. The dam, in other words, has burst, and our excessive reliance on these men — and our classically Indian tendency to worship — deserves more criticism than anything else.

There are many holes in this narrative, I admit: a) It’s possible these men, thanks to their deservedly thick reputations, managed to delay change and reform (much the way Ganguly resisted changing the ODI team under Chappell); b) Old teams, like old firms, are slow to adapt and move; it was common in Dhoni’s early ODI tenure to shift batsmen around and force everyone to be flexible; by contrast, no one dared suggest switching up the Test side because the “record on paper” seemed too good to mess with; c) The problem with my counter-narrative is that it doesn’t address the main issue — India’s bowling is the problem, not the batting (see Kartikeya Date for more on this); d) Why blame the system at all? Didn’t these guys come from it? Hasn’t it amply rewarded them?

All good points. For the sake of generosity, though, I prefer my interpretation of history. We had two of the most prolific batsmen in the history of cricket play at the same time, with a capable back-up squad that included Sehwag, Laxman and Ganguly — and all we got was…what? West Indies? Australia? So, no, I don’t feel all that disturbed by the collective slump — I just think we should be talking more about Indian cricket as a whole now and whether these guys carried its burdens for too long, not “When are these guys going to retire already and let Kohli take their place?”

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5 thoughts on “A Note On The Indian Batting Legends

  1. Krishna says:

    Excellent post! It is simple regression to the mean.

    If you take a look at Test cricket over a long period, there has never been that much movement except for a few aberrations (such as the West Indies success & enduring decline). Australia, South Africa, England, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh – the order rarely shifts by much. The ICC Test rankings mask this by using more volatile ratings. But truly, how many upsets do we see?

  2. Golandaaz says:

    What this team has achieved is string together a set of wins over a decade starting 2001 like no other Indian team. Most notably some memorable away wins. Outside of that this team has done nothing special that previous teams have not…

    If its individual records; we had Kapil and Gavaskar on top of both batting and bowling
    If its the rise to the top in Tests; Wadekar’s team was recognized briefly as world champs after wins in Eng and WI
    If its the World Cup – Kapil’s team had done that

    So while Sachin and co have served India well let us not get too carried away with the aura these seniors have acquired

    My worry is two-fold. The player power is evident. No change will without them having a say. Even Gavaskar does not have the guts to say Seniors = Sachin. Secondly, the IPL. I think change will only come if there is a business case to it; money wise and the impact of change to IPL will be evaluated and protected before anyone thinks about what is good for Indian cricket as a whole

  3. Poorvi says:

    A little of topic, but the last time you had written that Ganguly seemed jealous, I had defended him. This time, I completely agree. It’s sour grapes all the way. He’s been panning Dravid left, right and centre. But I wonder why he isn’t as critical towards Sachin & Laxman. Maybe because Dravid is the same age as him?

  4. Laxman in particular should make way now for a youngster. Laxman has been the luckiest of the all the Indian batting Legends. I crunched some numbers and I found that compared to others he has been truly AVERAGE – he is not a GREAT batsman overall if you look closely at his numbers.
    My statistical analysis is posted on my blog http://cricketingbrains.blogspot.com/2012/02/vvs-laxman-truly-great-or-truly-average.html

    some bitter truth has been unveiled about Laxman’s numbers. What are your thoughts after seeing these numbers?

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