In economic circles, a major debate concerns the nature of the Great Recession. One school holds that the downturn is just another ride down the familiar cycle of boom and bust, while the other argues that it reflects instead structural issues that are unlikely to go away soon (like, say, a workforce ill-adapted for the tech age). It occurs to me that such language — if not the rigorous tools of economics — might also be useful to discuss Indian cricket’s current malaise. (By now, I think it should be fairly well-accepted that there is a problem in Indian cricket; the English did as much as they could to settle the matter last month.)
The Cyclical Case: I fear that the Indian selectors largely hold true to the business cycle model; how else to explain their obsessive loyalty to Sehwag, Gambhir and Co., after so many defeats? Their argument goes something like this: the batsmen are out of form, yes, but all they need is time to recuperate, stay in the middle, and come back. It’s that saying — “One innings away from good form” — that rules the thinking.
The Structural Case: Structuralists have been grumbling for at least a year or two now, and their argument has gathered steam after the Test losses. Their argument does not enjoy widespread acclaim in part because it is so depressing, and in part because it has stayed the same for decades. To wit:
a) India’s domestic cricket scene has suffered and fails to produce enough cricketers worthy of the international level;
b) India’s docile pitches spoil our batsmen, who are incapable abroad, and these pitches (along with an upper-class bias against activity) also deprive the country of genuinely quick bowlers to succeed Zaheer Khan;
c) The IPL, now past its infancy, has started to skew incentives — youngsters chase the quick buck and learn to slog; as a result, the Test format suffers.
What is so alarming about the structuralist argument is that it posits that post-Dravid/Laxman/Tendulkar/Ganguly, India will not be able to replace them and instead face a steady decline in quality unless the above factors are addressed. The problem, of course, is how to explain the Golden Four: if the same system produced them, why couldn’t it produce more?