A team with no depth

INDIAN cricket is hollow. It may sound harsh but it is the reality which was proved in convincing terms during the series against England. I would vest little hope on this team if it continues to put up such shoddy performances. Even at home it has become a team which cannot be relied upon to deliver.

The English came to India with a lot of hopes. They did not make any tall claims but when the time came they gave a sound message to the cricketing world. Nasser Hussain and his men should not be taken lightly. They have the calibre to fight and the Indians discovered that having talent is not the answer. Using that talent in the best possible manner is what matters.

England used adversity as a stepping stone when it came to India with a relatively inexperienced side. The Indians were 3-1 up and yet squandered the lead by losing two close matches. When it came to the crunch the Indian cricketers were found wanting. The English were down in the dumps but at the end of the series at Mumbai they were the ones walking tall.

Like always, when faced with pressure, the Indians collapsed like a pack of cards. There can be no justification for the defeats at Delhi and Mumbai. How could this team of such star value lose from winning positions? Only India could have done that.

I am sorry to say that some of the youngsters that we have simply wilt when confronted with a tough situation. I fail to understand why they succumb to pressures so easily. I must say that for some time we must forget this business of encouraging youngsters who fail to perform in a difficult situation. I may sound harsh but then something drastic has to be attempted to instil the fear in the mind of the players. Some of them have begun to take their places for granted.

I will also blame the selectors for not picking the right guys. Why did the selectors leave out Zaheer Khan from all the matches. It defies logic. This bowler was your find of the decade a year ago and now does not find a place in the team even when the man picked instead of him is clobbered all over.

Will the team management, or these selectors, please explain why Ajit Agarkar is being given such an extended run? Why are they so generous to this non-performer at the cost of someone like Zaheer? Agarkar has failed repeatedly and I don't see any merit in promoting him as an all-rounder and he certainly should be shown the exit for the manner in which he bowled in the one-day series. To say that there is no replacement will not be fair because no other player has been given as many chances as this average cricketer from Mumbai. I will be happy to be proved wrong but the chances are rare. Agarkar may have loads of talent but absolutely no consistency.

For too long we have been talking of talent in the country but only two players managed to justify the backing of the team management - Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag. They are capable of winning matches and the team should look for such players.

Another positive thing that emerged from this series was the confidence that Javagal Srinath has developed as a one-day bowler. He bowled like a champion and looks a complete bowler now with that slower one a useful addition to his armoury.

Two other players who also showed consistency in their department were Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. The skipper was under pressure from all quarters but I think he batted well. In one-day cricket he has been far more consistent than others.

The series exposed the Indian batting line-up. There is no depth and it showed up. I feel sorry for someone like Robin Singh (Sr), who was dropped in a hurry by the selectors because he was 35. But then where is the replacement for him? He still would be fitter than the rest and has the right attitude towards the game. The absence of a quality all-rounder has been a problem for the team for quite some time now.

The selectors should give a youngster a break at the right time and not simply because he happens to be young. He should deserve the India cap. The solution lies in more and more overseas tours for the aspirants because only this experience of playing abroad would toughen them for the big fights. I am tired of saying that domestic cricket should not be the criteria to judge a player. A double century at home is not worth even a half-century overseas.

The Board will have to groom the youngsters by sending them on 'A' tours. That is the only solution. An overseas tour will expose them to hostile conditions and also enable them to build the right temperament to tackle the pressures. The Board, with its coffers full, is the only vessel that leaks from the top. It must use that money for the benefit of cricket.

I also strongly feel there should be a stop to this debate on captaincy. The World Cup is less than a year away and this is not the time to indulge in exercises which could affect the morale of the team. Why does the Board want to swap horses midstream? Sourav Ganguly is better than many of these talented youngsters being projected and how can you blame him alone for the debacle? A captain needs a team to perform and not a couple of individuals. He has his flaws but they are lesser than those of the others.

There is no land without stones and no meat without bones. Everyone has limitations and the fact is that this Indian team has plenty of limitations. The captain alone is not responsible. The fault is collective and the solution can be found only by disciplining everyone. The Indian team will have to stop relying on individuals. The Englishmen played like a team and left India with their confidence enhanced. That is the kind of attitude the Indians need to develop.