Where are the replacements?

India will remain competitive so long as Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar are able to set an example to the younger players. It is not merely a matter of scoring runs and taking wickets. Attitude is everything, writes Peter Roebuck.

India is staring across a cricketing abyss. Before too many more seasons have passed the mighty figures of the last few years will have taken up the microphone or the pen. All too soon they will swap the cut and thrust of the field for the tranquillity of the press box. What then? Has Indian cricket been blessed with such riches that it can afford in the space of a few summers to lose its entire allocation of strongly principled senior players? Have the needful plans been put in place? If not, calamity awaits.

Although fascinating, debates about replacing the younger brigade with Sourav Ganguly and V. V. S. Laxman are a diversion They might be able to prop up the batting for a short time but both long ago reached the top of their personal mountains and have commenced the long slide into quietness. At best it is a temporary measure. Nothing wrong with that. A World Cup is at hand and India needs to recapture the winning feeling. But a bandage is not to be mistaken for a cure.

Despite the poor performances in South Africa, in the one-dayers, it is not the next few campaigns that present the problem. India has a capable side whose qualities are not best displayed on seaming surfaces on a distant continent. Even at their peak, the Indians might have been hard pressed to beat Graeme Smith's motivated outfit. Shaun Pollock and company are a handful when the ball is whooping around on dew-freshened pitches in matches played under lights.

Nevertheless, India will remain competitive so long as Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar are able to set an example to the younger players.

It is not merely a matter of scoring runs and taking wickets. Attitude is everything. These senior players understand the importance of service, appreciate the honour that has been bestowed upon them. Neither wealth nor roars turn their heads. Nothing distracts Dravid from the task of scoring hundreds for his country. Kumble may resemble a scholar but he is a fighter to his last bone. Nor has Tendulkar ever forgotten that batting is his vocation.

India's emerging cricketers have been lucky to fall into the hands of these elders. Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble and Srinath are educated men with pride in their country and a mature view of life. Neither glamour nor riches have changed them. None has allowed his belly to fatten or idleness to infect his brain. They can instil in their charges the importance of retaining a healthy outlook. They can remind them that life at the top can be lonely but that a hundred million people would love to swap places.

When these men depart they will leave a gaping hole on and off the field. India's current youngsters have emerged from a wider range of backgrounds. Overall it is a fine thing that opportunities are nowadays given to boys from every corner of the country. No game should be the preserve of the blue bloods. Moreover, these fellows have hunger in their eyes. Some of them knew actual pangs in their youths. Naturally they feel insecure and take every chance to make money that comes along.

However, this outlook has its disadvantages. Within five years the old guard will have gone and the newcomers will be running the show. Who then will reinforce the culture of the side? Who then will tell greenhorns that it is more important to give than to take? If materialism takes over then India will struggle. A team that plays without soul is doomed.