Patience needed to get youngsters to replace India's gold

Kohli and Rohit need to find a Test place soon, while Raina works on the glaring flaws in his technique.

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Vince Lombardi, the great American football coach, said of one of the few Green Bay Packers teams he did not coach to a championship: "The one big lesson it had to learn, which we all have to learn, is that a team, like men, must be brought to its knees before it can rise again."

Not all coaches or leaders wait until they face such a predicament though. The greatest sporting dynasties, and Lombardi undoubtedly oversaw one, are those that manage transition the best. They make the tough calls without emotion or sentiment obscuring the bigger picture.

The San Francisco 49ers were the NFL's dominant team in the 1980s. Yet, once Joe Montana, the legendary quarterback who had won them four Super Bowls, grew old and injury prone, the organisation traded him and put their faith in Steve Young, who rewarded them with another Lombardi Trophy two years later.

Sir Alex Ferguson let go of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis after being overhauled by Blackburn Rovers on the final day of the 1994/95 English Premier League season. The next year, with several younger faces in the squad, Manchester United won the double.

Cricket had the fearsome pace quartet from the Caribbean. The menace remained the same, but the personnel didn't. Before he established himself as perhaps the greatest fast bowler in the game's history, Malcolm Marshall usually filled in for Andy Roberts or Colin Croft.

When Roberts stepped aside, they found Courtney Walsh. Michael Holding's exit was followed by the emergence of Ian Bishop, while Joel Garner's threat was reprised by the even more lethal Curtly Ambrose.

Australia's emergence as the game's leading force saw the same pattern repeated. When Craig McDermott broke down, the unheralded Glenn McGrath stepped into the breach. When Geoff Marsh and David Boon waned, Mark Taylor and Michael Slater were in their pomp.

For Indian cricket, the months that lie ahead will involve such decisions.

They have gone down this road once in early 2008, when Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were dumped from the squad to play a tri-series in Australia. With the likes of a youthful Rohit Sharma making an impact, India won the competition.

The years leading up to the World Cup win last April also saw considerable faith invested in Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli. The experience they had garnered over the previous couple of years stood them in good stead at various points during the competition.

Kohli and Rohit need to find a Test place soon, while Raina works on the glaring flaws in his technique. Too much time warming the bench does no one any good, as Ian Chappell mentioned recently while talking to ESPNCricinfo.

"You cannot leave guys at the lower level for too long," he said. "Graeme Hick is a classic example. He played a lesser standard of cricket way too long, and by the time he played Tests he had flaws that were found out. If he had played Test cricket earlier maybe he would not have got into sloppy habits. You have got to get Rohit up there and find out whether he can do it."

Most of all, though, the selectors and team management need to show patience. Knee-jerk reactions, like recalling Dravid to the one-day side two years after his last game in the blue kit, achieve nothing.

When Kohli gets his next cap, it should come with the assurance that it won't be snatched from him.

Few greats come into the game fully formed. VVS Laxman averaged 27 after his first 20 Tests. Dravid scored just one century in his first 22.

With Indian cricket on its knees after the mauling in England, those that follow them deserve the same latitude.


The National Sport


& Dileep Premachandran on