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Former cricketers feel young Indian batsmen lack the appetite for big hundreds

Sunday, October 05, 2021

'Rohit is not ready for Test cricket'

Sai Mohan

There used to be a time in Indian cricket when every cricketer had to go through the ‘grind’ before entering the international arena. Rohit Sharma travelled to Sri Lanka last month as a part of the Test team with a solitary first-class hundred to his credit. His century against Australians in the four-day game at Hyderabad is only the second of his career. Isn’t it a little strange that here we are discussing a Test spot for Rohit Sharma?

Each of these ‘stages’ were well administered and were associated with each other in someway or the other. It was a meticulous process for an upcoming cricketer to make the cut through the ranks, on tenterhooks to play in the biggest stage at some point.

School cricket > College cricket > University cricket > State cricket > Zone cricket > International cricket

Today, there is a lot of cricket played by India ‘A’ and then there is the U-19 World Cups and other top-class U-19 tournaments which perhaps reduce the importance of first-class cricket. Rahul Dravid toiled away for Karnataka for five seasons, scored 14 centuries and grabbed the opportunity to play for India with both hands in 1995-96. Here is the first class record of the elite India batsmen from over the years (number of centuries they scored before entering international cricket).

Batsman Matches 100s First-Class Debut Test Debut
Sunil Gavaskar 14 4 1966-1967 1970-1971
Gundappa Vishwanath 15 2 1967-1968 1969-1970
Dilip Vengsarkar 8 3 1975-1976 1976-1977
Mohinder Amarnath 10 0 1966-1967 1969-1970
Sachin Tendulkar 4 3 1988-1989 1989-1990
Rahul Dravid 57 14 1990-1991 1995-1996
Sourav Ganguly 56 7 1989-1990 1995-1996
VVS Laxman 28 7 1992-1993 1996-1997
Mohammad Azharuddin 19 5 1981-1982 1984-1985
Polly Umrigar 16 1 1944-1945 1948-1949
Ajit Wadekar 74 15 1958-1959 1966-1967

We spoke to a few former India batsmen who did indeed go through the ‘grind’ before entering the big stage – Anshuman Gaekwad (40 Tests for India), Chetan Chauhan (40 Tests for India) and Lalchand Rajput (2 Tests for India) asses these changing times.

There is hardly any first class exposure today. Isn’t it a little disturbing?

"Rohit Sharma needs to go back and play at least one full season of Ranji Trophy, smash plenty of hundreds and then he will be much more ready for Test cricket"
“It is extremely disturbing. There is hardly any first class exposure for the younger generation of players. Today there is way too much ODI and T20 cricket which means there is no time for first-class cricket. Also good performances in these limited-overs games are catching the eye of the selectors,” Chauhan said.

“First-class cricket is given minimal importance while picking sides these days. Performances in IPL (in the case of Manpreet Gony) and U-19 World Cups (Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif) have got these players a ticket to the national team. It is a disturbing change in trend and I fear for the longer version of the sport,” Gaekwad said.

“The biggest problem is that these youngsters are getting into the limelight way too quickly with a few good performances in ODIs and T20. They are becoming superstars overnight. How will they get first-class exposure if there is such a packed schedule? There are 40-45 ODIs in a year, 15 Test matches, now there is IPL, Champions League and what not. First-class cricket has lot its relevance,” said Rajput.

How important is it to go through the ‘grind’ before entering the big stage?

“It is the most important thing for a cricketer. Look at the case of Michael Hussey – he had almost 10,000 runs behind him in first-class cricket before playing international cricket. The whole system has changed now and the batsmen of this generation are very well adept to limited-overs cricket but not the real thing,” Chauhan said.

“It is very crucial for a cricketer to make himself ‘seasoned’ before entering the international arena. It proves to be the real acid test for him as he learns to play longer innings. This is why today’s batsmen are not capable of scoring the big two hundreds and three hundreds. They lack the appetite for the long innings and truckloads of runs,” said Gaekwad.

“Today it is all about making runs at the right time and the right moment. You score a few quick hundreds for India ‘A’ with the selectors watching and next thing you are in the side. This is why I keep saying it is not easy to replace Dravid and Tendulkar because the generation next does not have the habit of playing long innings and scoring runs,” said Rajput.

If first-class cricket is as good as dead, what is the yardstick for selection today?

"Rahul Dravid has so much discipline and is a brilliant student of the game because he has played so much first-class cricket"

“First-class cricket is still not dead but it is getting there. There are still exceptional cases like Badrinath and Mishra who made it to the team purely because of consistent performances in Ranji Trophy. The yardstick has surely changed. In our times, there was the whole system, the stepping stones in the form of university cricket and college cricket but today there are the U15s, U16s, U19s, India ‘A’ and so on,” said Chauhan.

“There are a few exceptional cases like Sachin Tendulkar, Parthiv Patel, Piyush Chawla and Kapil Dev who made it to the side at such a young age mainly because they displayed enormous talent in just a few outings in first-class level. Otherwise the yardstick remains the same for all cricketers, which is fair in my opinion. Everybody including the media wants the youngsters today because that’s what sells,” said Gaekwad.

“U-19 World Cups and IPL have played a huge role in selection. These players play hardly 1 or 2 Ranji games in a year but that does not matter anymore. Someone like Rohit Sharma needs to go back and play at least one full season of Ranji Trophy, smash plenty of hundreds and then he will be much more ready for Test cricket,” said Rajput.

It is quite clear that first-class cricket does not hold that much importance while selecting the national team. But aren’t there any positives to be taken from this?

“One of the positives is that India ‘A’ cricket and U-19 cricket is being taken very seriously today with media coverage and top quality coaches assigned to these teams. It would be nice if there were more four-day games in these setups which would help produce players who can get into the Test side,” said Chauhan.

“It is good that there are country versus country ‘A’ games today. It is a brilliant idea as there is good competition for these young players. Overall at least in my opinion, each one of the guys have to go through the grind and that is when they will realise the value of Test cricket and will learn to become patient and so on. How many of the Twenty20 World Cup winning members are playing a crucial role in the Test team? Very few,” said Gaekwad.

“University cricket is as good as dead. Nobody takes these games seriously anymore. I think this trend began in the early 1990s but the 1996 World Cup in India set the tone for the future generations as everybody wanted to play ODI cricket. It is evolution and we have to accept it. There are plenty of positives as there are players who get to play top quality international bowlers at a very early stage of their career," said Rajput.

The event that is all set to transform the sport forever – the inaugural Champions League – has already forced an alteration to the 2008-09 Ranji Trophy schedule. That is proof enough.