“England, probably driven by desperation, have gone for the policy of youth. Of the experiments, Curran has been a rousing success; Hameed too, although he has struggled with injuries”
Scan through the 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s. Look at the Test sides of India and England.
One particular difference is significant.
India blooded way more youngsters. In those 3 decades, there were 24 Test cricketers from India who made their debut at the age of 20 or less. In contrast, England pushed just 7 such young men across the threshold of the most demanding form of cricket.
Scrolling through the names one finds some rather significant ones. One Sachin Tendulkar in 1989, making his first mark as a 16-year-old. One Anil Kumble in 1990 at the age of 19. One Harbhajan Singh, only 17 when he spun his first ball at this level against Australia in 1998. Even the current coach, Ravi Shastri, was 18 when he was flown to New Zealand as a replacement and enjoyed a striking debut. There were plenty of others as well.
England, on the other hand, preferred tried and tested pros of the county circuit … or, on occasions, similarly tried and tested men from South Africa. Through the 1980s only Philip DeFreitas made his way into the side as a 20-year-old. The 1990s too passed mostly without such novelties, before the late Ben Hollioake made his mark in 1997, Andrew Flintoff in 1998 and Chris Read in 1999. That was a new high for England for any decade since the 1930s.
Yes, that was an indication. The late 1990s saw England turning over a new leaf in anticipation of the new century.
They carried on in the 2000s. Jimmy Anderson was there at 20, bowling for his country for the first time in 2003. Two years later Liam Plunkett came in.
At the same time, India also carried on the policy of promoting youngsters to the highest level. Parthiv Patel was one lad who was christened in England at 16. Irfan Pathan was another greenhorn to make his way into international cricket in Australia. Ajay Ratra, Piyush Chawla, RP Singh, Abhinav Mukund and Jaydev Unadkat were some others.
Plus two men who are part of the current set up – Dinesh Karthik and Ishant Sharma.
And then the current decade arrived.
The policies suddenly seemed to have exchanged hands.
England, in recent times, have played four youngsters. Haseeb Hameed at 19, Dom Bess at 20, Sam Curran at 19 and Mason Crane at 20. And Ollie Pope, 20, is all set to make his debut tomorrow.
India, in contrast, has had no one 21 or younger start playing for them in the current decade. Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Kuldeep Yadav and Varun Aaron all were 22 when they made their respective debuts.
It may very well be that India has settled down into a proper groove and has a settled team, and therefore there has not been a pressing need to add young blood to their Test match efforts. And perhaps, in contrast, due to the constant problems in the top order and the spin department England has faced in the past couple of years, infusion of youth had become a necessity.
Yet, one wonders if it is a slightly alarming factor that Virat Kohli, at 29, is the second youngest member of the Indian batting line up after KL Rahul, 26. It can also be slightly worrying that Shikhar Dhawan, 32, and Murali Vijay, 34, may not have enough time left in their careers to sort out all the problems in their techniques that lead to so many issues whenever India travels. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, both 30, may just about manage a second coming.
More curious, when a new wicketkeeper is sought because of an injured Wriddhiman Saha, the selectors have to go back to Dinesh Karthik, who made his debut as one of the youngsters, but almost a decade and a half earlier. Now he is 33.
And while India has never had a fast-bowling attack of this variety, skills and pace, we must also budget that Umesh Yadav is on the wrong side of 30 and Ishant Sharma a few days from that rather morose landmark for a fast man.
Hardik Pandya, the man whose place in the side is the most vulnerable because of the uncertain role he plays with his all-round skills, is the only one less than 25 among the eleven that played in Edgbaston.
Not too long ago, during the start of the decade, India did go through the problem of the vaunted batting line-up ageing together. Then too, there had been the reluctance to play new names, in spite of devastatingly poor results when the team travelled.
Yes, the team has been doing well, but it also needs to be recognised that the batting, except for Virat Kohli, has failed repeatedly since the tour of South Africa started. While one does understand the policy of giving a long rope to established performers, it pays to remember that there is the 20-year-old Rishabh Pant waiting in the wings, who has had a more successful First-Class outing than most of the Indian team.
There are also some other youngsters, Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw to be precise, knocking on the doors of national selection rather loudly and that the current squad in England has been selected for only the first three Tests.
England, probably driven by desperation, have gone for the policy of youth. Of the experiments, Curran has been a rousing success; Hameed too, although he has struggled with injuries.
Perhaps that is one policy that India can go back to. Who knows, they might just manage to find the silver bullet.