Walking into the sweltering WACA gymnasium,which doubles up as a press conference venue,MS Dhoni was still wearing that beatific half-smile. Seven away Tests. Seven defeats. A one-Test ban for slow over rate. Even the Buddha would have struggled to look impassive under the circumstances. Clouding Dhonis mind even further,perhaps,was the future that loomed before him.
During Dhonis first series as Test captain in 2008,Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly retired. Even at that time,it wasnt clear how long the other three elder statesmen would carry on. As its turned out,Rahul Dravid,Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman have persisted for the best part of three years. In those years,they helped India rise to No.1 in the Test rankings. They began the fourth with an eye on one final tilt at series wins in England and Australia.
Now,as Dhoni sat down to face the Indian and Australian press,their dream lay in tatters. Their questions reflected this end-of-an-era mood,fuelled by reports that Laxman would retire. As of now there is nothing like that that I know of officially, Dhoni said.
Asked about the transition to a younger middle order when it should happen,and how speedily Dhoni replied cautiously.
Its very important to have the right mixture at the right time. You cant have all the seniors missing out all of a sudden and all the juniors coming in. We will have to thoughtfully decide the best option. Not really right now. May be end of the Test series is a good option. Give a bit of exposure to youngsters coming,(and) at the same time have the fair mix of experienced guys and youngsters, he said. Ultimately (in) Test cricket a lot of people will be tested,but once they transfer that experience or share that experience,the job of the youngsters will become slightly easy. Thats something we need to be very careful about.
India next play a Test match in August,in a home series against New Zealand. In the months following that,they host England and Australia. The senior players would love to exact some measure of revenge over these two recent tormentors before bidding farewell in front of their home crowds.
Against the desire to see them go out on their own terms,and the short-term results that they are still capable of achieving with the bat in home conditions,the long-term future also needs to be looked at. With no overseas Tests till November 2013,now might be the time to phase them out,one at a time perhaps,so that the younger batsmen lining up to replace them have the best of both worlds a run of home games,against quality opposition. Dhoni hinted that this might indeed be the way forward.
Ultimately we know that most of our batsmen who will come in or will be part of the team will perform in India because we have played (all our cricket) in India. But we need to find ways as to how we perform outside India, he said. Definitely it will be a good option to see the youngsters coming in,because of course we are playing quite a few games in India,but we are playing tough opposition at the same time. I think it will be a good exposure for them.
Dhoni also spoke of the need to give younger batsmen time to find their feet.
If you see in this series,people went after Virat (Kohli) to be dropped and he batted really well in this Test. Especially,when you know somebody is a really talented guy,you have to give that extra time. Thats how great cricketers are made. Its not always the best cricketers who come in and score a double century in the very first game and keep on playing for 20 years.