Virat Kohli and the other kids are alright

The fact that they're very rich young men insulated from many of life's harsher realities is neither here nor there. Cricketers of Ranatunga's generation were equally privileged.

Updated: March 01, 2013 20:13 IST
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Just how much do we cling to the past? In the case of cricket-lovers, it appears that the answer is a lot. Soon after the Chennai Test finished, with India comfortable winners, readers were asked what Australia could do to get back into the series in Hyderabad. More than 30 percent suggested bringing back Shane Warne, who last wore the baggy green more than six years ago.

Warne is a perceptive and thoughtful commentator, whose views on the game are as interesting as his press conferences were once engaging. But with the ball, he's a has-been, something cruelly exposed during the recent Big Bash League and also in his tale of diminishing returns with the IPL's Rajasthan Royals, who he led to the inaugural title with such verve and imagination.

Even in his prime, Warne never found tours of India easy. He averaged 43, and the economy rate of 3.19 was also far higher than what it was elsewhere. No one, least of all Michael Clarke, is saying that Nathan Lyon will ever be in the Warne class, but to suggest that a 43 year old could do significantly better is to live in the land of fairytales.

It's not only Lyon whose performances have been viewed through a harsh prism in the past week. I read Arjuna Ranatunga's thoughts on the state of the modern game with great interest. Unlike many others, he never skirts the big issues, and his views are refreshingly candid and tinged with an unmistakable passion for the game. But that doesn't mean he's always right.

"In the subcontinent, we used to be gifted with technique, with natural strokes, with wrists and hand-eye coordination," Ranatunga said in the interview. "But everything is blurring now. When I see the younger lot playing Tests or even ODIs, I can see that the passion is not there anymore."

I listened to three of the 'younger lot' during the Chennai Test, and certainly didn't see any absence of desire. R Ashwin was so excited that he had finally taken Test wickets on home turf that he resorted to lines - "When I come out to play at Chepauk, I feel the air talks to me, every person sitting in the stands talks to me" - that wouldn't have been out of place in a cheesy romance novel. He said earnestly that all the IPL and first-class wickets he had taken there before simply couldn't compare. Such was his joy that you could almost picture him getting up on the table and doing a little jig of delight.

Cheteshwar Pujara's disappointment at the manner in which he was dismissed was palpable. He doesn't say much, but when he does, you're instantly reminded of someone like Rahul Dravid. Pujara may or may not go on to have such a storied career, but if he doesn't, it certainly won't be for lack of focus or commitment.

Virat Kohli, who many love to hate on account of the tattoos, the fruity language and the ridiculous ads on television, was disarmingly forthright about the mental block he suffers from after reaching a Test hundred. Again, the eagerness to succeed has never been in doubt. And if you want wrists and hand-eye coordination, look no further than the gorgeous stroke he played to get to his hundred.

We do these players a massive disservice when we question their priorities. The fact that they're very rich young men insulated from many of life's harsher realities is neither here nor there. Cricketers of Ranatunga's generation were equally privileged. They may not have made as much money, but they enjoyed and continue to enjoy an exalted place in society.

When Suresh Raina speaks of his desire to play 50 Tests, the instinct is to mock him. Whether he's good enough or not is a moot point. Many of these players - the driven ones like Kohli and Pujara, in any case - know that money isn't everything. What they crave is acceptance into an elite club. Without it, you're just another no-name millionaire.

Sachin Tendulkar once said that landmarks mattered because people remembered them. And as rich as Twenty20 cricket makes them, the younger lot knows that a half-century in an IPL Eliminator is hardly likely to be recalled in the same way as a Test century at Lord's or Eden Gardens. It's the same reason why many writer-journalists wouldn't even think of the pay cheque if offered a chance to write for The New Yorker.

There are so many myths and half-truths about the 'primacy of Test cricket'. The crowds may not throng to Test matches as they once did - not everyone has a trust fund that allows them to swan around the world watching sport all year - but the traffic numbers, even on a new site like Wisden India, are testament to the level of interest in the five-day game.

It would help a great deal, however, if we stopped being so condescending about the younger generation, whether players or fans. Instead of ramming it down their throats that Test cricket is the real deal, maybe we could think of ways to reinforce that notion in a subtle manner.

Putting together hasty blink-and-you'll-miss-it Test tours is not the way. Favelas in Rio are better organised than the itineraries of some cricket nations. Give Tests context and some gravitas, and you'll see that the kids are alright. As Mick Jagger, a cricket fan who remains young at heart, once sang: Time's not standing still, so stop looking through those tinted glasses...

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