Ring in the new, but celebrate the old

If Indian cricket appears in safe hands today, then the generation gone by has had as much of a role to play as did the giants before them.

Updated: June 28, 2013 16:58 IST
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It's been an extraordinary week for Indian cricket - a week of extraordinary celebration, a week of extraordinary nostalgia but also, sadly, a week of extraordinary disrespect, cynicism and insensitivity. But isn't that how it always has been, with Indian cricket?

First to the celebration, and not without basis, too. Young India, vibrant and exuberant and intrepid, thrilled and entertained audiences at the Champions Trophy with a brand of cricket that was of the top draw. India won the Champions Trophy, yes, but long before they had choked England into submission in the final at Edgbaston, they had been recognised and eulogised as champions by everyone who saw them play in England and Wales.

This was brave new India, positively aggressive with the bat, more than passable with the ball and electrifying in the field. The first two aspects of their cricket were, in many ways, not too dissimilar to what we have come to expect from India over the years; the fielding, however, was spectacular. A plethora of brilliant fielders who love for the ball to come to them, and who look at fielding as a release rather than a chore, raised standards like never before. India wooed and wowed the fans with their alacrity, athleticism, anticipation and accuracy. It began as a novelty at the start of the tournament but by the end it had come to be accepted as the norm, and there can be no greater compliment to a cricket team not necessarily known for brilliance beyond batting and bowling.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an out-of-the-box thinker for the most part, so it came as no surprise that one of the reasons he attributed to the elevation of fielding standards was improved infrastructure and lush-green outfields that encouraged young lads to throw themselves around. "When I started off," he said, "to want to dive and try to stop the ball was unimaginable." Through that one sentence, he also made a stirring defence of much-maligned fielding units of the past, most of the members of those said units marking their initiation into cricket long before Dhoni.

Dhoni's team was young in years - the average age was 26, by far the least of all teams in the Champions Trophy, and no one other than the captain was on the wrong side of 30. It was a new-look team in every sense of word, except for the fact that when it came to the batting at least, it wasn't really a young team in terms of experience of cricket at the highest level. Dinesh Karthik, the seniormost member of the team, first turned out for India in September 2004, a few months before Dhoni made his One-Day International debut. Suresh Raina's tryst with international cricket began in 2005, Rohit Sharma's two years later and Virat Kohli, the acknowledged lynchpin of the batting group, cut his teeth at the highest level in mid-2008.

Karthik has played 23 Tests and 57 ODIs, Kohli has appeared in 18 Tests and a whopping 103 ODIs already - whopping, because he is still only 24 and has several good years of international cricket ahead of him. Raina has 17 Test appearances to go with 164 in ODI cricket, while Rohit has turned out in 93 ODIs without ever seriously threatening, until now, to nail down his berth, leave alone come close to a Test debut. These are more than reasonably experienced cricketers, let's not forget, but they are also not old enough to have been tied down by gravelly outfields.

The ones that were, the Class of '83, found ways and means of overcoming the odds - all odds - on their way to an unexpected triumph in the showpiece event of the one-day game, the World Cup. Kapil Dev's men were given no chance - we are not talking slim chance or outside chance, simply no chance - as they landed in England in 1983. In a little over a month's time, they turned the world cricketing order upside down with a fairytale run culminating in the mother of all upsets, in the final at Lord's against West Indies. Against invincible, intimidating, indomitable West Indies. It was to be the seminal moment in Indian cricket. Using the 1983 success as the springboard, a whole generation of superstars emerged over time to lead India out of the morass of disappointing overseas results.

The week gone by marked the 30th anniversary of that glorious June evening at Lord's. The exploits of June 25, 1983 weren't to be matched until April 2, 2011. Just as Dhoni's Daredevils were eulogised and extolled after the Champions Trophy triumph on the Sunday, the Tuesday was all about Kapil's Devils. It was 30 years to the day since Kapil had held the World Cup aloft at the balcony at Lord's, a day of magic and remembrance and nostalgia and euphoria, as it should be.

What I found fascinating, intriguing and a touch disappointing was that between hailing the heroes of 1983 and deifying the stars of 2013, we embarked on a thinly-veiled attack on some of the legends of Indian cricket, men who not just took the team to the World Cup in 2011 but also to the No. 1 Test ranking, in December 2009. Many of them may be past their best before date, as is inevitable, but that doesn't give us the license to disregard their yeomen service or to mock and ridicule and deride them just because a younger set has embraced success unexpectedly, even if with great daring and flair.

Why we should pull someone down while praising someone else is something I will never understand. The Champions Trophy-winning side of 2013 deserved every plaudit, every encomium that has come its way, just as the classy Class of 1983 justifiably bears the label of being the team that inspired millions in India to embrace cricket and a few dozens to rise to the top with telling results. But the men that came between those triumphs, who built on the sensational deeds of the team of 1983 and left a lasting legacy for the team of 2013 to emulate, don't they deserve some respect, too? There has been snide talk of how no one needs to be hidden in the field these days, of how unfit, overweight and selfish individuals managed to cling on to their spots, of how it was impossible to break into the clique, of how burgeoning young talent was suppressed by self-serving cricketers backed by supposedly spineless administrators.

Not fair. The Sehwags and the Tendulkars, the Dravids and the Laxmans and the Gangulys and the Gambhirs and the Kumbles, the Harbhajans and the Zaheers - all of them had massive roles to play in India's growth as an all-weather cricketing force. Today, many of these gentlemen have retired, many others are considered superfluous to the current scheme of things. But even as we ring in the new and remember the contributions of the very old, let's not completely ring out the newly old. If Indian cricket appears in safe hands today, then the generation gone by has had as much of a role to play as did the giants before them.

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