There is a lot India has to do in Test cricket just to stay in the same place - both figuratively and ranking-wise - starting with the home Test series against the West Indies.
The players may say all the right things when it comes to Test cricket, but the priorities on display by everyone directly involved with the game, tell a different story. Except England, every country is managing Test cricket as if it’s a demising proposition.
However, the most compelling cricket in recent weeks has been in the Test matches between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Indies and to some extent between New Zealand and Zimbabwe. That, of course, is a matter of opinion. A matter of dwindling opinion, I might add.
So while the administrators are busy dressing up the game with new formats, chasing new money and new audiences, traditional cricket fans are starved for meaningful, contextual cricket. Since the 1983 World Cup, there have been seven more World Cups, three of them hosted by India. In the same period, West Indies have visited India only three times. It’s lamentable. But as a fan, I will lap up whatever is on offer.
Test cricket is living off the money made by circus cricket, but those formats are slaves to television executives. Test cricket, on the other hand, has been relatively untouched by modern theatrics and a India vs West Indies Test series is certainly worth the wait.
India has mortgaged their Test status and ranking in the pursuit of making the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Champions League viable. Their Test cricket outfit is in disarray. A situation brought on by design. Design driven in turn by the so called "market needs". But not all of India's frailties in the Test arena are due to constraining priorities. There is clearly a lack of talent. There is a dearth of good bowlers - both fast and spin. They haven't transitioned from the Sourav Ganguly era as far as batting is concerned. Flirting with overs-limit stars, hey have wasted many Test matches on Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, when it is clear neither has the acumen to be Test class batsmen.
Then there is Sachin Tendulkar who is holding on to his place because he can. That he can still score centuries should neither be a surprise nor a justification not to call for his retirement. The question is are we giving Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara time to learn to score 100s like Tendulkar. Dilip Vengsarkar gave Sachin Tendulkar an early start. Tendulkar, on his part, is not similarly inclined. He will play for himself for a few Test matches more, get all sorts of personal milestones and leave when it suits him.
Tendulkar's failure to want to win in the West Indies, preferring to flirt with Roger Federer instead, and his failure in England, ought to be triggers that call for his retirement. In a way, he is a liability to the team, from the standpoint that he is preventing a younger man from getting time to make a mark. He himself was given that when he was 16, but he is far too self-consuming and self-absorbed to return the favor. This series would have been ideal for India to move on from the Sachin Tendulkar era.
On the other hand, a century from him at the Kotla will make the fans come back to the stadium. For the short term it may be good for Test cricket, but I believe the first Test at the Kotla will be Tendulkar's first Test that is one too many.
Coming off a World Cup finals loss to India in 1983, the West Indies had sent their fiercest team to India the same year. That ‘83 series remains the one of the best cricket a visiting team has played in India ever. India along with Australia are traditionally most formidable at home and India have not lost a series at home in more than seven years. This West Indies team, however, if they attack well, can emulate the 1983 team with a surprise Test win. In a short series that may be enough.
India's batting will start slow but will eventually come good in the series to draw Test matches, but it is the West Indies that have the bowling attack to put India into early trouble. If the West Indian batsman can learn to grind their way to 500+ scores, then I believe they have bowlers to spring a surprise and force a win and the series on the basis of that win.
And if India does lose, they ought to take a young Tendulkar-less side to Australia.