Monday, November 16, 2009

Test Match Cricket Betting: India in Transition

India have long relied on their batting superstars. Now they are coming towards the end of their careers, can the next generation fill their shoes?

For a decade now, the Indian middle-order has been a closed shop. Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and of course, Sachin Tendulkar, have towered above their contemporaries. But Ganguly has departed the international scene and the others are all the wrong side of 35. Two years ago, when all the 'Galacticos' were missing from the experimental squad for the 2007 World Twenty20, their absence was regarded as the beginning of a transition period. And the omens were good, not least because that tournament showcased some exciting young Indian players.

India's cricket strength comes from its youth system. In recent years, there has been a steady progression of young batsmen coming through the ranks. Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohil and Manoj Tiwary have all risen to prominence since the 2007 World Twenty20, all of them veterans of successful Under-19 sides and all earning themselves fame and IPL fortunes before having played a single Test.

But transfusing the new blood into the ageing Test team is proving a tricky operation. The 'Galacticos' are undroppable and for the last decade the only vacancies have been at the top of the order, which Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have now filled. India's light Test match schedule doesn't help, offering few opportunities for experimentation. The current series against Sri Lanka is only their Test outing since last November and they are due to play only five Tests in the next year.

So the young guns have had to be content with limited overs cricket. Raina, for example, has played 77 one day internationals, with no Test cap in sight. And inevitably, this leads to the dreaded 'one day player' label, exacerbated by the fact that the celebrity status of youngsters like Raina and Sharma leads some to regard them as flashy, unsubstantial and somehow not quite suited to Test match cricket.

Meanwhile, the old guys hang on, with no indication of when they are likely to call it a day and the selectors continue to dither. The current squad for the Sri Lanka series features two spare batsmen in a squad of 15, demonstrating at least, the desire to do something to build for the future. But neither of the two men chosen, reserve opener Murali Vijay and 29 year old Subramian Badrinath, are likely to get a game and could find themselves out of favour again by the next series.

Then there is Yuvraj Singh. First in the queue to replace the talismanic veterans, he is representative of the new Indian cricketer; a superstar, a prodigious natural talent who has thrived in limited overs cricket but who is struggling to establish himself in the shadow of Tendulkar et al. A Test average of 35 is a paltry return on the expectations invested in him. He still has time to prove himself, but if he doesn't take his chance, who is next in line?

Badrinath has been a stalwart of domestic cricket for some time but is older than Yuvraj and hardly represents the long-term choice. Of the younger generation, Sharma, an outrageously gifted strokeplayer is the likeliest to be promoted, followed probably by the aggressive but limited Kohli. Raina suffered a setback during the summer's World Twenty20, an inability to cope with the short ball giving ammunition to those who doubt his Test credentials.

Alternatively, the Indian selectors might go for someone less well known such as Cheteshwar Pujara, who has been quietly impressive in Indian domestic cricket and whilst not a flashy strokeplayer, is a batsman of substance who deserves his opportunity at the highest level. And if Tendulkar hangs on long enough, he may find himself replaced by one Sarfaraz Khan. The 12 year old recently scored an astonishing 439 in the Harris Shield, the same competition in which Sachin first came to prominence.

Meanwhile, it was Dravid who rescued his teammates on the first day of the First Test against Sri Lanka, his undefeated 177 putting India in a strong position. At the time of writing, MS Dhoni's men are 2.14 favourites to win the game with the tourists as big as 12.5 but you can follow the market throughout the Test and take advantage of some excellent in-running betting opportunities on Betfair.

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