Old warhorses Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, and Gautam Gambhir, who once were the blue-eyed boys of the team, continued their place out of even the second-string side, which points to not-so-rosy signs about their future.
When India’s squad for the Zimbabwe tour was announced, one thing seemed crystal clear–the strong intent of the selectors to go for the young guns. As many as six uncapped players made the cut to the squad while senior pros barring MS Dhoni were rested, a characteristic trend which has surrounded the tours of Zimbabwe, of late. The selections brought about a glittering smile on the faces of some while for those who faced non-selection yet again, it was disappointing, damn disappointing!!
Old warhorses Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, and Gautam Gambhir, who once were the blue-eyed boys of the team, continued their place out of even the second-string side, which points to not-so-rosy signs about their future. However, when asked about the fate of these veterans, India’s Chief Selector Sandeep Patil affirmed that, "selectors have no right to tell anyone to retire. We are looking at future of Indian cricket. We will be happy if they perform and will be happy to get them back.”
But the statement seemed a mere formality. Only last year, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan, two of the finest cricketers India has ever produced had bid adieu to internationals after their repeated efforts to fetch the national call-up had only met with disenchantment time and again. Now, ostensibly a similar fate might well hit the decorated cricketing careers of Yuvi, Bhajji and Gauti with time running out fast.
Age – The biggest obstacle
The trio is on the cruel side of the 30s. Bhajji is approaching 36 ,while both Yuvraj and Gauti are not too far from 35. Gone are the days when many players use to play into their 40s as well. And especially in India, unlike the Australian system where you see a Chris Rogers making Test comeback at 35, the age of the players holds paramount significance. As soon as they start entering their mid-30s, even small failures which did not matter much before suddenly assume significance, unless you are Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
The Curious Case of Gautam Gambhir
Gautam Gambhir must be wondering after scoring those 500-odd runs in IPL–what did he do wrong to not earn the national call-up for Zimbabwe, even in this second-string side? After all, aggregating 500 runs in the IPL is no joke, and the IPL has been central to Indian selector's choices of late.
In that light, Gambhir’s continued exclusion has always been questionable. Gambhir, who last represented the Indian ODI side in 2013, had not averaged below 40 for five consecutive years from 2008 to 2012. But in 2013, seven mediocre outings in the format made light work of all his previous exploits.
Even in Tests, after averaging almost 42 against England in home Test series in 2012, he was made the scapegoat for the series loss and dropped. His comeback chance came in England’s seaming conditions in 2014, where he got only two opportunities, but he failed miserably. Interestingly, only Vijay averaged in 40s in that series, while all others endured a torrid time.
However, what happened is history now, and staying in the present, Gambhir has fared rather poorly in India’s Premier longer and limited overs format tournaments–Ranji and Vijay Hazare Trophy respectively. He doesn’t appear even in the Top 20 run-getters in both the tournaments.
Although Shreyas Iyer and Robin Uthappa averaged 73 and 58 respectively in Ranji 2015/16, there is hardly any room for an opener in the Test team with Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan having establishing themselves firmly. Since 2015, they have averaged above 50 individually which puts even an in-form KL Rahul on the sidelines–Rahul has delivered whenever given a chance with centuries at Sydney and P Sara Oval in his 5-Test-old career so far.
In Vijay Hazare as well, Gambhir found it difficult to even make it to his state side's opening position, let alone the Indian team. India's openers, Rohit and Shikhar, average 46.22 for the opening wicket, and just after batting 54 matches together are already the third best opening pair in Indian ODI history. With age on their side, they appear the openers for a long time. Even if they are undone by form, the likes of Vijay, Rahul, Unmukt Chand, Abhinav Mukund, and Puneet Bisht are waiting for their shot at the vaunted blue jersey. In T20Is as well, Rohit and Dhawan seem India’s best bet with Rahane at the back-up opener.
So, all-in-all it seems highly unlikely for Gambhir to make a return to the Indian side in any format of the game, and his career seems all but over.
Yuvraj Singh and his struggles post Cancer
The hero of India’s 2007 T20I and 2011 World Cup winning campaigns, Yuvraj Singh, has been rather cold on the field after battling the life-threatening ailment. Yuvraj has been nowhere near his prime in internationals post his fight with cancer. His swashbuckling performances in 2015/16 Vijay Hazare Trophy got him back to the national fold earlier this year in T20Is, but he failed to capture the eyeballs of the national selectors in ODIs, which in a way attested that now he is not on the selection radar for 50-overs cricket.
In Indian ODI team, 5 players are almost certain out of the top 7–Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli, Rahane and Dhoni, meaning only one slot remains for a specialist batsman and one for an all-rounder. The middle-order position is likely to be occupied by Manish Pandey whose match-winning century while chasing against Aussies had steered India to a memorable win at Sydney earlier this year. Raina, Rayudu, K Jadhav and Madeep Singh are close behind Pandey for that spot. With the all-rounder's position already taken up by Ravindra Jadeja, it leaves no place for Yuvi even if he performs well. Singh’s awe-inspiring ODI career seems to have met its end already.
In the 15 T20Is he played this year, Yuvraj could average a mere 20 and failed to make any impression.The willow in hand, which once was his magical wand, looked evidently heavier. The left-hander was never a second-fiddle type of batsman, but now it appears that time has finally caught up with him. In IPL though, those magical flicks of the wrist gave glimpses of the old Yuvi, but he could hardly manage 236 runs in 10 IPL matches
After the Zimbabwe T20Is, there are no T20 international for India this year. And with next T20 WC slated to be played in 2020 in Australia, even in T20Is, the 34-year-old’s heydays are unlikely to return. The 2016 T20 WC was held in India which had bolstered his selection as Yuvraj could roll over his arms in spin-friendly conditions of India, but that’s not the case in Australia.
Also read - Yuvraj Singh - The Merchant of Dreams
Yuvi will be 38 by the 2020 T20 WC, and with everything stacked against him, we might have already seen the last of Yuvi in an Indian jersey.
The Turbanator and his travails
14 matches, 9 wickets, an economy rate of 8, average of 43 and a strike-rate of 32. These bowling figures pretty much sum up Bhajji’s nightmarish IPL season. Though he was part of India’s T20I squad throughout the year, he hardly played a match which shows that Indian skipper doesn’t bank much on him now. With Ashwin and Jadeja as lead spinners, there is no room for the veteran.
His non-inclusion for Zimbabwe’s limited-overs series and selection of young spinners like Yuzvendra Chahal and Jayant Yadav over him pretty much indicates that now he is not even considered as a back-up spinner for Ashwin and Jadeja in limited overs format.
In Tests as well, Ashwin and Jadeja shoulder the responsibilities of spin department. In the last 2 years, Ash and Jaddu have taken 72 and 32 wickets in 13 and 8 Tests respectively at an average of 21 and are one of best Test bowling pairs in the world currently. Amit Mishra is the back-up spinner and has claimed 22 wickets in the last 5 Tests while Harbhajan has taken merely 11 wickets in his last 5 Test outings which means Mishra has trumped him for even the spot of reserve spinner.
Well, it looks like it’s just a matter of time before this feisty cricketer pulls the curtains on his career–voluntarily or otherwise.
The odds indicate against a comeback for all three in the national set-up. The likes of Yuvi, Bhajji and Gauti have been the reason for many youngsters to take up the beautiful game of cricket. Whether they perform poorly for the team or call it quits, it will be a sad moment for Indian cricket fans.
Whatever might happen, they will never retire from our hearts. The unforgettable memories of Yuvi smashing those 6 sixes, Bhajji bamboozling the Aussies in 01’ and Gauti’s gritty knocks in 07’ and 11’ WC finals will keep giving tingling sensations of happiness and joy to our hearts forever and always!
Also read - Will 4-Day Tests aid the survival of the format?
All Images Courtesy: © BCCI
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