I remember the year 1989 very well. Gavaskar had retired a couple of years earlier and Kapil had lost pace. We were losing to Pakistan more often than not in ODIs. The 1983 World Cup and 1985 Benson & Hedges Cup twin wins were things of the past. Crickets fans were feeling directionless. Then came the tour to Pakistan , where a baby-faced 16 year old stole the hearts of the entire nation with his brave batting against the Pakistani quicks. Watching cricket was a pleasure once again for Indians ... and this euphoria lasted for more than fifteen years. In the 1990s, when Tendulkar batted, the whole nation " batted " through him.
In 1991, a tall, thin guy, with flailing arms while bowling , burst onto the scene and bowled really quick ... and India had its first genuine fast bowler, Srinath. The year 1996 saw an elegant left-hander score a century on test debut at Lords. This was followed by another century in the next test match. While this was happening, another young man with impeccable technique missed his centuries by a few runs in both those tests. Indian cricket fans were brimming with excitement once again at the emergence of these twin gems.
Be it a wristy Hyderabadi scoring 3 centuries in his first three tests in 1984-85, a bespectacled Kumble taking a 4-fer in in Sharjah in 1991, Zaheer and Yuvraj sparkling in Nairobi in 2000, a dashing Sehwag scoring 105 in South Africa on test debut in 2001 ... these memories will stay with us for ever. More than these moments and memories, every time a special talent emerged, it gave us reasons to watch cricket for the next few years.
No one will forget the dabaang innings of 148, that a long-haired keeper-batsman played in 2005 against Pakistan ... and a new star was born. No matter what one feels today, every Indian cricket fan felt a connection with that young man, which would stay with us till the time he won us the 2011 World Cup as captain.
Then came Kohli, who would go on to become one of the biggest superstars. entertaining us in all three formats with his spectacular batsmanship. Rohit, Rahane, Pujara, Dhawan, Ashwin, Jadeja, Shami, Umesh, Bumrah, Bhuvi etc. ... all of them inspired interest among certain sections of fans. Seeing a young Shami debut, combining genuine pace with reverse swing to floor the West Indians in 2013, was very exciting. Fast bowling fans just loved it when young Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron bowled at 150 kph.
Sports survive and grow in stature and popularity because of superstars and stars. Thirty-one years have passed but people still talk about and remember Maradona winning the football world cup. Fans need to find a connection with individual players. They are happy when that person does well and sad when he fails. They realize their own sporting dreams through him or her. Cricket is facing competition from other sports in India like never before and needs star players more than ever.
In Indian cricket, we are recently seeing a trend of trying to introduce thirty-plus players as a matter of priority, especially the batters and keepers . Youngsters are getting chances but only when an " elderly " is not good enough or is injured or fails the yo-yo test or rotation policy demands more players. If the current ODI batting line-up makes it to the 2019 World Cup then we will have six batters who are 30+. Dhoni 38, Karthick 34, Jadhav 34, Dhawan 33, Rohit 32, Kohli 30.
I am not suggesting that thirty plus players should all be be dropped or not given fresh chances. But, there should be a mix of experience and youth. Too many youngsters mean lack of experience and too many older players mean lack of new direction and dwindling fan interest. Moreover, there is no point in promoting mediocrity when it comes to selecting fresh players.
We have seen young spinners and all-rounders being introduced and backed though ... and the result is there for all to see. Be it the wrist-spin twins, Kuldeep and Chahal, or the charismatic all-rounder Hardik Pandya, they have given new direction and new energy to our team.
I hope that some talented youngsters are allowed to flourish in the batting, keeping and fast-bowling departments too. If they receive the same backing as the young spinners and all-rounders are getting, they will also do well . KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Prithvi Shaw, Vijay Shankar, Karun Nair, Md. Siraj, Basil Thampi, Avesh Khan, Kamlesh Nagarkoti etc. etc. are waiting.
It never was and and never is about choosing the top performers in domestic cricket or the well known names. It is always about spotting and backing the players who have the potential to achieve something extra at international level from now on.