Aschool of thought had argued that India, currently the top-ranked Test cricket team in the world, should play an experimental side in the one-off Test against ninth-placed Bangladesh to assess young talent. Thankfully, that will not be the case. The best team will take the field.
Of course, experimentation has a role, and at times it’s vital, but it’s only warranted if it serves some purpose. It can’t be a fanciful indulgence or an expression of arrogance. There are enough instances in the history of the game of how these have boomeranged.
If a team is injury or fatigue-hit, as happened with Australia when they toured New Zealand for the One Day International (ODI) series recently, the choice is between veterans or relatively untested players. In this situation, the latter option is prudent.
On the other hand, if a team is overloaded with senior players—whatever their cricketing credentials and star value—there is need to infuse fresh blood to pre-empt a sudden vacuum of experience.
For example, in 1983-84, Greg Chappell, Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee retired together and Australia had to go through a tortuous period of rebuilding.
It could also be that a team is in the process of being recast and is still unsettled. In such a situation, the selectors would justifiably be inclined to experiment with several players to find the best talent and composition that can actualize their vision.
None of this applies to Indian cricket currently. The team is young, but also settled. Barring the odd player, there is no loss through injury. This home season is long and demanding, but the rotation policy between formats has been well deployed, and there are no evident cases of fatigue or burn-out.
If anything, the team is riding high on success. While playing at home has been a distinct advantage, consistency in performance suggests that the players have jelled well, playing with purpose, and to win. To meddle with the side could disrupt the momentum.
Winning consistently at team sport is not just about the talent that is available. It has as much to do with the rapport players build with each other and the collective mindset. A team with even highly talented players but disjointed ambition would win infrequently; a cohesive unit would make winning a habit.
The Indian team has just about reached a stage where the collective effort is concerted and well directed. The hunger for success is palpable. There is a pattern and rhythm to its performance that suggests an upward surge. To limit this would be foolish.
At an individual level, tinkering with the team would be unfair to those who have worked hard for their success. When a player is at the top of his game, he wants to play even more. He is full of zest and ambition, eager to build on his success.
For instance, Virat Kohli, R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara would be licking their chops to get into the Test against Bangladesh. This is not so much because of the quality of the opposition, but because they wouldn’t want the form they are in currently to be squandered.
As anybody who has played sport at even the most basic level knows, form can be fickle and no player wants to sit it out when things are going well for him. A contrived stoppage to his progress would be terribly unfair.
I might also add that at the highest level, there are no easy pickings. While Bangladesh are ranked ninth in Tests by the International Cricket Council, they are only seven rating points behind the West Indies. Pakistan, who were No.1 for just over six months, are now at No.6.
The battle for points and ranking is incessant, grim and quite topsy-turvy. Things can change dramatically in a short time, which makes it imperative for teams to be on the guard at all times.
Finally, fielding a “second string” team is so, so Old Age; it finds no resonance in the present. It reflects a condescending attitude that is a disservice to the opponent, the fan and the sport.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.