Mumbai: VVS Laxman should be the first veteran head to roll in a batting revamp if India are to secure their future in Test cricket, several former players have said in the wake of a second crushing defeat in Australia.
India, who surrendered their world number one Test status during a disastrous tour of England last year, slumped to their sixth successive loss in overseas Test matches with the innings defeat in Sydney on Friday. The 4-0 drubbing in England, coupled with the first and second Test defeats in Melbourne and Sydney, have seriously dented the pride of the world's most vaunted batting line-up.
Senior batsmen like 38-year-old Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid (38) and Laxman (37) have traditionally been India's strength, but they have failed to live up to their reputation and calls for infusing more young blood have been gaining ground.
"We can't always think short-term. We need to start building a team as well," former India opener Anshuman Gaekwad told Reuters. "Sachin still has the class, Rahul is very hard-working but I am not sure how long Laxman will be able to continue."
Australia are also going through a tricky transition period after a golden generation of cricketers that included Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist retired one after another. They have slipped to fourth in the Test rankings after dominating world cricket for over a decade. Many in India worry that their team is going down the same road due to a lack of replacements waiting in the wings.
Gaekwad, who played 40 Tests for India, said middle-order batsman Rohit Sharma should be handed his debut in Perth and selectors should give struggling batsman Virat Kohli more chances to find his feet.
"It's not that Virat is not batting well. He's just getting out. But all the others are also struggling. If you drop him now, it will dampen his confidence," Gaekwad said. "You can't phase out all the three seniors at a time. You have to do that gradually. The youngsters will learn only in the company of the seniors."
That view is supported by former selection committee head Kiran More. "I would play both Virat and Rohit in Perth. You should let Virat play, he should be given more chances. If you drop him now, he will not enjoy his cricket anymore," More said.
The 23-year-old Kohli, a regular in India's limited-overs side, has scored 234 runs in six career Test matches including a paltry 43 runs in his last four innings in Australia. He was dropped from the squad for England after a poor Test series in West Indies last year and was also pulled up during the Sydney Test for losing his cool on the field.
Sharma, 24, is widely considered a talented middle-order batsman and has played 72 one-dayers for India with two centuries. He was Player of the Series in the ODI series against West Indies at home and bailed India out on numerous occasions during the 4-1 win.
Former Test cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar also wants Sharma in the team but in place of Laxman, despite the stylish right-hander scoring a half-century in India's second innings in Sydney. Laxman, who has always performed well against Australia, has not been in the best of form since India's tour of England.
"I would still drop VVS and get Rohit in for next Test. Makes long-term sense. Give Virat one more Test ... just to be sure he does not belong here," he wrote on his Twitter page. "VVS averages 20 in last 12 overseas innings ... Even if he gets a good score in next Test it will not serve India long... "
"Also if Virat, before the tour, was India's next big thing ... Should he not get more than two Tests on his first stint in Australia?"