According to Indian tradition, grey hair and old age indicate wisdom, which is why we respect elders and treat them with deference. Till not long ago this applied to Indian cricket too.
Senior players received special treatment, were assured of their place in the squad for extended periods, selectors looked at their (sporadic) success and conveniently overlooked failures. No wonder a feeling grew, as expressed by SMG the master that it was easy to get into the Indian side but difficult to get dropped.
Such thinking was based on a mindset, which put great value on experience. Experts reasoned that established players provide a certain comfort because they are tried and tested, they know how to handle tough situations, they have gone through the soul-searing scrutiny of top grade cricket.
The same gurus sermonised that with a youngster, however talented, one is never sure. He could pull through and step up to the next level but what if he freezes with fear, collapses when cornered, panics under pressure? So, why take a chance?
But Indian cricket is taking chances, it has defied convention to jump out of the box, and, to the surprise of many, it is succeeding. The change was triggered by the selectors, who in turn have been pushed by the team coach. Compared to the rigidity of the past, and an inability to experiment, there is now release from conventional thinking and a marked tendency to gamble, even play blind. Suddenly, there is a decisive vote for youth and more trust for talent. Players are judged on ability not age; the performance of the last match is what counts not the scores of the previous season.
In a way, the pro-youth policy is a demand of modern sport. As cricket gets quicker and faster you need players who are eager, enthusiastic and energetic. And it helps that in addition to a fresh mind and fresh legs, youngsters are unburdened by the baggage of the past. Dhoni and Raina have clearly demonstrated they have the attitude of commandos who know no fear.
Once the emerging Chawlas and Shuklas replaced the veterans in the team, UP won Ranji. These under-19s came out of the sports hostels in Kanpur and Lucknow, like commuters hopping off a rush hour Metro at Central Secretariat, and were fast-tracked into the Indian dressing room.
Despite the inexperience of new players, one-day results show the Indian team has not done badly. Of course Sachin is missed, as are Kumble and other seniors, but if the team is winning obviously the players are doing plenty that is right.
This proves two seemingly contrasting theories: One, while there is reason to respect age and experience one must also back youth and not discount its ability. The only issue is that youth should be carefully identified to ensure it is genuine, 22-carat material.
The second is that old will remain gold. Though the lustre of experienced players diminishes and entries in the scorebook fade, their records and their longevity will test not just time but the youngsters trying to replace them.
Mathur is the former media manager of BCCI