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Has Healy's time come?

AUSTRALIA goes into a new season of international cricket at home in a few days and some hard decisions will have to be made as they were in the West Indies, when Shane Warne was left out of the team because he was under-performing. The decision once again involves a senior member. No prizes for guessing either, it's Ian Healy.

Healy's presence in the team is, to some, an article of faith. There is a feeling in some circles that people who have done duty for their country for some time and brought home the bacon should be allowed to stay in the team until they decide to call it a day themselves. I don't really think that this kind of model has relevance in today's world. And the quicker cricketers realise it, the better for all concerned.

A case that comes to mind is that of Kapil Dev. To some it would amount to heresy if I said that he should have retired long before he actually did. Yet, it is a fact that he prolonged his stay because he wanted to overtake Richard Hadlee's record of 431 wickets. And it was very painful for all concerned because his strike rate had deteriorated to the point where it had become ludicrous. Indian cricket officialdom kept quiet, the logic being that a man who had served the country so long and so well could not be seen to be thrown out. He had to be allowed a chance to leave on his own.

Such an attitude is selfish. One never knows whom else one is keeping out, how much one is delaying the development of another person. Records are there to be broken sure but not at the cost of the team. On the other hand, I'm sure that nobody in the West Indies would grudge either Walsh or Ambrose staying on for the next Test series for the simple reason that they are still performing despite being well beyond the age when fast bowlers are expected to do their bit. And no adequate replacements are in sight.

But in Healy's case, it is clear that his best days have long gone. His reflexes have deteriorated and no better example could be cited to demonstrate this than the catch he put down off Lara in the Jamaica Test earlier this year, a catch which would have definitely given the match to Australia. A few years back, he would have caught that blindfolded. It is similar to the stumping he missed in Pakistan (and that was due to inexperience) in his early days, a miss that gave Pakistan the leeway to win the series.

And there is a worthy successor waiting in the wings, one whom many tip as a future captain of Australia. Adam Gilchrist has played the bridesmaid for some time and it is time that he was given what should be his by right -- the position of wicket-keeper in the Test team as well. Healy's batting has gone down the drain as well and Gilchrist has been puting runs on the board more often than not.

In the end, the game has to be bigger than individuals. It remains to be seen whether Healy will bite the bullet and gracefully make his exit. Mark Taylor bid goodbye at the right time, when the fount of public goodwill was overflowing. His long-time vice-captain and good friend would do well to follow in his steps before the media start asking questions. Else a player who has served his country well may have to move on in unhappy circumstances.