Opportunity for Team India to silence critics
The next 12 months are crucial what with a clutch of overseas tours and tournaments scheduled. The era of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Ganguly — who helped India excel even overseas — is over. The new lot is now up for a test of skill and character.
In an oblique sort of way, Pakistan have done India a big favour by winning their recent one-day series against South Africa. Beating the Proteas on their own pitches is considered a most difficult task, but they have now been shown as vulnerable rather than invincible. This should bolster the aspirations of M.S.
Dhoni and Co when they leave for the African continent on Saturday.
The next 12 months are crucial what with a clutch of overseas tours and tournaments scheduled.
The era of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Ganguly — who helped India excel even overseas — is over. The new lot is now up for a test of skill and character.
India are ranked number 1 in ODIs and number 2 in Tests, but a question mark about their performances overseas persists, sometimes unfairly considering the slender gap between the top 5-6 teams.
Nevertheless, this is a great opportunity to not only silence critics, but also set up the tempo for the year ahead.
It won't be easy, that's for sure.
Pakistan's wins — in the UAE and South Africa — have come largely because of their potent bowling attack. India's bowling is still a cause for concern. In the context, Zaheer Khan's selection — even if only for the Tests — is a good move.
Now that he has worked himself into peak fitness, he adds an edge to the attack that has been lacking despite the successes in 2013. At 35, Zaheer's future is clearly limited. But if he can last 12-18 months, taking wickets and mentoring the young fast bowlers, he will have repaid the trust shown by the selectors.
That said, batting is India's undoubted strength now and the bowlers will rely on sizeable totals to defend on most occasions. This is where the prospects of the team are both exciting as also filled with suspense. Just how good is India's new guard?
Dhawan, Vijay, Pujara, Kohli and Rohit have been in roaring form over the past year or so -in Tests or ODIs or both. To my mind, Kohli is the best batsman in the world in his age group.
Pujara is only a whit behind simply because he does not play all formats.
More pertinently, Dhawan and Rohit, after a few years in suspended animation, as it were, have stormed into international reckoning. Then there is skipper Dhoni, resourceful, resilient and more often than not brilliant. On the reserves bench for a longish while is Rahane who, with a little luck, would have been in the playing side.
I must confess surprise that Gambhir did not make the cut for the South Africa tour. After a low period, Gambhir was hitting his straps in style in domestic cricket, and his experience would have been invaluable against a deadly pace attack. In an otherwise judicious selection, his absence sticks out.
Whether Gambhir's non-selection is an enlightened hunch or a gross error of judgment by Sandeep Patil and Co remains to be seen. Interestingly, his place has been given to Ambati Rayudu who, like Tendulkar, started as a boy wonder more than a decade ago.
Rayudu looked brilliant at the under-19 level and made an impressive start to his firstclass career to support such thinking. Unlike the recently retired maestro, however, his life went into a tail-spin which threatened to stymie his career prematurely.
It was salvaged in the nick of time, incidentally after being picked up by Mumbai Indians and playing alongside Tendulkar in the IPL and now finds himself poised for an India Test cap at age 28. A fascinating roller-coaster ride but Rayudu must treat the past as only a preamble. If he can make the most of this opportunity, the real story could begin now.