A year in cricket is a long time. If the year looks anything like the one gone by for the National men’s team, then the sweet-sour taste - bitter for some - stays for a bit longer.
Last February, soon after Ajinkya Rahane’s brave hearts scripted a series-triumph over host Australia, the talk was all about the bench-strength of a cricketing nation shot out for 36 in the first Test.
Some ‘net bowlers’ inducted into the playing eleven for the final Test played their part in that memorable victory at the Gabba. After all, only three players - Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal - were common in the teams that played the first and the last Tests.
Overall, Indian cricket across formats seemed on track. The selectors faced a “happy headache” when dealing with the “problem of plenty”. The impression stood reinforced that India was spoilt for choice and it could keep winning even when some of its players were unavailable
Home series at regular intervals not only improves India’s record in any format but serves as a balm to recover from the reverses suffered overseas. The tame loss to rain-hit World Test Championship final, the below-par showing in the T20 World Cup and meek surrender to a
vulnerable-looking South Africa stand out as sore reminders of some bitter truths.
Some transitions are far from smooth. The much-lauded Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri association made way for the Rohit Sharma-Rahul Dravid partnership. In fact, Kohli’s decision to step down as the T20 skipper, and the way he was eased out of captaincy in ODIs and Tests, triggered off many speculations.
Lack of form cost Rahane and Pujara their places in the Test squads. In contrast, K. L. Rahul provided reasons to not only be a certainty in all three formats but also became India’s 34th Test captain. Now with Rohit at the helm, the Test team, too, is set to look different.
In white-ball cricket, after a low of the T20 World Cup where India struggled to field a combination with a sixth bowling option, the emergence all-rounder Venkatesh Iyer is a great sign.
Unlike the last selection committee, the present one under Chetan Sharma is willing to fast track certain cricketers into the big league. As a result, Ravi Bishnoi and Venkatesh Iyer were not required to take the route via India ‘A’ to make their international debut.
Obviously, the focus of the Board is on preparing worthy teams to make a sweep of World titles in Tests, ODIs and T20. But when evaluating the individual performances, one should not lose sight of the opposition’s lack of quality. Otherwise, India could once again encounter a ‘reality check’ served by host South Africa across two formats.
In the past year at home, India sent England, New Zealand and West Indies packing. After the white-ball series’ sweep against West Indies, India eyes a similar domination in the three T20s and two Tests against Sri Lanka. Even without some regulars, India remains an overwhelming favourite.
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