Progress report

Coach Chappell is all praise for Dravid. "He is prepared to take a challenge front on. So his men are prepared to do that."-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The Indians were a vibrant, throbbing bunch of cricketers, who took their chances in the ODI series, writes S. DINAKAR.

Here is a progress report on the Indian cricket team following the sweeping 4-1 victory over Pakistan in the Hutch One-Day International series.

Rahul Dravid: He rung in the bowling changes cleverly, his field placements were precise. He had his finger on the pulse of the game. He can be an unconventional skipper, is ruled by his instinct and is not averse to taking a chance as long as it suits the needs of the team. When the contest changed shades, he was ready with his response. Specific plans were put in place for the Pakistan batsmen; from having a short point for Kamran Akmal to testing Shoaib Malik with well-directed short-pitched deliveries. As the ODI series reached the decisive phase, Dravid was solid in the top order. Crucially, captaincy is not affecting his batting. He also emerged a leader of men. His decision to open in Tests was a huge statement of character. He brings enormous dignity to the top job. Says coach Greg Chappell, "He is prepared to take a challenge front on. So his men are prepared to do that." Marks: 8/10.

Virender Sehwag: There are a few chosen cricketers who can make a difference even if their appearance in a series is brief. Sehwag's blazing 66 in Rawalpindi when India was pursuing Pakistan's 265 left the host attack demoralised. He is a match-winner and the side, despite his form slumps in the abbreviated form of the game, has backed him. A shoulder injury ended his tour after the second ODI, but Sehwag's blitzkrieg was a definite turning point of the series. 6/10.

Sachin Tendulkar: Under fire after his failures in the Test series, Tendulkar had a point to prove. Chappell says his fierce focus and determination reflected in his eyes — "the eye of the tiger." Tendulkar was beautifully balanced as he waded into the Pakistan bowling. His tennis elbow was not in evidence although he tended to stroke more on the leg-side. Tendulkar brought stability to the top-order in the ODIs; he was rock-like without allowing the pace of the run-getting to drop. His 95 at the Gaddafi Stadium in the pivotal third ODI was a classic. And he sent down his brand of assorted spin and seam-up cleverly. He has some more gas left in the tank. 8/10.

Yuvraj Singh: The biggest transformation has been in his mind. The left-hander now believes in himself. Yuvraj backs himself to succeed, irrespective of the conditions, the situations, or the nature of the attack. For someone who has walked down a thorny path in international cricket earlier — only last season he was thrust into a Test opener's role one moment and dumped the next — a permanent and secure place handed out to him in both forms of the game by the Chappell-Dravid combine seems to have done wonders to his confidence. Add to this, the technical assistance from coach Chappell and sports scientist Ian Fraser, which has left Yuvraj with a more balanced stance, improved footwork and a lot more strokes in the `V,' you have a formidable batsman. He is maturing quickly. He was aggressive when partnering Tendulkar in Lahore. When Dhoni strode in, he donned a secondary role; this was smart cricket. During the last game in Karachi, he was in acute pain in the latter stages of his innings with a strained hamstring. The Punjab cricketer stayed on till the end to complete the job. This team-man was elevated to vice-captaincy after the injured Sehwag left for home. His fielding continues to be outstanding. He may have to bowl his left-arm spinners more often in the days to come. Yuvraj, easily, was the story of the tour. 9/10.

Mohammad Kaif: When he perished to a widish delivery in Multan, it was just not the Kaif who used to put a price on his wicket. The Indians were chasing just 162 and on most days, he would have stayed till the end. Now, he walked back a disappointed man. Probably, the team-management needs to give him an opportunity up the order where he has the overs and the space to work his way back to form. On the field, he continues to sizzle, swooping on the ball and scoring direct hits. 4/10.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni: The confidence in this cricketer is staggering. He actually relishes situations where there is a need for him to boom. Challenges stoke his combative instinct. Dhoni is undaunted by reputations. He picks the length of the ball so quickly, that his response is swift, precise and deadly; the ball hits the board in a flash or soars over it. Blasting the pacy Mohammed Sami for two enormous sixers over his head towards the finish in Karachi were awesome blows. He provides the team enormous flexibility, decimating attacks upfront or scripting `believe it or not' turnarounds lower down. His whirlwind unbeaten 72 off only 46 balls shut out the Pakistanis in Lahore. A natural riding on his skills, he can bat according to situations. But then, even if he is circumspect, the marauder still collects his runs at almost run-a-ball, easing into his drive to long on or long off or working the ball off his legs. And there is a lot of thought behind what might appear an outrageous shot. Dhoni or the `Mahi' whipped a Mohammad Asif delivery from outside the off-stump to send the ball scorching past the square-leg boundary in Lahore. Later, he told Sportstar, "I was trying for the shot, since the fielder was slightly wide." His keeping has taken a turn for the better, and his diving effort to dismiss Mohammed Yousuf in Multan reflected his athleticism. A bundle of talent and energy, Dhoni is a match-winner. And he also has the precious ability to lift the mood in the camp. 8.5/10.

Suresh Raina: The young left-hander has both flair and solidity. Chappell calls him an optimist. Dravid talks about his potential. So impressed is Tendulkar with this Uttar Pradesh cricketer that he gifts him one of his bats. Raina is a lad with a future. He bats with panache and fields like a dream. The team-management is striving to develop him as a spinner too. 6.5/10.

Irfan Pathan: He flew down from square-leg, and after a sprawling dive came up with the ball, a smile adorning his face. It was a sensational effort by Pathan after Shoaib Malik ballooned the catch to square-leg off a Rudra Pratap Singh short-pitched delivery in Multan. The point was Pathan had just completed his opening spell with the new ball, and, during a stage when he could have been a little tired or a bit switched off mentally, he tore down the turf to signal curtains for Malik. Chappell would say later, "there is a desperation and a determination within the bunch to win." Pathan, developing into an all-rounder, swung the white ball prodigiously and dented the Pakistani line-up early to set up victories for India. What he lacked in pace, the left-armer made up with his accuracy. With the willow, there is a solidity about him at the crease — and a wealth of strokes — that provides a side, keen on flexibility, exciting options. By the time World Cup 2007 arrives, this vibrant youngster should have progressed further. 8/10.

Rudra Pratap Singh: The Uttar Pradesh cricketer has the temperament for the big stage. And the left-arm paceman also has the versatility. He angled the ball across the right-hander and brought it back into the batsman too. R. P. Singh stuck to an off-stump line and consistently hit the seam. As Chappell points out, he is quicker than he appears and can extract surprising bounce from the surface. His four-wicket haul in Multan was critical. 7/10.

S. Sreesanth: The Kerala right-arm paceman infused life into the pace attack. He is a zestful bowler with a bit of pace about him. Opening the attack, Sreesanth combined well with Pathan. He moved the new ball away from the right-hander, swung the older one in, varied his pace and troubled the Pakistani batsmen with his short-pitched deliveries. The paceman with a fluent run-up and action also used the crease cleverly. He might have been luckless on occasions, but his efforts did not go unnoticed. 6/10.

Ajit Agarkar: He bowled well in spells. He did produce a peach of a delivery moving away and late from Mohammad Yousuf to provide India a key breakthrough in Multan. But the Mumbaikar, troubled by a back-strain, could not deliver at full clip.

A deceptively quick fielder with a flat throw, Agarkar contributed his bit to a thumping Indian win. Somewhere down the line, he could be sent up the order by the team-management. 5/10.

Gautam Gambhir: His shot-making ability is never in question, but his temperament is coming under increasing scrutiny. Gambhir wasted his starts and his shuffling ways often landed him in trouble. 3/10.

Murali Kartik: The spinners suffered on placid wickets and short boundaries against wristy Pakistani batsmen and the left-armer was no exception.

He did not get a game after the first match in Peshawar. The days ahead will test his resilience and character. 3/10.

Zaheer Khan: The left-armer's bowling depends on his rhythm and Zaheer struggled to find this essential ingredient. Physically, he seemed to be hampered by the fact that he has filled out at the wrong places. Is capable of bowling much better. 3/10.

Ramesh Powar: He is a steady off-spinner and a hard-hitting batsman lower down. Powar bowled adequately in Karachi, operating stump to stump, and winning a leg-before decision against Inzamam. The Mumbaikar is a cricketer with definite possibilities if the selectors and the team-management persist with him. 4/10.

Greg Chappell: While his technical knowledge is of the highest order, the Indian coach has brought about a remarkable transformation in the `thought process' of the Indian cricketers.

He has bravely given the youngsters a fling — "cricket is a lot about risk taking, keeping the odds as much in your favour as possible" — he says. In the process, he has kept the seniors on their toes.

"You need to re-energise a side from time to time. If a side stays stagnant, it goes backwards," he emphasises.

He has brought flexibility to the side, where the roles are interchangeable. "These are strategic changes, not experiments." And his chemistry with Dravid is just right.

The process put in place by him has the potential to revolutionise Indian cricket. 9.5/10.